Expand…Contract…Expand…Contract…that’s my experience of the yo-yo ride of these past few years. One moment I feel expanded and happy, then I check the news and become contracted and anxious. I think the terms expand and contract aptly describe how my body and mind have responded to what’s happening in so many arenas at once: divisive politics/2020 elections, changing climate/extreme weather events, social justice/Black Lives Matter, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Friends have their own descriptions for this: like being on a roller coaster, flung between hope and despair, up and down, empowered or immobilized.

So far, I’ve landed on two approaches for living within these polarities – for staying healthy and sane, yet aware enough to take action if needed:

Spend more time WALKING in nature

Limit how much CONTRACTION time I allow in my life

This excerpt from Heart Wood describes the first fairly well. Overwhelmed by what’s happening to the planet, Harmony takes off to walk by the river.

Harmony

2009, Luna Valley, Northern California

 A whole morning spent scanning through email alerts and reading Dora’s endless summaries of county supervisors’ meetings gives me little more than a headache. Time to escape to my favorite place—the river. Like a homing pigeon, my old yellow Volvo glides down the switchbacks of the narrow mountain road until I enter the Third River canyon. Here the road parallels the shallow, trout-filled water—shallower than normal for spring runoff, I notice. Should I be concerned? I hang right into the parking area, where I can pick up the river trail.     

Sandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trail head and start walking. The first part is rocky and unstable, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll soon strike a cadence.     

My boots pick up a deep, thudding rhythm alongside the steady flow of the wild-rushing river. Each step drops me deeper into the mindless presence I came here for. My forehead smooths, my jaw loosens, my breath deepens. River’s good medicine.

Heart Wood Page 233

EXPANSION is bouyant. My chest feels light, my heart open. I notice little details around me – like the colors, smells, sounds of the approaching autumn. Small things lift my spirits: playing with the dog, an unexpected phone call from a friend, a news story of youth tackling an environmental problem. I feel optimistic. I’d like to stay in expansion forever, but as I move through the day, I know that contraction may be next.

CONTRACTION weighs heavy, making it difficult to think or move. My shoulders curve inward, it’s harder to breathe. Feelings of panic and hopelessness build as I lay awake wondering how our country and democracy are going to survive. Will we have to accommodate to more erratic hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and drought? Will we ever return to hugging our family and friends, listening to live music, going to school and work, taking vacations? What kind of world will our grandchildren live in?

WHEN I’M FEELING THIS CONTRACTED, I try to avoid the news, but it’s too easy to pick up my phone and take a quick peek at what’s happened since the last time I checked, which is sometimes only a half-hour before. At least I have some control. In Heart Wood’s future world, newsfeed from the Nib implanted behind Amisha’s ear can’t be turned off. We’re not there….yet.

MY SECOND APPROACH to surviving these times is first, to recognize when I’m beginning to feel contracted, then to consciously limit those experiences. Like the thermostat in my house, I can adjust my exposure up or down as I need. If I’m cold, I turn up the heat; too warm, I turn it down.

I’M LEARNING TO GAUGE which news source I can handle at the moment by whether its style leaves me feeling expanded or contracted. Same with conversations with similar-minded friends. It’s satisfying to vent about what’s happening, but afterwards, how do I feel? Distress may motivate me to take positive action, but not if I’m worn down by it. I’m learning I can change the topic or change the channel.

BACK TO WALKING. Even if you don’t have the natural world right outside your door, trust me, the simple act of walking is good medicine. You can start small, add city blocks and minutes as you can, pay attention to what you’re feeling, and appreciate where bits of green nature show up.  It’s good for the heart and spirit, and it’s free.

ON MY DAILY WALKS, like Harmony in Heart Wood, I may start out walking fast, eyes narrowed straight ahead, mind turbulent with worrisome thoughts. Then something happens. After 15-20 minutes, my pace slows, my senses expand. I see that dogwood leaves are blushing red, feel acorns crunch beneath my shoes, and smell the clear air after months of wildfire smoke. I stop thinking. When I return to the house, I feel calmer, more resilient. And more ready for the next wave

I really wasn’t prepared for how many readers returned to buy extra copies of my eco-novel for giving to friends and family. Now is the perfect time to order Heart Wood for the upcoming holidays!

Purchase your copy of Heart Wood:

HERE: To support your local independent bookstore!

HERE: Amazon (ebook and paperback)

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