"Celebrate Life" is the fourth theme in our year of conscious living, and I recognize that this phrase may mean different things to everyone. The birth of a baby, green buds on new shoots ready to burst open with the sun's warmth, a child's graduation, a spring wedding: all of these events are joyful celebrations of the preciousness of life.
Our little great-nephew also celebrates his first birthday today -- a wonderful occasion to celebrate life and the happiness he has brought to his parents and first time grandparents on both sides.
Spring is the season on the farm when we herald in new life, and this year has been no exception. Several sturdy calves have made their entrance and it is fun to watch them as they take their first wobbly steps to where they are now chasing each other around in play. Sadly, we recently also lost twin calves and their gentle mama cow during a difficult birth, a bittersweet experience not uncommon on farms in the spring.
What does celebrating life mean to you? How do you draw down into the minute moments in your life to truly appreciate the life in you and around you?
I have found that it takes a conscious effort to celebrate life each day. Here are a few strategies I have found to be especially helpful in striving to "Celebrate Life".
1. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
It is natural to feel deep gratitude when we reach our goals or are celebrating something big. We also often feel deep gratitude when tragedy is averted, or when tragedy strikes and we realize just how precious life is. It can take a wake-up call to recognize how much we have for which to be grateful.
But why wait for the wonderful or the tragic moments to feel gratitude? What if you woke up everyday with a sense of joy and gratitude for what you have, however that currently looks like for you? Practice starting your day with a list of at least three things for which you are grateful, a good sleep, a hot cup of coffee, a comfortable home, a loving partner (if you have one), good friends. It doesn't matter what your list consists of, just start. Write them down. Give thanks for those things. Do the same at the end of each day, listing three things that happened that day for which you are grateful. Focusing on the positives in your life can make a big difference in how you see the negatives.
2. Shake it up
Winter doldrums can often spill over into Spring blues. Some days can feel monotonous and inert. Sometimes, those "some" days can spill over into each other and become a season of what seems to be little progress and low cheer.
Sometimes our lives need a period of dormancy to prepare us for the next stage in our lives. If you think that may be the case for you in your current circumstances, try to embrace this season in your life as an opportunity to reconnect with yourself. Use the time to stimulate your senses, which will perk up your mood and your surroundings. Bring fresh flowers home. Try cooking a new dish. Turn off the TV and turn up your stereo (but don't aggravate your neighbors!) and dance, yes, dance to the music. Upbeat music on your playlist is good for your soul and can make even the most mundane chores more enjoyable.
As we covered last month in our "Being Present" essay, our lives can become busy and so can our minds. We can miss opportunities to connect with people around us, and they with us.
Connectedness is a critical human need. Even the most introverted among us still require human connection to flourish. Put your phone down. Talk to your family, your friends, and yes, your cat (he usually won't allow you not to talk to him!) Engage the clerk at the grocery checkout. Observe others around you and strive to make eye contact. That harried young mom in the queue with the toddler having a meltdown will appreciate your warm smile much more than silence.There is more loneliness in the world than we realize. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Doing so opens us to seeing the world through another person's lens. Remember to thank your family and/or friends for their kindnesses to you.
Engage with your spiritual self. I actually debated whether or not to include this here, so strongly are some people opposed to the concept of spirituality. But it is an elemental part of our being, and people suffer when any part of their being is repressed. So, seek out answers to your questions and ensure that your spirit is connected with God as you know Him to be. Doing so will give you a sense of belonging and purpose.
4. Fresh Air
There are plenty of opportunities on the farm to get outside as there is always something that needs to be done! However, I can squirrel myself indoors for extended periods (there is lots to do inside too) and not even realize how much fresh air I have missed until the day is over. If you are the same, we can both do better!
It's also important to get your blood moving, especially if your work is fairly sedentary. Go for a walk. Admire the gardens in your neighborhood, or go to a nearby park and walk its paths. With warmer weather, try to take your lunch outdoors if possible. Listen for the birds. One of the first early evening spring sounds we hear on the farm are the dozens of frogs croaking in the many nearby ponds, and mornings are heralded by chirping birds. Reconnect with the nature around you and breathe it in.
I often think that at times, many, if not most of us, miss out on the every day opportunities to find happiness and celebrate life because we are so busy focusing on the big moments that we are certain will bring joy. We rationalize that it's the big occasions, the big changes: that new job, a raise or promotion, or other milestone that will bring us to a place of contentment and from where we can begin to "Celebrate Life". And indeed, those milestones are important and they do require our attention and commitment. But the journey to each of those 'stones is often lengthy, tedious, uncertain, and not without risk. We can -- and often do -- lose sight of other equally important aspects of our lives in the process of "chasing the goal", and shortchange our own well-being as a result.
It is the little things in our every day lives that give us true meaning. I think the elderly understand this so much better than the rest of us do; but it is not too early to learn from them!
And even if we are not particularly focused on chasing big goals, we can still get bogged down in the daily drudgery of our lives and begin to simply exist. When our needs are small but our means are even smaller. When there seems to be no path forward and little hope that our future will be brighter. Or there are other difficulties -- family dynamics, estranged relationships, and other issues tormenting our mental well-being. Our world's colours begin to fade to shades of grey and our feet weigh thirty pounds each, so heavy is the effort to take each step forward. It is hard to celebrate life when it seems dreary.
When that happens, dreariness can overwhelm your mental well-being and prey on your confidence, your self-worth, your relationships, and even your life.
What to do?
Firstly, If you are sad or anxious more than you feel calm or happy, please consider seeking help through a professional therapist. A mental health check-up is as important as your annual physical and should probably be done more frequently than that. Please don't shrug off a case of "the blues" if they persist beyond a couple of weeks, especially if you have suffered from depression in the past.
There are wonderful, caring people who can help in the following suicide prevention hotlines:
Canada: Call: 1-833-456-4566 or Text: 45645
United States: Call: 1-800-784-2433
United Kingdom: Call: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK - local rate)
Secondly, please connect. Connect with yourself, perhaps using some of the ideas here. Connect with trusted friends or family members. Please let them know how you are feeling and ask for their support. You are never a burden! Allow yourself to lean on them and to rest in their love while your own mental well-being strengthens and recovers. Remember that your track record for getting through these tough times thus far, is 100 percent, and allow yourself the grace to continue to strive today and tomorrow. If you haven't heard this, please take this message to heart:
YOU are important.
YOU make a difference.
In memory of a dear friend and gentle soul. You mattered. You made a difference. I miss you, Pam.