At 9,600 feet elevation, you have a new appreciation for oxygen and your lungs ability to pump it through your respiratory system. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I take my morning run through the scenic mountain town of Breckenridge. During the first five minutes or so, my lungs experience a slight burning sensation and my brain sends little “are you kidding me – we’re really going to do this?” messages. But, soon, I find my rhythm and the clean mountain air feels great and my mind focuses on the tranquil beauty of the river, bright blues skies and surrounding mountains. (especially novel and amazing sights for a flatlander from Dallas, Texas) My body takes over and does what it’s designed to do without my giving it another thought.
It’s so easy to take something as omnipresent as oxygen for granted in our day-to-day lives. And yet, when we experience something as basic and ordinary as breathing in a new set of conditions (in a higher altitude, as we exercise, or a combination of both) its preciousness becomes more apparent. Even in my everyday life back in Dallas, I sometimes notice that I’m not taking full breaths. When I have this realization and remedy it by taking in a few deep, cleansing breathes, the relaxing and energizing effects are immediate and transformative – an instant oasis, if you will.
A wonderful doctor, Dr. Margaret Christensen, posts as signs all around her office that simply say “Breathe”. I’m always amazed how within the course of a visit with her, I’m reminded to breath a half-dozen times or more and how wonderful it feels. It’s unbelievable really, but most of us forget to really connect with our breath and breathe deeply the majority of the time. It’s as if we have this magical device at our disposal that we neglect to use. Feeling stressed, anxious or nervous? Take a nice deep breath and let it go. Dangerously close to losing your cool with your co-worker or kid? Breathe deeply and feel the calm flow throughout your body. Feeling particularly grateful for something, breathe in and let the positive energy expand within you.
My dear friend, Jane Baldwin, founder of Pranasalara, (which translates to “breathing through illusion to freedom”) leads amazing breathing circles. Using special breathing techniques, she guides you into a state that transcends the usual mind/body/spirit condition and allows you to experience a soul-cleansing release that is truly extraordinary.
So, the first lesson the mountains have shared with me this summer, and my gentle reminder to you is this – remember to breathe. You have the magical power to bring a calm, focused energy to yourself – anytime, anywhere – your breath. How great is that?
All the best from my oasis to yours,
My preferred method for building sand castles is the “drip” technique. You don’t need special molds, buckets or even a shovel. A glorious drip castle can be created using nothing but ocean water, sand and your hands. (thick brownish sand of Texas beaches is ideal –beautiful sugary sands of Florida – not so much)
If you sit right at the water’s edge, you don’t even need a bucket to hold the water. Just dig a little hole in the sand with your hands and let the incoming tide fill ‘er up. Then scoop out handfuls of soft, mushy sand and let it drip slowly out of your hands onto the beach. As you do this again and again, forms begin to take shape that look a bit like termite mounds or reverse stalagmites.
I love the free form way the structures evolve. I love the tactile experience – the way the sand feels as it oozes out of my hand – soft, squishy and warm. (I often give myself a little spa-like foot mud-scrub while I’m at it.) I love the process as much as the end result – which is one reason I find it to be such a satisfying creative endeavor. And, as a bonus – it’s supremely relaxing – therapeutic even.
Sand castles are not meant to last forever. I think their impermanence only adds to their unique magic. Like a sacred mandala, carefully crafted by Buddhist monks in ritualized ceremony, sand castles are meant to be enjoyed during their creation and by onlookers, and then lovingly offered back to the sea by the wind and the waves. (Once the Buddhist mandalas, with their intricate designs of brightly colored sand, are complete – they’re blessed, desecrated and usually released into a body of water to further spread the blessings.)
During my most recent trip to the beach, there were some major, architectural sand sculptures up and down the shore. Enormous castles complete with moats, turrets, bridges and flags. The coolest one was a life-size speedboat complete with bench seats large enough for four adults to sit in.
Mine, however, was more along the lines of the free-form structure that Richard Dreyfuss created over and over again in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I think I remember him using dirt, paper and even mashed potatoes to build it. He had no idea what he was building – but he was inexplicably compelled to do so. Me too!
Drip sand castles are a nice reminder that there are times when process trumps end product, free-form trumps structure, and messy beats tidy and neat! (check out this “Wreck This Journal” post by Pink Heels for another great example of this)
What can you do today to play with a creative process, make a bit of a mess and just have fun with it? I’d love for you to share your creative/therapeutic ideas with me!
Beach people are happy people, generally at least. During my sunrise runs, most people I pass on the beach are content, if not downright joyful. Fishing, walking their dogs, running barefoot along the shoreline (like me) or up on softer sand in running shoes with headphones. To me, an early morning walk or run on the beach is one of life’s greatest pleasures and a true “oasis moment”. (I believe this would be true even if I were lucky enough to live near a beach and have the opportunity to run there anytime I wanted and not just the one or two weeks out of a year that vacation currently allows. A theory I hope to test in the future!)
Recently, I realized during one of these morning constitutionals that I was so focused on the stretch of sand just ahead of me that I had to remind myself to stop and take a moment to turn to the sea, to breathe in the fresh morning air and drink in the splendor of the foamy white waves rolling onto the shoreline. As I took a moment to revel in the beauty and rhythm of the rolling waves, the sounds of the surf and feel of the salty breeze on my face and the soft sand beneath my feet, I realized that this was just like our day-to-day lives. Often, we set off running through our days – seeing only the few feet in front of us – attention focused on the immediate tasks at hand. It’s only when we remind ourselves to stop and really take in the wonder and beauty of life that we can revel in the present moment. It seems to me that one of the benefits of mid-life is this is a time we finally begin to appreciate how delightful, how important and how absolutely necessary it is to stop and smell the roses (or sea air, or first cup of coffee of the day). In our 20’s we’re usually moving fast and furiously (even if we don’t know what we’re moving towards). In our 30’s – we may have others’ needs to consider (a partner, a child, a boss…) and we tend to put our needs on the back burner. But as we approach our 40’s and beyond, it begins to dawn on us – “Hey – this is my life. No one else is going to live it or enjoy it for me. I better starting doing some things that I want to do for a change!” Mid-life oasis here I come! And, if by chance you haven’t had that though yet, let me by the first to share it with you – take some time today, (take some time every day), to treat yourself to an oasis moment. Turn towards the waves and the rising sun in your world and revel in it. Paint your toenails or a canvas or a t-shirt. Toast your girlfriends or some marshmallows around a campfire in your backyard. Take a walk – even if it’s just around the block and notice five things you’ve never seen before. Dedicate the experience to yourself. Be fully present in the moment and let it fill you with delight. Then watch how little bursts of joy seep into other aspects of your day. You may find yourself smiling for no particular reason other than it just feels better that way. Beach people are happy people…and my wish for you today is that you enjoy a little bit of beach people attitude wherever you may be.
Beach vacation, day one. Our cars were packed with beach towels, sunscreen, Scrabble, paperbacks and the several electronic devices that my daughter “needs” for a road trip. (I bit my tongue rather than launch into a “back in my day we played travel bingo and we liked it” tirade.)
About an hour and a half into our drive, we stopped in Waco, Texas for a quick break. Once back in our cars, mine (which had just been serviced that week in preparation for this trip) failed to turnover. Nothing. Just the dreaded click-click-click of a dead battery. Great. Neither we, nor my parents, whom we were caravanning with had jumper cables. Great. The temperature was already creeping up past ninety degrees. And we had our dog in the car with us. Great. Then the nicest thing happened. A man in an old white truck pulled up next to us and asked if he could help. He had jumper cables. He had tools. He had patience and know-how and, in the end he took my dad to a local auto parts store to buy the battery that we needed. He didn’t want to accept the money that we offered as a thank-you. He said, “I just like to help people.” Wow. The entire inconvenience lasted about an hour and was worth every minute because it restored our faith in humanity. It reminded us that there are still good people in the world, willing to take an hour out of their Saturday, in hot, sweaty temperatures to help out some people that they don’t know and will more than likely never see again. Beach lesson #1 – people are good.
Ahhhh… the rewards of stepping out of your comfort zone. Recently, my sister-in-law turned me onto a week-long detox diet that she found on GOOP. For those of you who don’t know squat about GOOP (I didn’t either until two weeks ago) it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter, filled with fun facts about Gwen’s glamorous life and helpful hints to boot. (Apparently she’s so nice and down-to-earth with her advice that we can’t hate – her even though she’s a runway thin, beautiful movie actress married to a rock star!)
I’d been curious about trying a cleanse of some sort, but wasn’t prepared (and doubt that I ever will be) to exist on water with cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemon juice for two weeks. Most cleanses I’d heard about sounded so difficult…so stringent…so unappealing. What sold me on GOOP’s particular plan were the beautiful photos of fresh green soups and salads, brightly colored juices and creamy smoothies. Now, maybe that I could live with for a week, I thought. Even though I’d have to cut out all processed foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and grains for a week? Gulp. Still outside the comfort zone, but, perhaps doable? Luckily, I had the support of my awesomely wonderful sister-in-law, Shannon. (I have forgiven my brother a mountain of past transgressions for bringing her into our family.) We talked each day and sent encouraging e-mails. We shared tips. (try freezing half the rice milk for your smoothie to make it creamy like something from TCBY) And within a few days, we both had the realization that this was not, in fact, going to kill us. There was even a good chance it might make us stronger. (not to mention a bit lighter) Here’s the reward – I stepped outside my comfort zone (a week with coffee or wine…really?) and ended up feeling better than I’ve felt in months. And, I can honestly say that after the week was over, I’ve had no desire to dive right back into my pre-GOOP ways. It has been a nice fresh start for me. I’m not suggesting that you all run out and do this detox – but I would encourage you to take a step (even a small one) outside of your comfort zone. Think of something you’ve been toying around with doing, but just haven’t been able to muster the oomph you need to try it. Do you pass a yoga studio and think, “Gee, I’d like to try that, but I’m afraid I can’t bend that way anymore?” Have you always harbored a secret fantasy to belt out a tune at an open-mic night but can’t seem to find a wheelbarrow to carry a tune in? Would you love to take a drawing class, but haven’t drawn more than a conclusion in years? Maybe you just wish you could say “No” for once to the person who keeps calling and asking you for favors that she never returns (you know who you are – shame on you.) I think this is fitting quote to leave you with: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.” – Mark Twain. Why not get something new? All the best from my oasis to yours, Jill