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Posts Tagged ‘Slowing down’

Oh Summertime, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee for

  • the warmth of the sun-warmed deck under my barefeet as I sit swaying gently in my hammock chair.
  • the coolness of that same deck under those same bare feet in the shade of the covered porch.
  • the gentle breeze which blows softly bringing with it the sweet smell of the freshly cut fir that my tall sons and husband have recently cut and stacked.
  • the evenings around the fire pit with all of my children around me, listening to the popping of the flames, enjoying the fun of s’mores and roasted apples, and then the quiet moments gazing at the embers which glow in the darkness.
  • the smell of the cool evening breeze blowing softly through my open window as I drift off to sleep at night…and again as I wake in the morning along with the sounds of the birds ringing in the day with their many varied songs, and hummingbirds buzzing by.
  • the fresh, sweet, better-than-candy taste of just-picked cherry tomatoes as they fill your mouth with their warm spurting sweetness.
I love thee for
  • thy lazy carefree days. Thy leisurely mornings and un-rushed evenings.
  • thy lying-in-the-hammock afternoons…warm in the arms of my loved one, gazing at the blue and white skies peeking between the leaves of the trees overhead…drifting off for a late afternoon nap and then waking still warm in the sweet embrace of my best loved one.
  • thy beautiful colors splashing merrily out of the hanging baskets around the covered porches of our deck.
  • the day after day mornings of breakfast “in-the-air”…fresh fruit and yogurt eaten in the warm early sunshine and cool fresh air while gazing at the lovely trees in my backyard.
  • the beautiful light shows of sunlight which dance and reflect off of the leaves, changing the leaves on my alders from glowing green to white…and back again.
  • the family dinners spent leisurely, gathered around the table on the deck just outside the screen of the sliding doors to the kitchen. The laughing and teasing of my big almost-grown family.
  • the smell of warm grass and hay…freshly mowed.
  • the warm apple cinnamon smell of my hot herbal tea as I sit in my favorite spot in that well used hammock chair, under cover in the warm summer rain…listening softly…
  • the un-scheduled hours spent locked into the pages of a good book as the sun drifts lazily across the sky.
  • the pink and purple sunset peeking over the tops of the trees.
Oh Summertime…How I do love thee…
RC

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This is the second in a series of blogs on what I would define as “Principles of Happy Home Educating Families.” Find the first blog here

Once we’ve simplified our lives, we can then begin to look at balance. Most of us can look back and remember when we first learned to ride a bicycle. Remember how you wobbled from one side to the other, even falling down from time to time, until you learned to balance with perfect ease? The time quickly came when you no longer even thought about balance when you got on that bicycle. Homeschooling is much like that. We also tend to wobble from one side to another until we find that perfect balance which works for our family.

Balance is an interesting phenomenon. We seem to think that achieving our goals is all about power (ie: force) and momentum and yet without balance, all that force and momentum have no direction and may even end up as destructive forces which quickly careen out of control. Balance is critical to power. In fact, without balance you cannot have power at all…only force.

I learned a little about balance in my yoga practice. The balance poses all require focus. Focus is critical to balance. But more than that, there is an intangible something else which seems critical to staying balanced in a yoga pose. It is so interesting to me that those times when I feel rushed and out of balance in my life always seem to find reflection in my daily yoga practice…in the balance poses (or asanas).  If I’m feeling rushed, stressed, over-loaded, and out of balance in my life, I can’t seem to balance for beans in my yoga practice either. The balance that we feel inwardly is also reflected in our ability to manage our lives outwardly. There is a trick (no, not really a trick, principle would be a better word) to balancing. The principle which is critical to balance is focus. In a yoga pose, one must focus on one thing with the eyes in order to stay balanced. Focus is critical to balance. Balance is critical to effective use of power and momentum.

So what does this have to do with homeschooling? How do we achieve balance with the education process in our homes? Like everything else with home education, I believe that this will always be an individual thing. There will be no recipe. Each family must find balance in its own way, but I believe that there are principles and guidelines; things that we might think deeply about as we seek to find this delicate balance in our own homes and with our own children. So often in life, we seem to think that if we just use all of our strength and barrel through the tasks we’ve set for ourselves…(That, by the way is a critical element. We must stop and remember that these things are totally within our hands. We set the tasks for ourselves…we choose…and we can un-choose as the need arises.) But where was I?…oh yes…we seem to think that if we just barrel though using all of our strength, then we can accomplish that big long list of tasks. And so we find ourselves careening wildly through each day all force and momentum (both very valuable elements) but little or no balance…no focus. But life…and home education…are about so much more than simply accomplishing tasks.

Work and Play

What in your life needs balancing? May I suggest a few things to think about?Work must be balanced with play. Each is critical to the success of the other. Work is best accomplished when the mind and body have had periods of rest. Conversely, play and rest are enjoyed best when the mind and body have had periods of work. This too is something which I noticed in my yoga practice. Somehow those relaxation poses were so much more…well relaxing after the more strenuous poses which focused on building strength. And conversely, I am always more successful with the strength poses with a little rest between or before them. Do you allow for this balance in your children’s lives? In your own? Is your homeschool all work and very little play? Too much play? Do you go easily back and forth between the two? Or is it all “nose to the grindstone” and then an overdose of play? I think we must all learn to sense when it’s time for a little rest and diversion (it’s seldom the other way around). Often, it doesn’t have to be big. Just consider the schedule you set for yourself and your children. Do you alternate periods of work with periods of pure play? Can you tell when your children have reached their max? Learn to have a break just before that breaking point. Hint: I think that when children are left to themselves in a environment which is rich in learning opportunities, they tend to find this balance almost instinctively with little guidance from us. This ability in children can, however, be quickly crushed by parent or school expectations, or undermined by too much TV and electronic media.

Flexible Structure

Structure must also be balanced with latitude. Living with a very rigid schedule for very long becomes tiresome…but so does too much latitude. It is usually the flexible structure that is strongest. So consider how you choose to structure your day. Have structure, but build in times when there is less restraint, a little more freedom. Build margin into your schedule. Just as the pages of a book have most meaning when there is margin–when things are divided into paragraphs–our days will go most smoothly, be more meaningful, and more productive if we have some space…some margin…in our lives.

Avoid Over-Scheduling

I remember so clearly my first days (and years) of homeschooling my children. One of my strengths is organization, and it can have some pretty bad side effects if I am not careful. I used to organize every minute of our days. Each day was scheduled so tightly! Unfortunately, my early schedules were perfect recipes for quick burn out (on my part and on my children’s). These schedules that I would make would probably last for about as long as the time I spent putting the schedule together in the first place. Very quickly, I would find that we would be “off schedule” and stressed out about it. (Or I would be stressed out about it and communicate that stress to my children.) We didn’t have the freedom (because of my dictatorial schedules) to spend a longer period of time at one subject if we got interested in it. We didn’t have the freedom to take a break…lest we get off schedule. Another thing about these schedules is that they were heavily weighted with table activities and the more academic subjects…a recipe for burn out if ever there was one! For my more right brained children, this was especially painful.

Don’t try to “cover everything”.

One more thing that I started out doing…and have to continually guard against…is the suggestion that we must “cover” a certain amount of “material” or a certain number of, or particular subjects. We live in a day and age where there is a monumental amount of “information” which could be studied. Information can be useful, but it doesn’t usually translate to knowledge or the wisdom needed to live by–or recognize–principles which lead to happiness. Ours is the task of weeding out the significant from the insignificant. Choosing what to teach…the focus…comes before choosing how to teach. Remember what happens with force and momentum with no focus and balance? We must be thoughtful and careful as we choose what to teach. We must consider exactly what it is that we hope to give to our children. We must also consider what it is that each individual child needs. In order to do that, we must first know our children very well. (A great book to help one begin to know and  individualize for the child is The Student Whispererbut more on that in another post.) Do you truly listen to your child, observe them, watch what they do, consider what is important to them and why, spend time with them? These are the beginnings of knowing a person.

Relax.

I’ve learned over time to relax…a lot. I learned to let my children help decide what they wanted to learn…and when. I’ve learned that it is best to set small, obtainable goals. I’ve learned that Rome cannot be built in a day, and I’ve learned to recognize that perhaps it isn’t Rome that I’m really seeking to build. We come to home education with a lot of ineffective and faulty paradigms from the public school systems which most of us were raised in. We must remember why we chose home education, and we must be careful that we do not duplicate the public school system in our homes. Just like riding a bicycle, we tend to wobble a bit as we begin homeschooling. It’s a new paradigm for most of us. But just like riding a bicycle, when you find that perfect balance, you will know it, you will feel it…and you and your children will feel the freedom and exhilaration of moving forward with focus toward all the right goals in your lives. When you find that place…trust it. And that brings me to my next “Habit of Highly Effective Homeschoolers”…Trust. Next blog.

RC

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Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. We are both home educated moms. We’ve both been home educating our children for quite a number of years now. My oldest child is 20 and her oldest is 16. We’ve both home educated our children from day one. In our conversation, we talked about some of the things we’ve learned along the way…some of the things we learned the hard way…some of the things we would go back and change if we could, and also those things that we did or are now doing that we have found effective or important. During the course of our conversation, my friend wondered what a “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers” would look like. (A concept inspired of course by Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You may also be familiar with Oliver DeMille’s Seven Keys of Great Teaching.)

The “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers”….hmmm….what would be on such a list? We recognized immediately that this list would look different for each thoughtful home educating parent, but that these different lists would likely be of some use to families who were just beginning the journey.

As I considered this concept, my mind immediately took me on a thought journey of epic proportions as I considered the years behind and the years ahead and thought about what I would put on my personal list of “Seven Habits for Highly Effective Homeschoolers”. This conversation with my friend took place while I was waiting for my daughter at her piano lesson, and as soon as I was off the phone with this friend, I started writing and quickly had a list of seven habits…the last one came later. Yes…my list went just a bit over and has become the “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Home Educating Parents”…or maybe nine, but who’s counting? Here is my list. Thank you Christy for getting me started. I plan to publish each “habit” in a separate blog over the next days/weeks. Enjoy! And other home educating families, please add to my list by commenting. What would you put on your list?

 

The First Habit: Simplify

Anyone who knows me very well at all will not be at all surprised that this was the first thing to come to my mind and the first to go on my personal list. There are some good reasons for this…the first of which is probably that this is one of the premiere lessons that I’ve had to learn myself.

So often we try to do things in grandiose ways…the bigger, the better, we seem to think….or the more the better. But bigger is not always better. In fact, sometimes bigger is nothing more than pomp and circumstance with no real substance. And more is sometimes simply more…and usually it translates to less of something else. More time running from music lessons, to soccer practice, to karate, to church activities will ultimately translate to less quality time together as a family, less time to sit around the dinner table laughing together and discussing whatever comes up, less time for family read-alouds with everyone sprawled comfortably together in the living room. More is so often less of what matters most.

It seems to be only when we simplify that we find the real essence of life and of happiness. So my first habit is to simply simplify. Simplify your life. Simplify your schedule. Simplify your goals. Get rid of all the “stuff” that gets in the way of your true happiness and family success.

Are you really happy when you are running 10 directions at once…or even two? Are your children? Is your family? No? Then what can you let drop out of your life? Yes, I know that a lot of the things on your list are “good” things to do, but they are ultimately keeping you from enjoying the “best” things, are they not? Then let them go and feel the joy and peace which ultimately comes with a real focus on the things that matter most.

And how about all the physical “stuff” in your life? All of our stuff not only takes up space, but it also uses up our energy as we spend time organizing and caring for the material stuff in our lives. The question to ask is not how much, but how little can you get by with? What things do you spend a lot of time maintaining that you could do without? I used to have carpet in the heavily traveled areas and in the dining area of my home. I spent hours and hours each week keeping that carpet clean. The area that went from the front door to the back looked like traffic went directly from one point the other…and often times it literally did. I vacuumed daily (sometimes more than once daily) and the carpet cleaner was an intimate companion…no, I won’t say “friend”. When we built an addition to our home, I determined that we should place hardwood floors in the kitchen, dining area, and the heavily traveled areas of our home. It is no longer such a disaster when the children come in with muddy feet. This is something that can be much more easily managed…and usually by the child herself…or himself as the case may be. That one thing has made a huge difference in how I spend my time each week. We still have carpet in the family areas, but vacuuming has become a weekly affair and carpet cleaning a yearly one at most. I can now spend all that time that I used to spend vacuuming on the things that matter most in my life and in the lives of my husband and children.

How many goals have you set for yourself and your children? Pull them out and take a good hard look at them. Put them to the “perspective test”. Are these the goals that will matter most in one year? Five, ten, fifty years, a hundred? Ultimately, what is really going to matter? Stick with those goals that will really matter over time and consider what goals can be tossed or drastically modified. Focus on the goals that really matter. And while you are considering those goals, take a look at the less tangible things that you’d like to accomplish. Hint: Usually it is the less tangible goals that are going to matter most when put to the perspective test.

Here is an example from among my own experience as a home educating mom: In the early years, we used the Saxon math program and I had my children do every…single…exercise. Why? Because the program stated that all that repetition was important to mastery. As a result, math dominated the curriculum in our home and most of my children learned to hate it. I had always liked the subject, but I didn’t love the way it dominated our curriculum any more than my children did. My children would get so burned out that they would end up not finishing the course by the end of the year. In the fall, I would have them take the placement tests again. Year after year, they would place in the next textbook anyway. I figured out that the first lessons in the book were primarily review, so I had the children either skip those chapters or just take the chapter tests each day until they reached a point where they obviously needed to begin to do the exercises. I also stopped having them do every single problem. Instead, they did odd number problems on odd days and even numbered problems on other days. Sometimes we skipped the problem sets altogether and just did the practice sets. I purchased alternate math curriculum for some of my children. I let them choose what math programs they wanted to use. There are even periods of time when one or more children (gasp) leaves math off of the daily “to do” list altogether. Originally it had been my goal that my children would complete the Saxon Math series in its entirety. Over the years, I recognized that this goal was not meaningful to some of my children. Some of them didn’t need Physics and Calculus in their home education years. Some of them might never need it and would only need basic math skills.  Their passions and interests are in other areas and they need their time for activities relating to those passions. Not only that, but if the time comes that they need those courses, they can take them when they are ready to do so. Home education in our family improved greatly when I stepped back and began to simplify the goals that I had for my children. We now have a lot more time for the things that really matter most.

When it comes to home education and family life, look for the small and simple way.

My first habit…simply simplify.

Next habit…balance.

RC

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Note: Because of its length, this blog has been published in two parts. I like the second part best! Don’t miss it.

Okay, it’s been almost one full week since public schools released the children to their families in our part of the world. I’m starting to hear it almost everywhere I go…”I can’t wait for school to start again.”…no, not from children…from their parents, usually mothers. I must say that I sympathize. There are some summer days when I too cannot wait for school to start again…for different reasons. Not so that I can rid my home of all these pesky children who live with me, but so that the neighbor kids will go back to school and I can have my children to myself again. I’ve had to make rules and set limits on how much time is open for the neighbor kids to hang around. I’ve had to set limits to what time they may come knocking at our door each morning. I know….I’m sounding like the summertime grinch and you are wondering whatever happened to the Kool-Aid mom. Well, don’t look for her here, she doesn’t live here. No, this mom likes lots of time with her children. Oh, I don’t mind play dates here and there…on my time frame, it’s just having the neighbors over all day, every day, and at all hours that I object to. Okay…in honesty this isn’t so much a problem anymore. After many summers, the neighborhood kids have learned the rules and also understand what kind of behavior is expected in our home, so summers glide by pretty smoothly.

But for mothers who are already at their wits end with having their own children home for the summer, perhaps I can offer some tidbits to consider. Oh, I know, this “advice” is coming from a strange quarter. After all, what public schooling mom wants to read what a home schooling mom has to say about their summertime woes? But bear with me sisters, I appreciate your woes, and truly, maybe I have something to say that may be of use to you. After all, I am used to having my children home all day, and every day.

Decompression

While you are feeling more pressure at having your children home all day, what your children are likely feeling is disequilibrium resulting from a phenomenon called decompression. In the home schooling community, many call it detox, and some home school “authorities” believe that the process of decompressing from the heavily structured public school environment takes one full month for each year that a child has spent in school. But if your child is beyond 2nd grade and you only have three months of Summer vacation ahead of you, don’t despair. I personally believe that children are very resilient and that they can rather quickly make progress in learning to self-direct their activities in constructive ways.

Consider what is happening for your child; all of the pressure is suddenly off for your children and perhaps they don’t know quite what to do with so much freedom…or maybe they know just what they want to do with their days but you don’t like their choices.

Your children are used to having every moment of every day structured for them. They are used to the rush to get up in the morning, grabbing a bite to eat and running out the door. A bell rings at certain intervals of the day directing them as to when it is time to move to the next class. Evenings are filled with homework, youth activities, soccer practice, music lessons, etc. And now, with the advent of summer, they are plunged into a world of seeming emptiness. Long hours stretch before them each day which they are at a loss as to how to fill. Their days are no longer structured by someone else and they haven’t yet learned how to do this for themselves. Not only that, but they’ve been looking forward to Summer vacation for months and now they don’t know what to do with it. Without someone telling them what to do, they are “bored”.  Normal behavior in this kind of situation is fighting and bickering with siblings, whom they are not used to spending whole days and weeks at a time with; and long hours in front of screens such as TV and computer, alternated with sighs and declarations of boredom.

So what’s a mom to do? Here are some tidbits to consider from a mom who has her children home pretty much 24/7 year round.

Don’t try to entertain them all summer.

Oh sure, schedule some carefree days at the beach, a picnic for lunch, or maybe even a day at the zoo but definitely don’t feel like it is your job to entertain your children all summer long with trips that are extremely structured and which take a lot of planning. Don’t line up their summers with camps and swimming lessons, and more of the same pressure and heavy structure that they get all year. Let your children have the summer as a time to relax, decompress, and enjoy unstructured playtime. Give them time to learn to self-direct their activities…summertime is the perfect opportunity for that.

Do organize and share responsibilities for chores in your home.

Help your children to understand that it is not Mom’s job to do all the cleaning and cooking. At our home the mantra is “Do you live here? Then you must help with whatever chores need doing. It’s as natural as waking up in this home.” If my children complain about chores…and yes, even my perfect little cherubs often complain, all I generally need to say is “Do you live here?” I usually get a wry smile with a “Yes, Mom” and off they go to complete their family responsibilities.

Children need to understand that they have their own personal chores first. They are responsible for their personal belongings and space. And then they are also responsible to help with shared space and belongings. The way that chores are divided differs substantially from one family to the next, so I cannot make any definite recommendations which would be right for all families; but what I can say is that all families need a system. It might be as simple as having the family all work together for an hour in the mornings or afternoons to accomplish what is needed. It might be more structured with certain family members being given responsibility for certain chores on a regular or on a rotating basis, or a combination of things like this. Our family uses both of these systems at different times.

So sit down and define what needs to be done and then think about what would be the best way for your family  to accomplish those things. Include the children. Not only will they have some great ideas, but they will also feel some ownership for their part and some sense of community with the family to do what is needed so that things run smoothly. How much nicer for them…and for you…than having Mom or Dad dictate what they will do and then nag about it later.

And while you are at it, don’t forget to spend time actually teaching your children what it is exactly that you expect. What does a good job really look like? How do you go about it? What hints can you give to expedite the job or to make it a little more fun?

And finally, work alongside them. I grew up with a father who did this well. Saturday mornings were cleaning time at our house. Dad put on the music nice and loud, and we all worked together until it was done. It was fun working alongside of Dad…somehow it didn’t seem so much like a chore then.

Do make a list of suggested activities if they are bored.

Your children are used to having each moment directed. It’s natural for them to look to an adult to tell them what to do and how to structure their days. Help them to see that it is now their opportunity and privilege to self-direct their activities. Make a list of suggestions and post it on the refrigerator. Let them help make the list. Come up with as many things that they might choose to do as you can think of. This list might include some questions for them to think about or some observations for them to make…not just things to do. Here’s a beginning:

  • Read a book.
  • Draw or paint a picture of something you see outdoors.
  • Build a tower with the blocks.
  • Play a board game with a sibling.
  • Make a snack for the family.
  • How many different birds can you see or hear in the backyard?
  • How many colors can you see in nature?
  • How many living things can you count in the backyard?
  • Water the garden or the grass.
  • Put together a puzzle.
  • Straighten the silverware drawer.
  • Write a story about…
  • Start a nature journal.

These are just a few things that come to my own mind in about the  two minutes it took to write it. You and your children will be able to brainstorm quite a long list.

Don’t make chores a punishment for being bored.

This is a huge temptation for parents. “Oh, you are bored? Here I have a list of chores you can choose from.” Really, I suspect that what we really want as parents is a sense of community about chores and a feeling that everyone simply must do their part. Oh sure, you can include some of the chores that need to be done in the home on your list of suggested activities if they are bored, but don’t make it a punishment. Instead, let them choose to clean out that cupboard if they want to and then help them feel that wonderful sense of accomplishment at a job well done. “Wow! That cupboard looks so good! Doesn’t it make you almost want to leave it open and just look at it? How much nicer this will be for our family.” For those of you who are saying “Yeah right…my child would never choose to clean out the cupboard”, may I suggest that you stop making chores a punishment or a negative for a while and just see what happens? My children are a little older now…ages 10-20, but they quite regularly will clean out a cupboard or do an extra chore willingly…and with no extrinsic reward. I have one son who is OCD about my silverware drawer. It really bugs him when it is a mess and he is always straightening it out. (Now if I could just find a way for him to be OCD about his bedroom…but that is another blog.)

Find part two of this blog here.

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Christopher Robin: I like that, too. But what I like most of all is just doing nothing.

Winnie the Pooh: How do you do just nothing?

Christopher Robin: Well, it’s when grown-ups ask, “What are you going to do?” and you say, “Nothing,” and then you go and do it.

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Winnie the Pooh: I like that. Let’s do it all the time.

(from The House At Pooh Corner)

I lay there on the exercise mat. Flat on my back and looking out the tall tall windows at the fluffy clouds floating by, the contrail of a jet that had just flown over, and at the birds in the bare branches of the tree just outside the right side window. I had not known what to expect when the physical therapist had placed this mat behind the upright bicycle and then carefully demonstrated how he wanted me to position myself on the mat…not just how I was to end up, but the process I was to take in getting from standing behind the mat and beside the bike, to kneeling and then lying on the floor stomach down, placing the left arm overhead, and then rolling over onto my back behind the bike and placing my feet on the pedals of the bike. All in one long slow fluid movement…one movement following and flowing into the next…like a dance. I rather lumpily followed his instructions until, low and behold, I ended up lying on the mat, positioned behind the bicycle.

In this way, I was to bicycle…on my back. The PT, Jon, explained how I was doing a good thing for my body. My spaces between the disks in my back were able to spread out, the spine was perfectly aligned, no pressure on the disks, and no stress on my neck. I had commented that I only needed a book to complete the picture. “You people”, he had said “always wanting to multi-task…that would put stress on your arms and neck.” Appropriately chastened, I immediately understood the truth of his words. So there I lay. I thought to myself, “nothing to do but enjoy the moment”…and I can’t feel guilty about it either…total freedom to enjoy the moment. Free to do one thing and one thing only, free to let my mind go where it would…or nowhere at all. Free to feel the peace that stopping for a moment and observing the beauty of nature always brings. Tim, the assistant, asked if I needed to have the sun blocked. “Are you kidding? I’m totally enjoying the sun!” So there I was (like a cat in the sun, Jon had later commented) enjoying the fact that I had “nothing to do” but lie there and look at the clouds as I rhythmically pedaled the gently whirring wheel of the stationary bike. I could really get used to this sort of therapy!

I thought about how I came to be here. The pain and numbness in my shoulder and arm…coming and going over the last year until the doctor had sent me to try some physical therapy for it and Jon had traced the pain to my neck…though the symptoms were manifest in my arm and shoulder. Living with pain is not a new experience for me. I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 17 years ago and upon learning that it was not going to hurt me to push through the pain, I had (most of the time) learned to push past it and even to ignore it…except on those rare occasions when it became impossible…and then I would almost frantically search for answers. And I had found many of the answers that I needed.

But this pain was different. It wasn’t something that I could ignore and I knew that ignoring it and pushing past it might cause more damage. I was forced to stop and pay heed to what the pain was telling me. The last year had been like a gift to me. My responsibilities at church were less involved than they had been in a long while. I had more time to relax. I spent an hour each morning doing yoga…time for myself to relax and to feel peace. And now this. I had prayed to know what I was to learn from this experience…what was the “gift” I was to find in this trial? The answer had come to my mind almost immediately, “Slow down, feel peace, see beauty, enjoy life…stop rushing past it.” “But…isn’t that what I’ve been doing these last months?”, I thought. I thought that I had been learning those lessons well. We have a relaxed homeschool schedule. We generally keep evenings free with the exception of church related activities (okay, these frequently add up to a busy week…but we make choices and limit our activity where we can.) We always have dinner together as a family…usually the best time of the day where we can connect as a family. As I looked around myself at all the busy people running here and there, I really thought that, comparatively, I already led a pretty peaceful and low-key, sort of life. And yet I felt that the Lord was telling me to slow down? I thought I was slowing down, simplifying, etc. This recent challenge had caused me to discontinue my yoga and violin playing on the advice of the PT until we got things worked out. If I was supposed to slow down, then why had those two things…of all things…two of the things in my life in which I felt that I did slow down and feel peace…why had they been taken from me?  Could it be that I wasn’t really listening? That I wasn’t “getting it”?

I looked back over my notes to myself over the past year…

  • slow down, simplify, do not “run faster”, re-focus
  • focus on fundamentals, avoid over-scheduling, diligence to things that matter most, strengthen marriage
  • God – spend meaningful time alone, be still and know
  • Family – Do simple things together
  • Others – Serve in small and simple ways
  • Self – take time to get to know myself and see myself as God sees me

And a few months later

  • slow down, stick to essentials
  • get to know each child better
  • get to know myself better

Do you ever have “conversations” with the Lord in your mind? I do that. I remembered another “conversation” that I had with the the Lord one day in my mind. I was still trying to figure out why…and how…and exactly where…I was supposed to “slow down”. Now, I’ve been told in personal revelations that I have been blessed in many ways because I am diligent…a quality that many, if not most of us, share, so you’ll probably relate to how I was feeling. I felt like I’d already slowed down in so many ways that to slow down anymore would be to stop…surely the Lord didn’t want that…surely he had many things he wanted me to do…because I’m diligent. I still had my responsibilities teaching the young girls at church and many responsibilities at home which couldn’t be delegated or ignored. I remember thinking to the Lord “but Lord…I’m diligent”. The thought that instantly filled my mind then was “Yes, I want you to be diligent at taking care of yourself and at slowing down.”

Okay. I can do that.

So I’ve been trying really hard to do that. We created a space where I can “bicycle on my back”…and separated my personal study space from the sewing space that I had, and in the process, we cleared out a lot of clutter. More importantly, I backed off of the expectations for myself of things that I wanted to (or thought I should be) studying, and I just spent time “being”…and bicycling…and “doing” nothing. As I have done this, I’ve come to realize something. It’s this: Acting still and Being still are two very different things. I had done lots of things in my life to simplify and to be outwardly still…but I hadn’t done the same so that I could be inwardly still. I realized that I constantly had a very long “to do” list running in my brain…and its ever present companion…the “you should have done” list. These two lists are among the things that have been keeping me from truly being still. So I needed to stop doing yoga, and learning the violin, and studying all of the things that I wanted to study so that I could learn to separate doing from being. I’m not finished learning this lesson. It’s not always easy to live in the momentjust being, but little by little I’m learning how to do that.

And more importantly, I’m beginning to see why this is so vitally important! When I stopped doing “things” all day long and started to focus on doing “nothing” all day long, I suddenly began to feel more peace, see more beauty, and connect with my children and loved ones more. I’m beginning to receive revelations more readily from the Lord. I’m beginning to feel creativity flow naturally and easily. I wake up in the morning with so many new thoughts and ideas that I can’t contain them all.

I was re-reading a favorite book recently and the author does a good job of describing the phenomenon that I think I’ve been experiencing. The book is The Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In her first chapter, The Beach, she describes something that I think is familiar to all of us: The vacation; the trip to the sea-side, or the mountains, or where ever. You go (at least I always do) with a big satchel of books or projects or things that you plan to do while you are there. Usually these are things that you enjoy but don’t have enough time to get to, and vacation is the perfect time for that, so you take it all along with you. But something interesting usually happens, doesn’t it. You never really get down to doing all of the things you brought along to do…or at least you don’t do them at first.

by Hirohisat from WikiMedia Commons

Instead, what Anne calls “deck chair apathy” takes over and you simply sit and do “nothing”. You relax and listen to the waves, you just sit and be until your soul becomes like the beach sand…washed clean of all of yesterdays scribblings…and also tomorrows scribblings…for we carry those with us too. It is in this state…this washed clean state, this blank slate place…that we can have the space that we need to really listen…and really hear…and really feel joy. It’s such an amazing paradox…”doing nothing” in this sense is a really important sort of nothing…as Christopher Robin (or rather A. A. Milne) captures for us. I think that this is what the Lord is trying to help me to understand and to find in my everyday life. It has become my conviction that these moments are not supposed to be reserved just for vacation times, they are for everyday. And it’s not as though I cannot do yoga anymore, or learn the violin, or any of the things that I like to do…as long as I am remembering to just be as I do these things. I can sense that this lesson will take me some time to really learn well, but with Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin as my guide, I think I can begin to learn this lesson the Lord is trying to teach me. Perhaps this is, at least in part, what he means when he exhorts us to “become as a child”. (see Luke 18:16-17 and also 3 Nephi 11:37)

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