New. Year.

“This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it. Make it bend — trees are flexible, so they don’t snap. Scar it, give it a twisted branch, perfect trees don’t exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting. Be the tree.” — Laurie Halse Anderson

Heartfelt Wishes for a Twisted, Imperfect New Year!

IMAGE: woman as a tree, Geof Kern, 1996. The Fahey/Klein Gallery writes: “Kern’s multifaceted style combines photography and illustration and redefines the traditional photographic genres of fashion and still life. He uses fabricated sets and pseudo-suburban scenes to mock the mundane. Steering away from high profile models, Kern prefers neighbors, acquaintances, and locals to take stage in his fanciful constructed realities. His approach to the “everyday” and domestic subject matter is riddled with irony, imagination, and subtle humor.” For more of his work, visit www.geofkern.com.

Wearing the Year Loosely

Of the character Vera in SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING, Amy Tan writes:

“Since turning 50 ten years ago, she had decided that her usual garb should be no less comfortable than what she wore to bed.”

YES! I thought when I read that. Exactly! But I wasn’t necessarily thinking about clothing…

Nor was St. Francis of Assisi when he suggested we “Wear the world as a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly.”

I’ve decided that this should be my modus operandi for the coming year: to move about in the world more freely, as if in loose garb.

More breath. And ease of movement.

Fewer expectations. Less fear.

Less rabid dog on a bone it’s time to put down.

More laughter. More play.

As if to support this resolution-in-the-making, Rob Brezsny’s ASTROLOGY NEWSLETTER arrived promptly on January 1st. In his treatise for 2019, he writes:

You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be. You don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. There’s no need to strive for a kind of perfection that’s not very interesting to you. You don’t have to believe in ideas that make you sad or tormented, and you don’t have to feel emotions that others try to manipulate you into feeling.

In my dreams, I am obliterating delusions that keep you moored to false idols. I am setting fire to the unnecessary burdens you lug around. And I am tearing you away from the galling compromises you made once upon a time to please people who don’t deserve it.

But it’s actually a good thing I can’t just wave a magic wand. Here’s a much better solution: YOU will clarify your analysis of the binds you’re in, supercharge your willpower, and set yourself free.

And you WILL purchase brightly-colored, flowy kaftans to wear around the house.

Ok, no, Rob did not write that part, but…perhaps a brightly-colored, flowy kaftan is exactly what is called for as we step lithely into the new year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, my friends—may it be loose, light, and comfortable.


BONUS: Also from Rob Brezsny, consider these questions yourself:

  1. What outlandish urges and controversial tendencies do you promise to cultivate in the coming months?
  2. What nagging irritations will you ignore and avoid with even greater ingenuity?
  3. What problems do you promise to exploit in order to have even more fun as you make the status quo accountable for its corruption?
  4. What boring rules and traditions will you thumb your nose at, paving the way for exciting encounters with strange attractors?
1. Essay ©2019, Jen Payne. 2. Image: Small Odalisque in Purple Robe, by Henri Matisse. 3. Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan should be on your To Read list. 4. Rob Brezsny is a genius and you should subscribe to his Astrology Newsletter. 5. Click here for more about Loose Garments.

On Winter, Recovery, and Preparation

This week, I spent a day in the company of a magnificent barred owl. Perched outside my office window for much of an afternoon, it was a reminder of the Magic we sometimes miss as we go about our fast, frenetic lives.

If you’re like me, you’re looking at DECEMBER on your calendar and realizing just how busy busy you’ve been this year. December? How did that happen?

Well, the good news is that Winter fast approaches, with December 21 marking the first day of this often-maligned season. Yes, I said “good news.” I realize that a lot of folks are not thrilled with the impending cold weather, the threat of snow, the darkness. But I am of the same mind as travel writer Paul Theroux, who describes Winter as “a season of recovery and preparation.”

Recovery from the weight of the past 12 months — its success and failures; its triumphs and losses. Winter is a chance to take stock of what we must put down, what we will save as memory, what we choose to carry forward.

Choose to carry forward into the life that lies ahead. 2019 – How did that happen?

A time for Preparation, indeed!

While one cannot prepare for Magic (or Disappointment)…it is possible to set down good Intentions for the coming months. Call them Resolutions, if you will, or simply Affirmations. Good and positive thoughts for the year to come. What are yours — do you know yet?

For my part, I am making room, clearing space for that “what comes next.” It is both a literal process — organizing piles, taking filled boxes to the thrift shop, making lists — and metaphoric in that I am likewise clearing the clutter in my headspace to allow for something new to show up.

Is it Magic then, or coincidence, that Owl is the harbinger of change? Of Owl, Elena Harris at Spirit Animal writes: “When the owl shows up in your life, pay attention to the winds of change. Perhaps you are about to leave some old habits, a situation that no longer serves you, or maybe bring something new in your life.”

So, what old habits will you leave at the feet of 2018? What doors will you close? What new ideas, challenges, or adventures will you welcome?

Wherever your journey leads, and whatever you find along the way, please go easy and take good care of yourself. Enjoy the blessings of this season meant for recovering slowness and preparing for the possibility of Magic ahead!

With Love,

Jen Payne

At Year’s End…

shavasana

At the end of a session of yoga, you make your way to a pose called Shavasana, which comes from the Sanskit words Shava (corpse) and Asana (posture). Corpse pose.

The intention of Shavasana, the ritual closing of any yoga session, is to allow your body to regroup and reset itself.

Perhaps that explains my general sense of things here at year’s end. I am not so much slothful or lazy as I am in an extended, two-week Shavasana — allowing my psyche to both reflect and regroup. Stealing the chance to process this year that has been so full and so good I find myself wondering when I returned the Gobstopper!

At the beginning of the year, astrology guru Rob Brezsny predicted things would move more rapidly than usual in 2014. “You will be traveling a more direct route, and you will be both wide and deep.”

He neglected to mention that by the end of the 12 months, I would have faced fears, found sweet closures, accomplished life-long goals, felt greater and safer connection to the world around me, and fallen in love.

But no one would be so brash.

Better to experience that kind of year slowly, like a well-paced session of yoga: breathe, stretch, move, bend, and breathe some more.

Better to step into the new year in the same way, I suppose. No heavy lifting of resolutions (yet). No twisty reflections on what was or wasn’t or could have been better. Just a quiet deep breath with the earth firmly supporting what is about to become.

Wishing you a refreshing year-end Shavasana and a joyful start to 2015…

With love,

jensig-left

2014: GO!

Go010314

If you talk to me this time of year, or read my blog posts, you would think I am super zealous about New Year’s Resolutions. That I have an endless list of self-improvement tasks to make me a better human being.

And while I do select one thing I would like to accomplish each year…

Quit Smoking (2009)
Start Recycling (2010)
Learn Yoga (2011)
Take a Do-Nothing Vacation (2012)
Get Published (2013)
Publish My Book (2014)

…the truth is, my New Year’s resolutions — I call them INTENTIONS — have been the same every year for many years:

Write More
Move More
Travel More
Read More

So New Year’s, to me, is more of a reset than a gauntlet-throwing challenge to my self-worth. It’s a chance to clear the board, put the dog back at GO! and see what happens this time around.

1914This year, in the on-going effort to READ MORE, I have once again signed up for the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge. This will be my second effort at this and I’m excited about it!

Last year, I managed to meet more than 50% of my goal — 28 books! That’s more than I’d read in previous years, and a pretty cool feat.

Want to join me in the 2014 Reading Challenge?
• Sign up here: www.goodreads.com
• Follow me here: www.goodreads.com/user/show/16014792-jen

So, what are you doing for the new year? Do you have a one thing? A list of things? Or do you prefer to wing it—move your piece around the board unfettered?

• • •

One More Walk Around the Boardwalk, by photographer Eric Endow. Reprinted with permission. You can see more of his work on his website, www.endowphotography.com.

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New Year’s Considerations

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Things to consider at the start of a new year, with love and good wishes for a joyful and peaceful journey.

Pray
Meditate
Be aware/Stay awake
Bow
Practice yoga
Feel
Chant and sing
Breathe and smile
Relax/Enjoy/Laugh/Play
Create/Envision
Let Go/Forgive/Accept
Walk/Exercise/Move
Work/Serve/Contribute
Listen/Learn/Enquire
Consider/Reflect
Cultivate oneself/Enhance competencies
Cultivate contentment
Cultivate flexibility
Cultivate friendship and collaboration
Lighten up
Celebrate and appreciate
Dream
Give thanks
Evolve
Love
Share/Give/Receive
Walk softly/Live gently
Expand/Radiate/Dissolve
Simplify
Surrender/Trust
Be born anew

• • •

Attributed to Awakening The Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das.

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A New Year Approaches

melissaharris1213

This time of year always sets me to thinking: what will I change? what can I do better? what do I want to accomplish?

I look for signs. The meaning of a horoscope. A reading from an intuitive. A message from the angels. Words and symbols that cross my path.

There are a lot this year. All seemingly pointing to the same thing.

“When the time comes to love yourself well,” Andrea Gibson said in the quote I posted here just the other day, “it takes a good solid month to stop crying about everything you have to let go.”

And then this morning, this quote posted on a favorite blog:

“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” – Kim McMillen

Which lead me to find Ms. McMillen’s book When I Loved Myself Enough. Here are a few excerpts that resonated for me.

When I loved myself enough I felt compelled to slow down way down. And that has made all the difference.

When I loved myself enough I began to see I didn’t have to chase after life. If I am quiet and hold still, life comes to me.

When I loved myself enough I came to see emotional pain is a signal I am operating outside truth.

When I loved myself enough I started meditating every day. This is a profound act of self-love.

When I loved myself enough I no longer needed things or people to make me feel safe.

When I loved myself enough I stopped fearing empty time and quit making plans. Now I do what feels right and am in step with my own rhythms. Delicious!

When I loved myself enough I began listening to the wisdom of my body. It speaks so clearly through its fatigue, sensitivities, aversions and hungers.

When I loved myself enough I quit rehashing the past and worrying about the future – which keeps me in the present where aliveness lives.

Click here to see which ones you might like to hold onto for 2014. It’s a pretty powerful process.

• • •

Queen of Hearts painting by the most wonderful Melissa Harris. Please visit her website here: www.melissaharris.com.

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Intent-shun!

So, here we are, troops. Nineteen days into the new year and it still feels like the old year. Somehow, in my resolve not to resolve, and despite my stealth pass at New Year’s intentions, I’ve been subverted.

My intent is AWOL.

Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe it means I’m pacified. Not needing to make inroads. Happy with the status quo. At ease.

Negative. Status quo and I rarely close ranks. Not for very long, anyhow.

My intentions — to welcome change, to be authentic, to follow my purpose — are nice. They really are. But in that Switzerland-neutral territory, sort of way. It’s not a bad thing…but…

But there’s nothing for which I need shore up, no challenge to my defenses.

I need to get tough. I need a plan of attack.

I need to give 2011 its walking papers and set down some clear objectives for the new year. Some targets to zero in on. Call them my “12 for 2012.”

Forward, March!

• • •

12 for 2012

1. get something published

2. read more books (which is directly proportional to: “stop watching the $%^&*#@ T.V”)

3. connect with nature often and in new ways

4. go on a whale watch (birthday)

5. continue/expand yoga practice

6. re-bless the business in time for its 20th anniversary (2013!)

7. travel somewhere new

8. take a do-nothing vacation (really. nothing.)

9. have more dinner parties

10. practice the art of being “in the moment”

11. redo the kitchen floor (it’s the one thing I hate about my house)

12. work towards honoring the Sabbath (every week)

• • •

“Intent-shun!” ©2012, Jen Payne, Branford, CT

Photo: Female soldiers stand at attention with their backs to Mead Hall; Pratt Hall is in the background. Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo. Typewritten inscription on the back: “New Job for Marine Drill Instructor – – – After a few weeks training with a capable Drill Instructor the girls at the U. S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Officers’ Training School at Mount Holyoke College, look like this. Hdqtrs. No: 10,683 Dist. List NY-PRO (EPD);” courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College website.

On the Eve of a New Year

It is that time of year we find ourselves thinking of the year ahead. Perhaps, too, of the year we’re leaving.

What have I accomplished?
What have I not?
Where did I succeed?
Where did I falter?
Was I true to my intentions?
Must I find resolve again?

It’s been many years since I set down “resolutions” for myself—those onerous thorns of personal expectation destined to stay with you throughout the year.

I will lose 20 pounds.
I will go to the gym every day.
I will read a book a week.

I squirm at predefined expectations every day, what makes me think I’ll rally to the cause if they’re hidden in the guise of “resolutions”? I won’t.

So each year, now, I simply state my intentions:

to learn
to love
to be open
to welcome change
to be authentic
to follow my purpose
to be better

In my yoga class last week, our instructor asked how we were feeling. “The holidays,” she said, “have a way of making us contract and tighten up.” Then, she led us through an hour of stretching and deep, deep breathing that expanded everything — our muscles, our lungs, our bones, our hearts.

That’s what it should feel like — here at the end of a 12-month cycle of life. No grand expectations. No defined measures of success.

Just a deep, deep breath, stretching and expanding our bones and our hearts so we’re ready, again.

So we’re breathing deeply, inhaling all of the new possibilities of the days and months again.

Happy New Year!

• • •

Photo ©2011, Jen Payne

It’s February 8th, Do You Know Where Your Resolutions Are?

Groundhog Hair by Amber Alexander
Groundhog Hair by Amber Alexander

• • •

OK, so what happened to January?

And what about those resolutions?

If you’re up here north of the jet stream, I suspect your resolutions have burrowed back under a couple feet of snow with the illustrious groundhog!

I know how you feel—mine are still a bunch of nebulous intentions wandering in and out and around my head.

Take heart. We’re not alone. A university study in Britain found that less than a quarter of folks surveyed managed to keep their New Year’s resolutions. It also found that people were more successful in keeping them if they broke down their goals into smaller steps

This finding echoes an article I read recently in Delicious Living called “16 Sustainable Resolutions” by Kate Hanley. In it she offers up “simple changes to improve health [and] increase happiness.” All of that—in baby-step doses.

“Instead of grand gestures (lose 25 pounds, exercise every day),” she writes, “think baby steps. It’s not a cop-out—it’s a wildly effective means of creating lasting change.”

Hanley goes on to quote M.J. Ryan, author of AdaptAbility:

“Making a change takes focus; it requires your brain to not be habitual—but your brain is designed to work habitually.…So do one thing, nail it as a habit, then do the next thing.”

Many of Hanley’s sustainable resolutions are interesting and easy to grab on to. That’s the trick, I think. Being able to sink your teeth into them right from the start. Think about it…“exercise every day,” just makes you want to go take a nap! But, “get to the gym three times a week” seems more manageable, doesn’t it?

I’m including my five favorite ideas from Hanley’s article here. Now let’s dig out from this winter hibernation and get back on track with our resolutions, shall we?

Get up, stand up.
Resolve to stand more during the day—during phone calls, while watching the weather report, on the train. Sitting all day reduces blood levels of lipoprotein lipase, which breaks down fat so it’s available to be burned. This can lower metabolism and increase fat retention. Plus, standing burns more calories than sitting.

Do lunch.
Schedule a weekly lunch date with a rotating cast of characters—your spouse, close friends, coworkers, anyone you’d like to get to know better. Studies show people with strong, diverse social networks live longer, experience less mental decline as they age, and have greater resistance to infectious disease.

Say grace.
Make a habit of saying a simple thank you for the food on your plate and everyone who played a role in getting it there. It will help cultivate gratitude and a deeper connection to your food and where it came from.

Screen your calls.
If you don’t recognize a number, let it go to voice mail. If it’s a friend or family member, consider whether it’s a good time to talk before you answer. “Not answering the phone most of the time saves me probably five hours a week and makes me happier because my attention is less divided,” says Meagan Francis, thehappiestmom.com blogger and author of a soon-to-be-released book of the same name.

Make creativity dates.
Instead of waiting (and waiting) for flashes of inspiration, schedule a weekly date to exercise your own creativity, whether it’s a sewing class, a craft night with friends, or just an hour to pursue a hobby. The goal isn’t to produce a work of art, but to let your mind expand in new ways and continue to grow, literally. Activating the brain by learning novel skills over time enhances memory and helps new brain cells survive, research shows.

• • •

• Wonderful wonderful Groundhog Hair reprinted with permission from artist Amber Alexander. Click here to visit her Etsy shop.

• Click here to read Kate Hanley’s full article on “Sustainable Resolutions.”

• Source of University Study: “New Year’s Resolutions Doomed To Failure, Say Psychologists,” by Ian Sample, The Guardian.