A polar vortex hit after my last post, and I've been holed up in my house and in my mind, like a squirrel safe in its tree. No matter what life throws at me though, I look to nature for solace. Every. Time. I force myself to go out and just observe and feel, and support always comes, even if I don't get any answers.
Nature's silence returns me to a calmer baseline.
From that calmer place, I am now a witness to my thoughts, instead of trying to juggle them all and make sense of them. Like nature, we are in this life for the long haul, and I'm reminded that I don't need all the answers today. Like Anna in Frozen, I just need to take the next right step.
During this nearly unbearable vortex of cold weather that shut everything down for days, I slowed down and started noticing what was showing up in my life. One light in the dark was a phrase in my inbox: “If you want a reminder of what’s important, ask the squirrels!” this link lead me to an article that reminded me to just turn my brain off and listen. "(nature) will gladly remind you that your anxiety and outrage aren't helping you stay present." Again, nature returns us to a more neutral baseline.
I ran across squirrels several more times that week. From the ones under my bird feeder outside, to chapter books I read with my son, to a new movie on Disney+, squirrels all around me were reminding me of the cycle of life. That this moment is temporary, and we should enjoy it and appreciate it. Find it's strength and its lesson it has to teach, if only we listen.
Squirrels of course are also practical, and teach us to prepare for a rainy day and work hard for our future. You never know which acorn we plant will actually turn into a tree and bring us the abundance we seek.
So my mind continues to be a bit scattered, and I feel like I'm holding too many acorns, but I'm slowly saving them and planting them, observing, and preparing for what life brings next.
“Like any natural born cynic, I say do not hope, observe. Because when you do, you’ll see how much wonder the world actually has. And you won’t be a cynic any more.”
- Flora & Ulysses on Disney+
Do you ever feel exhausted for no obvious reason? You're not sick, over-stressed or menstruating, but yet you feel exhausted? That happened to me again this week, and the first thing I looked at is the lunar cycle. Sure enough, there's a new moon this week.
I always feel completely drained near the new moon, physically and emotionally.
This may sound familiar to some of you, but for most humans, we don't notice the lunar cycles much. We live in mostly urban areas with so much artificial light that it's hard to even notice the light or presence of the moon most nights. Yet for centuries humans have noticed a connection. After all, the word "lunatic" comes from a Latin word for "moonstruck."
When we learned how the moon affects the tides, the connection was made that the moon could do the same with our bodies on a smaller scale. After all, the human body is mostly made of water. There have been promising studies on a plant whose root growth matches the moon's orbit, but most scientists believe that the gravitational pull on such a small amount of water would have little to no effect.
There have also been studies on how the full moon affects our sleep. It was found in one study that it took longer to fall asleep, and that there was less time spent in deep sleep. However, the results could not be replicated in subsequent studies.
There are some interesting studies on magnetic fields though, and how exposure to magnetic field changes have been shown to lead to a decrease in brain alpha wave activity, which upsets circadian clocks and sleep patterns. For instance, there is a protein in fruit flies that may function as a magnetic sensor, which lead to observable alterations in the timing of their sleep. However, it's unlikely that the same proteins in humans are sensitive to magnetic fields, but there could be other molecules that are.
The moon has been shown to affect other organisms though, like coral, who appears to time their spawning on the moon's cycles. In general though, there just isn't enough evidence to prove that the moon has any affect on us physically or emotionally.
Then why does my experience say otherwise?
"We cannot rule out the possibility of its role among various environmental factors that might affect our sleep, moods and vitality,” - Niall McCrae, author of The Moon and Madness
I tend to be drawn towards more esoteric explanations. Those that recognize the new moon as a time of high vibrational energy that opens us up and leaves us vulnerable. Vulnerable to old hurts and emotions that were hidden in our cells. It purges the old, and leaves us feeling fatigued and unmotivated, scatterbrained and disorganized. My new mantra is "It's OK. It's a time for thinking and feeling, not action."
As a systems thinker, I love looking at the whole cycle of life, including the lunar cycles, and relating them to my life. This awareness brings clarity, hope and connection within myself, and with humans all throughout time. Here's the cycle I choose to follow:
This week, when I started fading into exhaustion, I chose to sit and look at rocks with the children at school. I found hearts, moon shapes, "teeth," fossils, and more. As I dug through the pea gravel, I began to relax and see clearly. I began to connect with the children around me. And the fog began to lift. I began to feel inspired again. Little did I know how important this type of grounding is during the new moon...
I am a night owl living in a world of morning larks. I've grown up hearing all the "morning bird gets the worm" metaphors I can stand. I hate mornings. I'm useless until around 11am. And I'm finally OK with that after reading some encouraging words and scientific proof that I'm not damaged.
I don't believe that my whole day is a waste, or that I'll never be successful if I don't jump on tasks before lunch time.
To be fair, I've tried getting up early for years. Even after having a child, I just can't do it. I lay in bed stressed out about getting to sleep so I can wake up early, and ended up losing more and more sleep and just dragging every. single. day.
I thought there was something wrong with me, and that my low energy was some sort of hormonal issue.
But then COVID hit, and I didn't have to be anywhere early. I could roll out of bed for an early meeting, and then roll right back into bed and still get all my work done later. I was happier and full of more energy than I've been since I was 30 (I'm 44 now). It could have also been that I'm an introvert, and not having to interact with people all day meant that my energy reserves were still high at the end of the day. I fell in love with nights, and was high on my new found energy. Now I'm on a mission to find a job where I can continue to do this for as long as I want to.
Teaching is wonderful, and so fulfilling and fun, but the hours and pay are grueling. There has to be a better way. I'm inspired to revamp my offerings to include more virtual and subscriber content, which also means I can offer more wonder to more people, anywhere in the world. So stay tuned!
My spirit animal has always been a spider, but I think owls are calling me now...
Symbolic meanings for the owl are:
I just love foggy days. Mostly because I love any excuse to curl up inside, nap, read and drink tea all day. It actually lightens my darkness, so I end up having a peaceful, content day. Depression is an old friend of mine, who is easier to embrace when the whole world matches its mood. I have permission to embrace the gloom as normal that day, and it lifts me up. Sunny days ironically bring guilt and gloom to me, as I feel all the "shoulds" to get outside and enjoy them. Of course, if I lived in a place where fog was the norm, I might feel differently.
I also love foggy days because like snow, fog totally transforms the landscape and makes it totally new. I love the mystery of it, and discovering what's just ahead. Even though I already know because I walk or drive these routes every day. But today it all seems new and fresh, and ready to be discovered. This is both metaphorical and real, of course.
If you don't feel the same sense of wonder and content that I do, that's OK. Perhaps some fun facts will intrigue you enough to spark some wonder and lightness in your perception.
You can turn a foggy day into a science experiment with your children too (or with a curious adult). Click here to learn how from the masters of meteorology - NASA.
If the gloom of a foggy day continues to get you down, perhaps remembering that there's still a bright blue sky above all those clouds. If you can just muster the means to fly high enough over your own clouds to see it.
It's that beautifully hard time in Texas where I want to be outside in this gorgeous weather so bad, but if I do, I suffer all night long (& beyond) from Cedar Fever. It's torture really. I hate these trees and wish they would all just go away. So what do I do to combat this (besides the dozen remedies I take daily)? I wonder and learn.
They are not cedar trees, they're actually Ashe Juniper. And every year at this time, I wonder about their history and their benefits, because they surely have none. They're native, but were not nearly as widespread as they are now until cattle grazed all the grasses that competed with Juniper for space, and until fire was suppressed so much (fire killed the juniper, but not the grasses) that they began to spread into all of the now eroded and rocky areas where they thrive best. 100 years later, and they cover the hill country like a blanket; a blanket covered in yellow pollen December through February.
So now I know a little history. Does this horrible plant have ANY benefits to the ecosystem? Well, it's an evergreen, which is comforting in the winter, and it's drought tolerant, which is helpful. As a tree, it provides shade, which provides more moisture for other small plants underneath it that are trying to grow. Both male and female trees form the helpful blue berry-like cones that feed wildlife and give some excitement to homemade remedies. I made juniper gin as gifts one Christmas, and there are a ton of other recipes you can find online, like these. Native groups use the berries in their medicine, and its leaves are burned in their rituals as a blessing, just like sage is used to clear a space. Many people use the trees bark for fires, and rot-resistant wood for tools and construction. Today we see many fenceposts and furniture made from cedar. The scent is also said to repel some insects, though other insects lay their eggs in the tree and feed off its nectar. There is an endangered bird called the Golden Cheeked Warbler that uses the "furry" bark to make its nests, and this area is its only known breeding area.
If you suffer from allergies like I do this time of year, learning these things helps me appreciate this (horrible) tree a little more, and helps relax my fear and anxiety around what its pollen triggers in my body. In nature and in life, when you find yourself afraid of a plant or animal, or just having a strong dislike for it, use a little wonder to learn about it. I guarantee that your wonder and curiosity will lead to more knowledge, which will soften your fear and loathing of it.
Some other examples I've studied recently with my students at school are paper wasps (who ruin our outdoor picnics), and mistletoe, which covers the trees on our playground. Mistletoe is another fascinating plant that has people both loving it and hating it. If you want to learn more about this semi-parasitic plant, check out this article or listen to the Stories Podcast for some fun Norse mythology of this plant.