Always Returning: Prairie Wisdom for Breathing in a Good Day Every Day

So what if the day you are having doesn’t seem like A Good Day? No day can be Good all the time!

I’ve learned much Prairie Wisdom from my friend Daisy Hickman, author of Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place. I have her book on my table TBR (to be read) soon! I hope you’ll check it out by clicking on the link.
I asked Daisy to reflect on what she’s learned about A Good Day from her spiritual journey into place as an author.

I offer Daisy’s essay below as a Pre-Thanksgiving Meditation sent to you from a place special to me — Montclair, NJ — where our whole family has gathered to celebrate and be grateful together.

Just breathing, as the snow falls outside the window, brings me joy. Each out-breath sends joy to you!

 

Not Quite There Yet

By Daisy A. Hickman

Indeed, it is the perfect time of year to consider gratitude, a good day, and their convergence.

In fact, according to many spiritual teachers, we should feel grateful for each breath without trying to decide if it is a “happy moment” or an “unhappy moment.” The ability to do this must be the mark of true spiritual enlightenment, because I’m not quite there yet.

But I sense movement in that direction, and for that, I’m deeply grateful.

There is a time for evaluation; there is a time for simply breathing in the moment. As I wrote in my book about wisdom: less is more. And certainly less evaluation (judgment, analysis, reaction) is “more” in this context.

Always Returning Book Cover

Always Returning Book Cover

In terms of what comprises a “good day” for me—while I wrote this book, the first edition (William Morrow) in 1998; the second edition, just this year—

I believe that every day, on a spiritual level, is a good day.

Not necessarily in largely personal terms, because when I encounter extremely difficult days, I, like you, am reluctant to call them “good.”

But whenever I’m writing, I feel blissfully connected to something that feels timeless, complete, and knowing. Something beyond designations of “good”:

The sights in front of me are in continual flux, but the secret is to look into them to unearth their deeper truths.

–(Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, 2014).

I grew up in a place (remote prairie lands) that inspired me deeply, and with time’s passage, I realized every place can prompt us to look within – and if we are lucky and intentional, we are always returning to that place.

That is where wisdom resides, not somewhere far-removed from our own realities. But, often, we fail to feel the roots below our feet, because we are so certain what we “need” is somewhere else.

 I seriously doubt it.

The lessons of life are more simple than we choose to believe, but we have to stand still long enough, breathe deeply enough, to understand this.

Daisy's Cabin

Daisy's Cabin

Good is now. Good is everywhere, tucked within each sunrise, each sunset. Every smile, every sigh. Good is even part of tragedy and loss and missing people no longer with us on days we label as “special.” Days like Thanksgiving.

When we finally discover the true depth of each day, however, they are ALL special. No need to differentiate, no need to evaluate and consider and decide. And definitely no need to “wish” for something else.

View from Daisy's Cabin.
View from Daisy’s Cabin.

 As I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope, For hope would be hope for the wrong thing. ~ T. S. Eliot

And although I’m not quite there yet, still growing, like all of us, a certain amount of equanimity graces each moment of my day when I’m able to look beyond rules, expectations, popularized values and beliefs, matters of the ego, and anything else that clouds my inner vision.

Thank you so much, Shirley, for inviting me to share a few words here. May we all come to sense the profound “goodness” of each breath, each day –the challenge of a lifetime.

You can find Daisy at her delightful, highly recommended, website Sunny Room Studio. You can thank her for sharing these thoughts about the good day by leaving a comment below. In what way are you “not quite there yet” in your understandings of any of the following: the meaning of a good day, the wisdom of place, or what it means to be grateful as a daily practice of Thanksgiving?

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The Quiet, Productive, Connected Very Good Day: Tina Fariss Barbour’s Wise Words

Last week I broke one of the basic rules of good writing. I got a little carried away with adjectives, writing about the Amazing, Excellent, Superb, Splendid Very Good Day. I’ll blame my infatuation with my grandchildren.

But sometimes breaking the rules leads to new opportunities, as it did today. One of my readers has wisely slowed down the pace and today champions the value of another kind of good day.

Meet Tina Fariss Barbour.

Tina Fariss Barbour where she loves to walk.

Tina Fariss Barbour where she loves to walk.

A Good Day

By

Tina Fariss Barbour

 

A good day is not the one where the exciting things happen.

A good day for me is a quiet one, with some work, some reading. My husband is doing his own good things, but we come together for a meal and a walk, and always, talk.

I used to wait for the good days to happen. I have long been challenged by depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I thought I couldn’t have a good day until all the depression was gone, all the obsessions were out of my head, all the compulsions were done and laid to rest.

However, part of the healing process for me has been learning that the good days are to be enjoyed when I can make them—or allow them—to happen. In the midst of a dark time, in the midst of unrelenting anxiety, what can be cherished are the good days.

Another challenge is the work I do as a newspaper reporter for a weekly newspaper. About two years ago, I reduced my hours to have more time for my own writing and editing.

But at least four days a week are spent dealing with deadlines and stress. A goal for me is to find a way to work the characteristics of a good day into the newspaper workday.

So, until then, a good day for me looks something like this.

I get up early enough to take a walk in the neighborhood before many other people are stirring. Before I go, I whisper to Larry where I’m going, and he nods and goes back to sleep.

I take my phone along so I can take photographs of the things that catch my eye: the look of the sun through the trees, a particularly lovely shade of gold in the leaves.

Fallen leaves along the path.

Fallen leaves along the path.

When I return home, I stretch and drink water and feel physically strong. I eat a cup of Greek yogurt.

I write in my journal, a page or two.

After Larry goes out to his shop to work on one of his projects, I start on my own projects. I open my computer and spend some time on my editing work, or blogging, or a research project. I make progress.

Our cat Chase Bird wanders through the room, his face full of late morning sleepiness. But he’s open for a back scratch, a belly rub, and a treat or two. Then he’s back to his daytime sleeping havens.

Chase Bird Barbour

Chase Bird Barbour

Then I take a shower and read while Larry takes his. We go out to lunch at a local café that has the best four-bean chili. I enjoy a bowl with a toasted peanut butter sandwich.

If it’s a pretty day, a walk in the park along the Staunton River is called for. I bring my camera.

Back at home, we separate again to our own corners, me with a book, usually, him with his own research or work project. A nap, maybe with Chase Bird. A quiet supper at home.

A quiet day. A productive day. A day connected to my husband and my cat. A good day.

***

Bio: Tina Fariss Barbour lives in Altavista, a small town in south-central Virginia, with her husband, Larry, and their cat, Chase Bird. She is a newspaper reporter, a freelance editor, a mental health advocate, an animal lover, and a writer striving to live a life of connection. She blogs here. You can find her on Twitter at @TinaFBarbour.

Can you identify with Tina’s version of A Good Day? What elements of her day do you want to add to yours today? What wisdom can you commend?

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Owen and Julia and the Amazing, Excellent, Superb, Splendid, Very Good Day

I’ve been on a quest lately to deepen my understanding of what it’s like to have a good day.

We all know about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day but what about the Amazing, Excellent, Superb, Splendid, Very Good Day?

So I went to two experts: grandson Owen, age 3, and granddaughter Julia, just turned 2.

Here are some of the things I learned.

Amazing

Start with exercise:

Downward Dog on the yoga mat

Downward Dog on the yoga mat

Excellent

Reading is fun and even answers our questions A Good Day Board Book:

Reading Kevin Henkes' book A Good Day

Learning about a good day by reading Kevin Henkes' book A Good Day

 Superb

Help each other make things:

Helping Mommy decorate the cupcakes

Helping Mommy decorate the cupcakes

Splendid

Transform all boo-boos into something else. Maybe even something better.

Granddad makes a balloon "cherry" after the pop

Granddad makes a balloon "cherry" after the pop

Very Good Day!

After playing, learning, helping, exercising, and napping, it’s time to PLAY and SING! And CELEBRATE. Watch Julia’s face as she realizes that the song is for her. And Owen’s vicarious joy as he sings for his sister:

What have YOU learned from a child about how to have a good day?

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In Praise of Breakfast: Starting Three Good Days at The Bishop’s Hall

What’s your favorite meal? In the morning, at least, mine is breakfast. :-)

And my last three breakfasts have started a good day with a bang. Here’s the table setting:

Breakfast at "Tiffany's" otherwise known as The Bishop's Hall

Breakfast at "Tiffany's" otherwise known as The Bishop's Hall

Along with my two “Pilgrim Sister” friends, I enjoyed the hospitality at The Bishop’s Hall at our annual meeting, this time in Oak Park, Illinois.

Our hosts, Sam and Chuck, prepared sensory delights of all kinds — color, texture, sound, light, beautiful objects, intentional design and attention unsurpassed.

When I sat down to this table, gazing at the freshly-squeezed orange juice for the first time, and anticipating the three courses ahead, I said, “I feel like Goldilocks without the other two options.”

Chuck chuckled and said, “And you don’t even have to eat the porridge.”

The next morning, of course, Chuck arrived at the table with bowls of steel cut oats garnished with apples, bananas, and maple syrup.

We all exclaimed, “Porridge!” It was the best ever, of course. And it included more condiments, toasted raisin bread in its own special blue ceramic dish, and a finishing course of little pumpkin cake squares topped with whipped cream.

On the final morning the center piece of the meal was Eggs Benedict, done perfectly and served with yummy roasted potatoes.

Eggs Benedict at The Bishop's Hall

Eggs Benedict at The Bishop's Hall

The conversation around the table included many exclamations of appreciation for the food, the cook and server, and for the beauty of the Oak Park setting. As is our custom,  we also talked freely about religion, education, writing, and politics — and about our lives.

The Pilgrim Sisters, who have met at least once a year ever since their first meeting at the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents in 1996, were blessed!

Pilgrim Sisters Shirley, Anne, and Janet at Norwich Cathedral, July, 2012

Pilgrim Sisters Shirley, Anne, and Janet at Norwich Cathedral, July, 2012

Now that I’m home, tomorrow I’ll probably have simple scrambled eggs and coffee. If I get up early enough, Stuart will make breakfast for me. If not, I’ll make my own and sit in the red chair looking out at the mountains, grateful for plain food after having fancy, and most of all grateful for three perfect pearls of time shared with true friends. A good day now begins with freshly-pressed memories instead of freshly-squeezed juice.

Do you love breakfast — or is this the meal you skip? Why? What are your favorite foods, settings? Does a good breakfast assure a good day — in your book?

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Every Day Is All There Is: Defining a Good Day

Have you ever found yourself thinking about a subject and then discovered that lots of other people are doing the same? For me that topic is: what is a good day?

Joan Didion’s words “Every day is all there is” came into my life via my daughter Kate’s business partner, Emily Levenson. She’s the one who created the image above.

My personal mission statement, inspired not only by Didion, but by so many other valiant writers and friends, is this:

“to prepare for the hour of my death one good day at a time . . . and to help others do the same.”

So the definition of a good day matters to me. Every day it matters more.

Joan Didion uses six words to say why: every day is ALL there is. We can’t relive yesterday and aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.

So this day must count!

Spend five minutes right now listening to these words from Brother David Steindl-Rast. I guarantee it will make your day better:

I had the privilege, while working at the Fetzer Institute, of meeting both Brother David and another advocate of the concept of the good day, Joel Elkes.

Joel will celebrate birthday 101 on November 12, 2014! He’s lived more good days than anyone else I know.

A pioneer scientist in the field of psychopharmacology, Joel has been thinking about the value of the good day most of his life. Since his father perished in the Kovno Ghetto during the holocaust, Joel’s dedication to the good day rings with the urgency of the human spirit to live on after unimaginable tragedy and loss.

I just finished reading The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening by Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis. The last chapter of that book contains a description of Don’s ideal day.

It starts with rising at 5 a.m. Then coffee, exercise, and meditation. It proceeds prayerfully to work. It ends with the simple task of drying the dinner dishes and reflecting on where God has entered or been blocked during the day.

That’s Don’s ideal day. What’s yours? Please offer one or two elements of a good day from your own experience. Next week I’ll add my own recipe, and it will benefit much from your thoughts, aspirations, and frustrations. All are welcome!

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Rest, Rock, and Roll: Some Thoughts about Rhythm from the Road

We’ve been a rockin’ and a rollin’ again!

We don’t exactly jitterbug like these couples, but we are on the move! In fact, I’m writing these words in Indiana on the way to Ohio. Last week we visited Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

This morning we started out with breakfast with a dozen people who attend First Mennonite Church in Urbana, Illinois. They came out early for a book talk about Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Tonight we booked the last available room at the Comfort Inn in Berlin, Ohio. 

Apparently other people are on the move right now, too. It’s fall color tour time across the country.

Here’s my favorite Maple tree from the trip:

Gorgeous colors -- the rhythms of nature in this season

Gorgeous colors -- the rhythms of nature in this season

At First Mennonite, I was able to celebrate the newly-announced betrothal of my friend Janet Guthrie to Mark Jaeger. She was glowing almost as much as the leaves above.

With Pastor Janet in the first flush of her engagement public announcement

With Pastor Janet in the first flush of her engagement public announcement

Just three weeks ago, the theme I was living was REST. Over at Not Quite Amish I immersed myself in peace and simplicity along with more than 100 Mennonite sisters.

I think it’s possible to rock and roll and still be peaceful.

I would pick another “r” word to explain the link: RHYTHM.

It takes rhythm to dance.

It takes rhythm to rest.

It takes rhythm to move back and forth between both. Whether our movements are slow or fast, they can rest in the calm sense of God’s presence.

Some days we feel the rhythm in everything we do. Some days we don’t. What does rhythm feel like to you?

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Prairie Lights Bookstore, Faulkner, Carol Bodensteiner, and Me

Stuart and I are on the road again. This time we are driving instead of taking Amtrak. The prairie is our playground and this Sunday October 19 2-3 p.m Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City will be our destination. In the meantime, we visit friends in various Wisconsin cities and Kalona, Iowa.

Finally, I will get to meet (in person) author (online) friend and doppelganger, Carol Bodensteiner, author of the memoir Growing Up Country and the historical novel Go Away Home. We are two dairy maids who grew up to be writers. We’re also fans of each other’s work and have written blog posts on each other’s sites.

Since all three of our books are set in the past, I suggested we use this famous quote from William Faulkner in our title for Sunday’s talk:

From The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/-the-past-isnt-dead-it-isnt-even-past/218789/

From The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/-the-past-isnt-dead-it-isnt-even-past/218789/

Carol and I have been pondering the question of the past and its role in the present and future for a long time.

We could benefit from your thoughts — and ask for your help — in several ways:

  1. Let your Iowa friends know about the event so that we have a nice crowd at the Prairie Lights bookstore on Sunday (see link above for directions)
  2. Watch us live online. The bookstore streams their readings!
  3. Answer the question below and influence our reflections with your own

Do you agree with Faulkner that the past is not dead. It’s not even past? What’s your best evidence?

If the past lives, what does it say to the memoirist or novelist? How can the reality of the past breathe life into the writer’s work?

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Grandparenting: How it Helps Us to Simplify

I’m sitting at my desk, looking out at the mountains, and thinking about speaking to more than 100 Mennonite women this Friday night at the Amigo Centre, a place I know well, not too far from Sturgis, Michigan.

The subject is Recovering Simplicity, a topic that Mennonites have grappled with for a long time and wrote many books about in the 1970s and 80s, most notably Doris Janzen Longacre’s Living More with Less.

Simplicity has never been more relevant, more necessary, in a cluttered, materialist, violent, and unpredictable world.

Grandparents may have a special role to play in challenging themselves and helping younger generations to rediscover the More With Less theme.

My last post for Not Quite Amish website was a start in my thinking in that direction. I invite you to read it here.

This photo from the post elicited more comments than the words did.

Grandma Shirley with baby Owen, 2011

We grandparents are living in the Autumn season of our lives. We see Winter ahead, and we know that we can’t take anything with us beyond that season.

We are ready to simplify. We are ready to go back to living in the Now, like we did as children.

We are ready to let go. Almost. In fits and starts.

We know that if we give our gifts to grandchildren now, those gifts will bless not only them, but ourselves and our friends.

Owen and Julia, August, 2014

When I look at these faces, and think about all the other children in the world, I think about a loving God who cares for us all and has given us ENOUGH.

I am once again inspired to find new ways to live More with Less.

Can you name one way to simplify? Let’s help each other cut down on clutter and focus on what matters most! Please share a thought below.

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Black Like Me: What I Learned by Listening to Black Voices Then and Now

Even though no black students were enrolled at Warwick High School in Lititz, Pennsylvania, 1962-1966, the years I attended, I was not completely unaware of the Civil Rights Movement.

I had Mr. Price for my American history teacher. He urged us to read about injustice and imagine what it must be like to deal with it on a daily basis. He made me feel empathy and admiration for the courageous people in the headlines — Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, James Meredith.

J. Lorell Price, history teacher with a passion for justice

J. Lorell Price, history teacher with a passion for justice

At age 15, I read John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me and Martin Luther King’s Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.

I didn’t read them because they were required in any class, I read them because Mr. Price wanted me to be aware, even though I was a Mennonite and couldn’t watch the news on television and lived a sheltered life on a farm. He understood something that poet Gwendolyn Brooks would say about the time we lived in:

The time

cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face

all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.

Because of these words of Gwendolyn Brooks, another great woman, Dr. Joanne Gabbin, of James Madison University, a poet herself and a lover of poetry, created a conference in 1994 that led to two more conferences and later a center, called Furious Flower.

Dr. Gabbin’s first impulse was to honor the elders, especially to honor the work of Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1994 she called for poetry. Last week, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she played the role Ralph Waldo Emerson played in his famous 1844 essay “The Poet.” She called for poets:

“Now I’m calling for poets — peace poets, justice poets, love poets.

–Dr. Joanne Gabbin

And how the troops rallied to her side!

Joanne Gabbin at left. Rita Dove, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Frank X. Walker, Ishmael Reed, Elizabeth Alexander, Photo by Tina Glanzer

Joanne Gabbin at left. Rita Dove, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Frank X. Walker, Ishmael Reed, Elizabeth Alexander, Yusef Komunyakaa,, Cornelius Eady, Toi Derricotte. Photo by Tina Glanzer.

As I listened to poets, to musicians, and to critics, last week, I felt so grateful to my friend Tina Glanzer, who introduced me to Joanne Gabbin. I’ve been a Furious Flower fan ever since. I wrote this post in praise of Sonia Sanchez and after Gabbin and Nikki Giovanni organized another elder event, I also wrote about Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.

I was unaware, as a teenager in the 1960′s, of the Black Arts Movement, a movement I would eventually teach. The poets who arose then created two things: words that endure and a foundation for future poets.

I’m not a poet myself, but I have a voice. I left Furious Flower 2014 determined to find better ways to use it in support of the same issues my African-American brothers and sisters face. I don’t want to be silent when my voice is needed. I’ve not forgotten this challenge from Jesus Girl Osheta. She wrote this challenge to her blogger friends who are white and who are silent on issues of race and injustice:

because you’re white, you need to talk about it.  Because you haven’t had to think about it, you need to think about it now.  Because you’re in your homogenous bubble, you need to hear my story as a black woman in America.

One of the things I learned from Mr. Price in 1964 is that white people can play a part in the creation of a more just society when they educate themselves and speak out. Memoir writers, black and white, who lived through the sixties, can reflect upon the meaning of their location in that time and help to increase understanding today when we face the legacy of racism in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and wherever we live ourselves.

Poet Marilyn Nelson inspired me with her poetic memoir method. She read poems from the same time period I covered in Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

I felt so grateful to sit at the feet of the great African-American poets of our time.

But I don’t want to just sit. I want to stand up also.

When I go back to the box in the basement, searching for myself in the 1960s, I hope I will find evidence of my little piece of participation in the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements. But regardless of what I find from the past, I want to be accountable to the present and future. I want racism to end. And I want to begin with myself.

Do you have memories of the Civil Rights period?  An African-American poet you want to honor? Please use the space below to do so!

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Taking a Turn Toward the Sixties, Mennonite Memoir Style

1966

That’s the year I heard the gravel crunch in the driveway of our Pennsylvania farm as my parents drove me and a few worldly possessions to Eastern Mennonite College.

Today I’m suddenly curious about the world I lived in then and alert to the many other windows to the past currently online. Today I’ll share two visitations from the past that struck me this week.

The 1964 Worlds’ Fair

Two years earlier New York City had hosted a world’s fair full of optimism for the future (to listen to the fascinating Planet Money program, click the link).

The diarama of an undersea hotel from the 1964 World's Fair, from NPR Planet Money website

The diarama of an undersea hotel from the 1964 World's Fair, from NPR Planet Money website

The makers of the 1964 world’s fair envisioned themselves as working on a project of historic significance. They tried to see past the twentieth century to project the kind of world we live in today. They saw undersea hotels, but were more entranced by Selectric typewriters than by computers. They overlooked the major social issues about to sweep the country — Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. It was a Jetson view of the future based on a Pat Boone image of the present.

Cover art for The Pat Boone Fan Club

Cover art for The Pat Boone Fan Club -- link to Amazon below

Pat Boone: Icon for an “Anglo-Saxon Jew”

Sue William Silverman, one of my writing teachers at the Bear River Writers Workshop a few years ago, has written a fabulous memoir that unfortunately still sits on the table next to my bed. But I know I’ll read it because of this blog post and this quotation from The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew (American Lives):

Even though I’m now an adult, Pat Boone still reminds me of those innocent all-American teenage summers at Palisades Park, Bermuda shorts and girls in shirtwaist dresses, corner drugstores, pearly nail polish, prom corsages, rain-scented lilacs, chenille bedspreads and chiffon scarves, jukebox rock and roll spilling across humid evenings…. He is Ivory soap, grape popsicles, screened porches at the Jersey shore, bathing suits hung to dry, the smell of must and mildew tempered by sun and salt. He is a boardwalk Ferris wheel, its spinning lights filling dark spaces between stars. He remains all the things that, as you age, you miss—the memory of this past smelling sweeter than honeysuckle on the Fourth of July….

These vivid images from the 1960s dazzled me, too. They were part of the “glittering world” I wanted to learn more about when I went to college. I was curious about a lot more than these things, but I had not escaped their influence.

When I finally read this book, will I feel like an Anglo-Saxon Swiss-German Mennonite? Stay tuned. I’ll report back.

Were the mid-1960′s a time of innocence and optimism for you? Do they “smell sweeter than honeysuckle on the Fourth of July” now? Did they as you lived them? Do tell!

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