The worry dolls- an untangling post on sleeping

The pictures were taken, finally

The pictures were taken, finally

Just to make everything “easy” on ourselves we had scheduled an outdoor photo session for the whole family, in the same week that we were painting our house. If you really think that sounds easy you have to consider that the location was in Trondheim, in august, when it normally rains. We were all to be pictured in our national costumes which takes time to put on. Then our housepainter had left the job half done, as it was impossible to finish it when it was raining all the time. Our garden was ruined by the big scaffolding he had left in our flower beds the whole wet summer, and of course, the house had to be painted, impossible or not. Which meant the job was going to be an involuntary character-building exercise for the whole family.

At times like this, when I feel the day really does not have enough hours, when I really need to sleep to be able to do anything- then I feel like I am hovering in the air above the bed, never able to sink into the refreshing sleep that I need. It is not that the tasks are impossible, I just keep going over my game plans, rearranging and thinking it through. Never quite believing that it will all add up to a day well spent, which is my goal everyday.

So it kept raining, every time it stopped we ran out to paint. The deal was that the photographer should also call the next time it did not rain and she was able to make it. Just to complicate it all, we wanted the shots to be taken in the woods, not near her studio. The first time she called we were able to change from overalls to national costumes and be at the spot in two hours. We arrived  just as the photographer came, and just as it started to rain again. We waited for a while, overcast is actually a very good light for portraits, but not rainstorms. No luck. The next day we were quicker, even so I had to do some extra breathing exercises to look as if if strolling through the woods in my best finery was my favorite pass time, any day. We managed, she got great pictures. The kids cooperated on the experimental shots she wanted to do for an exhibition, we all were happy, but quite worn out. Not she though, she was just laughing.

The day I picked up the pictures had also been hectic, she was still calm while she talked to the customer in front of me. Then I saw that she had a bowl with tiny woven dolls on her desk. They did not look neither as toys or collectibles, I had to ask, “what’s the thing with the dolls?”
“Oh, them, they take care of my worries so I don’t forget them,'” she said,” It is my Mexican worry dolls, at night I tell a worry to each of them, then I put them in a small bag, and stuff it under my pillow. It is very relaxing, I never worry that I forget to worry about the things I should be worried about anymore!”

To me that’s often it, to be able to sleep I have to know that my worries are taken care of. It works to write a list. It also works to mention each in a prayer, often prayer is just that. It is not God that needs to be reminded of all the things we are worried about, it is I who need the reminder that he knows. The dolls were cute though, and they never loose a worry.

In November I take part in the NaNoBloMo not the BlogHer network. I post every day on “The Untangling Tens” what women do when life gets tangled. These are the ten tools that worked for those I have asked, what are yours?

All pictures in this blog are taken by me, Solveig Mjolsnes.

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The table of fellowship- an untangling post on eating

IMG_0860lagunaIt is not always the big problems that weighs me down. The saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” do not really take into account that a bag filled with pebbles is as heavy as the same bag filled with one stone. Actually, if it is only one stone, it is easy to spot. It is easy to ask for help heaving it out of the bag, and it is easy to have everyone understand that this stone is too heavy to carry. So a pebble called “make reservations” or ‘file these bills”  looks like tasks one should be able to handle, and definitely not ones that calls for sympathy. Even so, life’s tangles are often made up of countless simple tasks that can not be bundled or done in a logical sequence. When done there is no value added, nothing has been produced. The only effect is that chaos has been avoided one more day so that hopefully, tomorrow will be the day when the big stuff can be done.

I know, prioritize, delegate, sort and simplify. Yes, I do that. Even so, some days ago, I was quite unexpectedly blue and sad. All those mundane tasks had became too much and threatened to make me feel nothing I did was worth doing. As it filled my whole week, the next thought could be, nothing I ever did was worth doing. I left my pebbles on our bed though, quite literally. The bed is the best place to sort all those piles, and I had done that, I just had to do what each pile of papers asked for. Resolutely I paper clipped each pile with a note on top on what it was all about. Then I went out. Instead of skipping lunch to get it all done, I biked over to the university and joined my husband for lunch. Not even an hour, no deep conversation, just a burger, just belonging.

Almost every day now I get mail from different charities that are setting up Thanksgiving dinners for the lonely and homeless. Surprisingly small amounts will make them able to supply the traditional meal. In Norway Christmas Eve is the night most people fear to spend alone. Again it is not enough to set up a place, the essence is to sit down at a table, together and to have the expected food. If you say, I was alone at Christmas, everyone else will feel guilty that they did not invite you.

It is so much more than a meal, it is about belonging.
At home, my husband and me often feel the need to call our kids when we are having a meal, that is when we miss them most. When friends come over we want to feed them, or at least give them something to drink.
In both Christianity and Judaism the meal is a sacred place for fellowship. The food itself takes on a ritual character even if it is not very advanced or costly food, bread and wine, the basics.

This weekend we will have dear friends to stay. Even if there are lots of things to do and places we could go, what we look forward to most is the long meals with the long conversations. Time to dwell, together.

Why? My unscientific opinion is that when we take time to eat together, to share the resources and not fight over them, to allow each of us the same position around the table, we know deep in our soul that we belong together. We will meet diversities and problems as a unit, not as individuals. A shared meal tells us, we are not alone.

IMG_3634 picnicSo should the untangling tool be to set up a big dinner or plan a family reunion? Would not that just add another thread in your tangle? It would. You need people though!
I just talked to a woman who is mentor to students that need extra encouragement. What did she do? Meet them for ice-cream, and let them talk. Could you do that? Just text a friend and meet for coffee, soon? You do not need to mention your problems, you do not need to ask for advice, what you do need, is to know that we are meant to be in this life together. Or could you offer that to someone else? It is all about fellowship, to know that neither of us should have to be alone. Your tangle will not disappear. Your life will not get less complicated. If you are lucky you will get another perspective on it all, you will get a reminder of what is important to you. If you are really blessed you will have been able to laugh together and tell each other, this too will pass.

In November I take part in the NaNoBloMo not the BlogHer network. I post every day on “The Untangling Tens” what women do when life gets tangled. These are the ten tools that worked for those I have asked, what are yours?

All pictures in this blog are taken by me, Solveig Mjolsnes. These are from the Laguna at the UCSB and from the traditional 17.May picnic for Norwegian Americans.

Quite ordinary holiness

IMG_6675 bare jordeI was searching for something to listen to while driving, a warm and quiet voice got my attention. “I think we hide the holiness of life in all the trappings we think is necessary,’he said. I did not get his name, but I have thought a lot of what he said.

“If you feel life is too much to handle”, he said, “start with the basics”

He went on to talk about bread and prayer.

Try to scale back, do not think about complicated meals, nourishment plans, vitamins and diets. Do not think about how every meal should be different, appetizing and pleasing.
Just place yourself together with most of this worlds population, start with your daily bread. Have a slice,or tear of a bite, eat so as not to be hungry.
Give thanks that this day also you will not starve. Realize that most of all, food is about being alive in the holiness of life, for another day. Everything else is an abundance and a God given gift, but not necessary to survive.

Then be just as simple when it comes to your spiritual life. If the Lord taught us a prayer, and told us this was how our communication with our Creator was meant to be, why do we need it to be more?
There could be other spiritual gifts and more to be had through mediation, through serving, through fellowship. “Most of us will never need more than the Lord’s prayer though,” he continued. I almost felt offended, who was he to know, if I want the luxury edition, why should I not have it?
He went on, “as most of us need a lifetime to truly rest in the trust, the forgiveness, the vast opportunities and the golden promises, in the holiness of the ordinary that is given us through this prayer.”

The most sustainable and rewarding untangling tool of them all turns out to be the easiest, just stay simple in the quite ordinary holiness of your daily bread, but eat it!

Best of friends – an untangling post on eating

IMG_7201 false comfort Do you eat when something is troubling you? Why is it that most of us would have difficulty admitting that? Somewhere along the road we managed to add guilt to the basic need of eating. To eat food for comfort is for many of us equalled to eating junk food, to not being in control of our lives, to suffocate our real longings with unhealthy cravings. On the other hand comfort is good and food is necessary, so what if we could enjoy the fact that life’s necessities could be a comfort? Are we perhaps not taking the time to understand what really comforts us?

IMG_7204 trueThe woman in my office that fall morning was crying. This was her third visit. I knew her story, out of work, old, almost out of hope. She had told me of her usual tools to get back on track. She would go for long walks and she would sort her priorities. She would go to bed early and she had talked to all her friends. Still her tangles was worse, she did not see how to go on. As I looked closer on her, I saw that she was trembling. Did you drive her, I asked. No I am too tired to drive, she said. I  suggested we stopped looking for solutions for a while, perhaps we had jumped into the surgery without doing the first aid, what could we do now, just to give her strength?

I poured her a cup of tea and pushed the tray of biscuits over. She did not touch them.
“Do you eat?” I asked.”How could I,” she retorted,” if I got fat nobody would hire me! ”

As she was neither fat nor thin, this was a field that I had not thought would be essential to tackle. I realized I had been wrong. Until she was able to love, accept and cherish herself, her tangle would be a mess even when she got a new job. I am not an expert on eating disorders, but as our psychiatrist was out-of-town, I wanted to give her just a small tool, to tidy her over until she could have another appointment.

“Let us forget about your troubles, just for a moment, while you are having your tea,” I continued. “If your best friend came to you and was exhausted, what would you do?”

“I would let her sit with her feet up, give her a blanket and go make a bowl of creamy soup,” she did not have to think long about her answer. “My grandmother used to do that, she always made food that was healthy and good tasting, we all felt that she loved us through that food. But then she died and my mother never did that to me” she said. We talked for a while on how it was to miss her grandmother. We talked even more on how she missed a mother that never mothered her.
“So who is the grown up in your life now,” I wondered.
She just sighed, “it is just me I guess.”

We were silent together as she was realizing that she was responsible for her own comfort.
“How should I do that,” she mumbled. She already knew the truth, and together we put it into words, as an exercise for the next week.

“This week I will be my own best friend and serve myself comforting and nourishing food” she decided.
She left me and is now in therapy. I met her on the street the other day though, looking healthier and happier than I  ever saw her before. ” I think I could be the best-of-friends and the best mother there is,”  she told me and smiled.

To walk without going

IMG_0158 ladestienFor years I was ill, for days I would vomit if I moved my head or faint if I tried to stand up. I would be lying in my bed tormented with pain and not able to fulfill any of my obligations. Still, the memory is so painful that I prefer not to write or talk about it. I was eventually healed through surgery, today only extreme exertion will trigger a new attack. Needless to say, this gives a special glow to every ordinary day, as to me the ability to live an ordinary life fills me with wonder and gratefulness every day. Even so, in the middle of it all, for all these years I did not know how it all would turn out, I did not really dare to believe that I would live through it, this side of heaven. Gradually I am able to look back and search for the tools that helped me through it all, even when I had no hope for it ever to end.
I read the amazing book “The diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby some years ago. The author wrote the book by blinking his left eye, and told the story of living with locked-in syndrome. One of his tools was to go for walks, at once I recognized my own treasured walks when I actually could not walk at all.
He never left his bed, I of course had quite normal days in between. He died, I am very much alive. He wrote his book by blinking his left eye for four hours each day. I have all the tools and time I need and still are not able to concentrate on writing. So of course I do not compare my life to his, what we share is the gift of walking while lying absolutely still.

IMG_0205 winterwalkHere is how I would do it. I would savor and scan every beautiful place I saw. I would look for the details, I would stop and feel the breeze in my face, I would pick flowers and smell them, I would feel the sun or the wind in every limb, then I saved it all in my soul. When I was in bed, I would start trying to recollect as many details as possible. I would tell my self that my pain would not go anywhere so I could safely leave it with my body and take my mind and soul for a walk. Most times I returned to the same morning in the spanish highlands, where I now know every stone,in my mind. Did it take away the pain? No, not to me. Did it make me heal sooner? No, i do not think so. Did it take care of the tangle of the life on the other side of my bedroom door? It did not sound like it.

What it did was to remind me, life is worth living. What it did was to keep me believing that “this too will pass”. What it did was most of all to keep me knowing that I would be carried through this ordeal too. To me it made the promise of the Bible real, there was pastures of green, even close to the valley of death.

In my stride- another post on walking

P1030587 going uphill Solveig

“I will walk this road a while, I will walk it with a smile, I will take it in my stride, someday I’ll be satisfied”
Allen Reynolds, My Ship will sail

As you can see the weather last Sunday was glorious. The air was so clear that the whole world looked different. The road you see far away is HW101. From our climb up to Gaviota peak it was nothing more than a line running through the hills. The speed and traffic down there was nothing. As we went up I did not really think about that, I just enjoyed, and obviously I took my time, as the picture is taken by my husband, waiting for me further uphill.

Then, two miles into the hike my knees told me that they were not happy. I was surprised, “you have never complained before, what is this all about”, I asked my body.  Pain and more pain was the answer, until my right knee locked and would not bend at all. As this was new to me, I just told my husband to keep going. I would turn around and slowly start going back. He would join me when returning.

I started to walk, slowly. I am used to pain, but this knee did not only hurt, it alternated between being locked and being all loose so I could not trust my leg. Gradually my thoughts got all tangled, with anxiety, with fear, with resentment, and well…with pain. What if I tumbled down the ravine, what if I fell in the grass, where were the snakes and the mountain lions, was that a turkey vulture? Then, what if I had to do surgery on my knees, how should a helicopter be able to pick me up if I gave in, and oh, there was no phone service.. You see, pretty pessimistic for a normally sunny soul.

As my steps were only inches long, as I had to stop and hold on to every tree, stone or gate I found, I had lots of time for thinking, and for reflecting on my own thinking. As I slowly eked forward I tried to focus on what fear was real, and what was fear for “could be real”. The fact was I was outside, I could enjoy the vistas, I had not seen a dangerous animal at all. And later, rather than sooner I had to be somewhere were my phone worked and where I could be picked up. The knee hurt just as much when moving as when resting. There was only one thing to do, leave all the worries in a tangle to be dealt with if their time came, and keep walking.

So I did. I took pictures when I rested, I inhaled the crisp mountain air, and of course I sang, of course I prayed. No one else was around, and the hills got a consert of my whole repertoire from Bach’s “Ich Halte treulich Still” to Cash’s “I’ll take it in my stride”. Three hours later I was back in our car, knee throbbing but none of my other worries had materialized yet. Then Stig came, and we drove home.

The next morning my knees were good. I do not know why. Unfortunately I know too well that most problems won’t go away just by me plodding and singing along. Some of them do though, and for those that don’t, at least it helps to take some strides at the time and let the other wait their time. And then of course, praying, singing and smiling are untangling tools by themselves.

Walk it off!

IMG_0053 knot“I try to think, but nothing happens”

Sometimes my thoughts are all entangled. Especially if I am angry.  Even if I know I have to sort it out, and know I have to find a solution, nothing happens when I try to think about it, as Winnie The Pooh says. Even worse, to me more often than not, too much happens, at  once.

As in this tree, where the saplings were too close. Even if they were growing, they were stifling each other. It is just too much going on, at the same spot, at the same time. Even if there is lots of energy spent considering the mess of thoughts in my head, there isn’t actually any thinking going on. As these saplings could have grown into two big trees if they only had been rooted a bit apart, my thoughts get so much clearer if I am able to view them from a distance.

This is not a parable or a spiritual exercise, even if it works as both, it is just a very simple thing to do. The walking solution is not mine. To go for a walk when things get entangled has been the tried and true go-to solution  for ages. The old greek philosophers did it, Soren Kierkegaard did it, and every angry teenager still does it, when storming out of the door, slamming it and running “out of here”. It works. Not as solution, but as a tool. To me it is as if my body tells me, you are too much part of this to think clearly, get out of it so you can view it all from a distance.

Of course this is a walk that has to be done in circles, when I have cooled down, when I have got a new perspective on things, I need to get back to the persons or problems I left. Hopefully I had  been able to leave without doing anything that makes it difficult to apply my calmed down reason on it all. And sometimes, well even if it is hard to admit, sometimes it is not even a problem anymore…..which leaves me pondering what was this all about? Which actually could set me off on another walk.

“I have walked away from all my sorrows and illnesses…just keep going and it all goes well”
Soren Kierkegaard