Scarlett’s Letter February 6, 2014

I had a glorious day today. Some people might say it’s raining today. I say it’s just another, beautiful, wonderful, miraculous day.

When I appeared in the dark, gloomy kitchen this morning, the vertical blinds were pulled as tight as possible over the sliding glass door to the deck, blocking the view and the light and the day. Mom was reading her newspaper in her velour bathrobe. I was in my running tights and windbreaker. I quickly prepared my breakfast, ate it heartily, gathered my running pack and keys and headed for the door. Mom looked at me like I was an alien life form. Going out in the rain. She asked if I was wearing something that would keep me from getting wet. I smiled. My jacket is Gore-Tex, yes, but it really doesn’t matter. As soon as I get home I’m going to voluntarily stand under falling water in the shower. And get wet.

“Can’t you see that it’s just raining?
There ain’t no need to go outside.”
― Jack Johnson

So I went for a run. In the rain. I ran eight miles, in the rain. It wasn’t raining hard, just a little, but the wet sidewalks and bike path were practically empty. Normally, when I run, mid-day, whether a weekday or a weekend day, I encounter dog walkers, runners, power-walkers, joggers, runners, amblers, stroller pushers, cyclists and pedestrians of all sorts. Today, I saw one other runner and two cyclists, one of whom was not at all happy to be cycling, I gathered it was not his preferred mode of transportation, particularly when water was falling from the sky.

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
― Dolly Parton

An Effort to Evolve

What a treat, a run in the rain. We’ve been begging for rain, this being the driest winter on record, to date. Ever. We should all be dancing and singing in the streets, faces upturned, letting the rain quench our collective thirst. As I ran past the vineyards, hundreds, literally hundreds of robins sang and flitted about from vine to vine. There are always birds, but in a light rain, especially after a long dry spell, the birds come out and rejoice. Their song is bright and cheerful, magical and miraculous. They bathe in the puddles, flapping their wings and tilting their heads back in glee. And I am the only sole who notices. How lucky am I? I’d be happy to share with more fair weather folks, if they’d be willing to step outside and join me.

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”
― Vladimir Nabokov

I almost felt guilty for having this joyful experience all to myself. Where was everyone? Were they huddled behind closed doors and clenched curtains? Fretting at the wetness of the day? I am alone here, is it because I am alone here? I don’t mind the rain. I don’t mind being out in the rain. I’ve backpacked in torrential rain and in thunderstorms with treacherous lightning. Happily. I love the mountains in the rain, I love the beach in the rain. I love seeing the drops disturb the surface of the water on a lake or a river. I like cities in the rain, all of the lights reflecting brilliantly off the thousands of wet surfaces. The sound of rain, the smell of rain, the cool feel of rain. Especially the cool feel of rain on my skin when I am warm from exertion, hiking or running. I love watching the clouds drift and float and shape shift. It is magic. I love that my hair curls and doesn’t frizz. I love the sound of rain falling on the roof, tapping against the window, during the night. I like the noise cars make swishing along on wet pavement. I love the sound of my running shoes rhythmically slap-slapping the wet street. It’s almost hypnotic. I love that I get to wear my shiny, new scarlet rain boots when I go run errands this evening. Rain. What’s not to love? So I have a romance with rain.

“I Love a Rainy Night”
― Eddie Rabbit

An Effort to Evolve

Shame on everyone, hunched in their houses, killing, murdering, this glorious day, wiling away the hours in front of television. Dismal. Morose. Lamenting the water falling from the sky, ruining their day. Shame. It was a perfect day. Even when I am forced to be indoors and it is raining, I spend time looking out, watching the rain. I’ll open a window a couple of inches and entice the fresh smell and the sweet sound inside, so I can almost pretend I am outside. I could watch rain out a window for hours. I find it soothing, calming, centering, cleansing.

“Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.”
― Emily Wing Smith

Everything is enhanced when it rains. Food is never so comforting and nourishing and appreciated as when it is raining out. A glass of rich, red wine is never so enjoyable as when it is raining. Sitting on a porch in the countryside while rain falls just a few feet away, feeling the dewiness accumulate on your cheeks; pure heaven. Walking down a busy urban sidewalk, carefully managing your umbrella amidst a thousand other brightly colored umbrellas, looking into the crowded, cheerful, warm, shops and restaurants you pass. And when the rain subsides and the sun returns, everything is shiny and fresh, like a bright, new penny.

Really, so what’s on TV? The news, perhaps? Did they mention it was raining? No doubt.

“It’s all nonsense. It’s only nonsense. I’m not afraid of the rain. I am not afraid of the rain. Oh, oh, God, I wish I wasn’t.”
― Ernest Hemingway

An Effort to Evolve

And, how is rain much different than life? When life isn’t perfectly sunny, do we cower under the covers and wish it would get better? Sit, comatose, in front of some screen or another, watching other people actually live their lives. Or do we give thanks for the day and enjoy the gift that it is? Do we savor the gift of another day and experience it to our fullest, do we cherish the gift of another day and use it wisely to find a path to a sunnier day, a better self, a more fulfilling life?

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
― Maya Angelou

Much like the weather, life is never “perfect”. Sometimes it’s better than others. Weather is the first topic of almost any conversation. Followed by traffic. Then gossip. Small talk. We use weather as an excuse for so much, an ever-present excuse. And, when life is as imperfect as the weather, we have another ever-present excuse. If we wait until life is perfect, and the weather is perfect, to embark on our life journey, we’ll never get started and most certainly will never get where we hope to go.

“… millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
― Susan Ertz

We must find a way to enjoy our day, no matter the weather. Likewise, we must find a way to enjoy our life, each and everyday, whether it’s sunny times or stormy times. It’s still time and we only get so much of it. The way I see it, we have two choices; make our own sunshine or learn to sing in the rain.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”
― Roger Miller

An Effort to Evolve

Scarlett’s Letter October 9, 2013

Today would’ve been my dad’s 93rd birthday. Like him, I have a fantastic memory for dates, like birthdates. I can remember birthdates, month and day, but please, please, please, don’t ever expect me to be able to tell you what year something or other happened. I know when my kids were born. I know when I graduated from high school. Everything else just happened somewhere along the line.

Dad still has a Facebook page, so, in case I forgot about his birthday today, I received a reminder along with a suggestion to buy him a Starbuck’s gift card. I considered it, but decided against it. I’ve left his page up, as I’ve noticed with friends who have passed before me, their Facebook pages are left and people stop by to pay tribute on birthdays, holidays and other important dates. It only seemed creepy for a bit, but I actually rather appreciate it, now, to be able to “publicly” pay respect to someone, to see others pay the same tribute. I have yet to take a look at Dad’s page to see if anyone has stopped by to pay homage. I’ll do so after a glass of wine, later this evening.

I ran seven fantastic miles this morning, according to plan. It feels like October in the Napa Valley. I know, it is, but it feels like it. This is the very best time of year in California, and here, especially. It’s cool enough in the morning to want to stay under the covers a moment longer, just long enough to hear the furnace kick on. As a child, I’d have gone over and sat on the floor, over the vent, with my nightgown billowing out around me, trapping the warm air within. My kids did this, too, when they visited their grandparents. I decided against sitting on the heater vent this morning. I’ll indulge at some point, even if just for the sake of posterity. And I can almost bet Mom will pop in to check up on me at precisely that moment and question my actions and intentions, my reasoning, and, perhaps, my sanity.

Once up, I donned my running gear, had breakfast and did a little work, while my running socks tumbled in the dryer. Then I headed to the “dog park”, where I park my car and ran my favorite loop, which ends in the vineyards of the Oak Knoll District. This, my favorite time of year, the sun is bright, there is rarely rain, and, if any, just enough to be novel, enough to wash the dust off everything, making the world look crisp and clean. There is rarely any fog, maybe just a few fluffy clouds here and there, drifting on the breeze as the valley breathes, inhaling in the morning, exhaling in the afternoon and evening, drawing a cool breath from the bay to the south, warming the air in the sunny valley, and blowing it slowly back out towards the water in the afternoon.

This is the time of year that I remember so fondly from my school years. School has started, there are football games every weekend, and the weather is finally just about right to be able to wear all your new school clothes for fall; sweaters, jeans, boots, all the cute things you found shopping for school, but as summer lingers here for so long, they were all much too warm to wear. For the first month or so of school, it was still shorts, tank tops and sandals or flats. Finally, fall school clothes can be worn without danger of heat stroke!

There is a change in the slant of the sunlight, too, that is indicative of the season. You begin to notice the subtle distance of the sun, it is bright, but the light is more diffused and just a little less warm. The light catches the changing colors of the leaves on the trees and on the vines and adopts a golden hue. When the sun sets, it is cool enough for a sweater, but warm enough for an evening walk. As night settles in, someone, somewhere, will light a fire in their fireplace and the smell of smoke will drift subtly on the cool air, like magic, unless it’s a “spare the air” day and there is a “burn ban.” I know, romance = brutally murdered.

The street I grew up on is lined with Chinese pistachio trees, planted by the city. They turn from green to fiery red and orange this time of year. The “City” is tearing up our sidewalk, street and gutters around the neighborhood where the tree roots have lifted the pavement. Our tree, I’m certain, is the biggest culprit. A few of the neighbors’ trees have actually been removed. Mom fears, like death, that “they’ll” remove our tree. They may, they probably should, but haven’t, thus far. Every day this week there have been dusty yellow pieces of equipment trundling up and down the street raising both dust and a racket. Trucks line the street and men in orange shirts mill about. Today, the jackhammering began. I gathered a few critical items for survival and headed for the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company to regain some quiet, solitude and, hopefully, my sanity. I’ll work here until my computer dies, then look for an outlet here, or elsewhere. For now, with my iced decaf and enough serenity to be able to construct sentences, I am both at peace and in peace. Bliss.

Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Life at 1027 SB Drive.
Life at 1027 SB Drive.

This is living in the present. This is living in the moment. This is what we’re supposed to do, always. I am working, I am writing, and I am content. Thoughts of tomorrow, next week, next month, next year are as distant as those times are in the future. Thoughts of yesterday, last week, last month and last year are equally as distant. Removed. Removed from me by the time that has passed, the time that has not yet arrived, and, in the same manner, removed from my mind. This is where happiness and productivity thrive, in the present. This is a place free of stress, free of sorrow. There is nothing, right now, I need, that I don’t have. To extrapolate this feeling, this practice, across one’s life would create a happiness and contentment so complete that, if everyone knew about this secret, there would likely be no sadness, no depression, no anxiety, no fear, the world over. There could very well be no war, there would be most definitely, less disease. In fact, I am quite certain, as I’ve learned from Eckhart Tolle, this is the key to life, the key to everything. The present, a present, just waiting to be discovered.

I’m enjoying my present. How about you?

Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!

No Regrets

re·gret
/riˈgret/

Noun
A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

Got regret?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have no regrets? I regret having three big, greasy pieces of pizza for lunch, six pieces of nigiri and a beer as an appetizer that I intended to be dinner, but found wasn’t enough, so then spicy Indian food for dinner half an hour later. But, as with everything in life, there’s definitely a lesson to be learned there!

I only ate three.
I only ate three.
I thought this was dinner.
I thought this was dinner.
Now THIS is dinner!
Now THIS is dinner!

Life is really a collection of mistakes and bad decisions, when you think about it. You’ve got a fifty/fifty chance of making every decision right. Or wrong. And, really, what was the wrong decision when you made it, might be the right decision if made at another moment in time, or by another person. There is really no way to know for certain which decisions will turn out to be regrettable. Okay, stepping out in front of a speeding Greyhound bus is almost always a bad decision, granted. But I’d doubt you’d regret it, simply because you would no longer be capable of regret.

Most people, when asked if they would do it all over again, go back and relive their lives and make different choices, roll their eyes, shake their heads and say, “no way, it was too exhausting the first time.” An interesting question; do you have so many regrets that you’d do it all over again, the right way? If you were able to go back, or just rewind, and change some key decisions, do you really think you’d be in a better position than you are now? I kind of don’t think so, I don’t know for certain, but I’ll hazard a guess. But I’m no Marty McFly.

I honestly think that every decision we make, and the resulting consequence, is by design and has led us to the exact point in life we need to be. Now. Without mistakes, without regrettable decisions, we would have learned far less about ourselves and about our world. If life was all perfection and rainbows and chocolate bon bons, we would all be numb, stupid twits. Guaranteed.

They key is to live each day, make decisions, right and wrong, deal with the consequences, good or bad, learn something, and carry on. Without regrets. Life is meant to be lived without regret. Mistakes and bad decisions are just part of the deal, so deal with them, learn from them and move on.

I don’t regret the bad decisions, the mistakes I made, as a teen. I don’t regret allowing myself to succumb to peer pressure. I don’t regret drinking. I don’t regret being dishonest and staying out all night with my friends. I don’t regret the times we snuck off to San Francisco or Sacramento. I don’t regret the pranks we pulled. I don’t regret getting caught. These were all decisions I made, I deserved the consequences and I learned many valuable lessons that have been applicable many times over in my adulthood. At the very least, I knew exactly what my kids were up to! Of course, those teen-aged decisions of mine were all “wrong”, but I don’t regret them. I wouldn’t be who I am now had I not made those exact choices, had I not lived that exact life. I like who I am. And boy, do my friends and I have stories to tell!

I don’t regret the poor decisions I made in my twenties. I don’t regret giving up on a good relationship that didn’t seem to be progressing quickly enough. I don’t regret falling into a less than perfect relationship thereafter. I don’t regret the mistakes I made in college, the classes I didn’t work hard in, the grades I neglected, the eleven years it took me to earn a Bachelor’s degree. I don’t regret marrying a man who didn’t love me the way I wanted him to. I don’t regret staying in a marriage for far longer than I should have because I thought it would be easier on our kids to grow up in a home where there were two parents who didn’t love each other than in a single parent home in the war zone of a bitter custody battle I’m certain would have ensued. I wouldn’t know my strength, my tenacity, I wouldn’t have such a keen appreciation for true love now had I not had those experiences then.

I don’t regret compromising my career and working only part time in order to raise my kids after school, to participate in their young lives the only opportunity I’d ever have. Those years flew by in a breath, but I was there, I was part of it. I don’t regret taking the chance on buying a ranch that was impossible to keep when fortunes turned, for the opportunity to live in the country in one of the most beautiful places in the world, if only for a period of time. I don’t regret the friendships that have come and gone. I don’t regret leaving “good” jobs that left me stressed to the point of illness or feeling taken advantage of to the point of self-loathing. Each of these decisions, though perhaps seen as unwise, left my life much richer than had I not made them. Regret? No, in fact, I am forever grateful for those “poor” decisions!

I’m sure many of my friends, family and acquaintances look at my life, at all that has occurred, and consider me a fool, silly, stupid even, for some of the chances I’ve taken that ended in what they’d consider disaster. I’m sure many have looked on in wonderment, or perhaps, even, horror, calling my life a folly. In fact, I have not a single regret, I knew the risks when I took those chances, I have lived lifestyles most people have only ever seen on television. I have had experiences people can’t even begin to imagine. I remember in college being touted as the one who “dared to be different”. I was always proud of that. I do dare. I am different.

For anyone who pities me for the consequences of my daring decisions, the crazy chances I’ve taken, for my follies, I, in turn, pity them, for not embracing life, for settling for a cookie cutter life, living in the same suburban neighborhood with cracking sidewalks and dry rotted decks, in the same drab house with leaves in the gutters that need tending to, with the same dusty trinkets on all the same flat surfaces. The only variation in life is the new array of television shows and the fact that they can record multiple shows, simultaneously, to numb their minds with later. Perhaps they don’t have regrets, yet, because their life has gone “according to plan”. Is a life according to plan, eventually, regrettable? I’ll hazard a guess. Yes. “Well, here we are, at the end of our plan. We have the planned amount of money in our well-tended retirement account, now we can afford that really nice assisted living compound and those little scooter chairs. I get the red one.”

We’re all going to arrive at the same finish line, sooner or later. We all get buried in the same dirt. The follies others see in my life, in fact, have given me far more clarity and wisdom than any life lived “according to plan”, and I cherish that. My varied lifestyles and experiences have given me a life perspective few have, a perspective I covet. The difficulties others see that I have endured have left me with the confidence and sheer will and determination I can use to conquer anything I set my mind to. Bonus. I have no regrets, and because I have no regrets, I am living in the present. I know bliss.

The thing with regrets, if you look at the definition of the word, they pertain to the past. We don’t live in the past. We can’t change the past. There is no value in thinking about the past. We’ve made decisions, some good, some bad, they are in the past, we’ve lived with or are living with the consequences of those decisions, regretting them, or feeling bad about them is in no way going to change them. There is nothing we can do to change what has happened. Simply chalk it all up to experience and get on with life. Life is now, only ever now. If you are not living in the present, you simply put, are not living.

In fact, if you dwell on the past, relive the past, whether you are fondly recalling your glory days or are repentant for previous actions, tasks, deeds and decisions, you are not living in the present. When we are focused on the past we are usually either in a state of depression, or we’re flirting dangerously with it. Just like worry is unnecessary, negative energy focused on future events that causes anxiety, regret is unnecessary and very negative energy focused on the past. Worry will never change the outcome of future events, and likewise, regret will never change the outcome of past events. The only events you can change in any way are the ones happening right now, this very moment. Might I suggest you stay present to affect change?

By applying this simple principle, living in the present, we can effectively remove both depression and anxiety from our life; doesn’t that just sound like bliss? To live in the present is to live without regrets, and to live without worry. Bliss is living in the present, and it does take some practice and a very concerted effort. It is a little harder than it sounds, this living in the present. Some day, maybe on a day off or on one of those rare weekend days when you have no real plans, no pressing commitments or obligations, try just hanging out with yourself. Listen to the running dialogue in your mind; every time you catch yourself thinking about something in the past, redirect your thoughts to the immediate present. Likewise, every time you catch yourself thinking about the future, even later that very day, redirect your thoughts to the immediate moment. Spend a quiet day with yourself, listening and redirecting, sort of get acquainted with the idea and the tendencies your thoughts have to migrate to other time zones. Once you’ve learned to identify the frequency of your tendency to dwell on thoughts past and future, you’ll become more aware of these thoughts during your “normal” days, you can then begin to redirect your thoughts on a regular basis. The result will be amazing; if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, see if practicing this simple, mindful exercise doesn’t provide some relief. If you don’t suffer from depression and/or anxiety, I’ll bet you still find yourself in a more blissful state.

The prescription for bliss, quite simply, is living without worry and, even more importantly, living without regret. Focus on life, on the present, on this very moment and the peace that exists just now. There is nothing you need right now, if you think about it. You are you, you’re where you are, and no matter what is happening in your life, at this exact moment in time, you are okay. Quite a concept. It’s not to say we should just quit work and sit on a park bench and just “focus on the now”. I saw plenty of those folks in San Francisco this week and I’m not anxious to give that a try, I may be missing the point there, perhaps they are happier than me, but frankly, I’m kind of fond of my daily shower and matching socks. Just become more present, learn to eliminate worry and regret and I am pretty sure you’ll see a definite shift towards bliss. Give it a chance, you’ll have no regrets!