Savor the Season

How was your Christmas? Chances are you started seeing the decorations going up in shops in October, or even September. It seems like the Christmas season shifts forward every year. One year to protest the season creep I bought candy canes and gave them out for Halloween. I confused a lot of trick or treaters that year.

But that’s over now. We’ve moved on. The Christmas presents have been opened. In some cases they’re now broken or exchanged. And the whole thing is becoming a memory. We’re a society that looks ahead for the next thing. We count down to holidays, movie releases, iPhone releases, and so on.  Christmas music is symptomatic of the way we view the holiday. It’s played nonstop for more than a month on the radio, then the day after, it’s just gone.

But wait a minute. Why the rush? Why are we always moving headlong into the future.No, really. One year my wife and I ran to the store on Christmas Eve to buy some treats for our daughter’s stocking. The clerk in the seasonal aisle pointed us to the discount carts and went back to arranging the Valentine’s Day candy. ON CHRISTMAS EVE, PEOPLE!

Let’s look at what the Christmas season used to be. Somewhere around Dec. 20 or so, people began getting a tree, and making a few gifts for friends. Dec. 25 was the day we have decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This holiday began a celebration that lasted almost two weeks (hence the 12 days of Christmas). The last day was Jan. 6, Epiphany. This holiday marks the visit of the three wise men. When I was in France, I was invited into a home for Epiphany (La fete des rois—the celebration of the kings). We had a cake. Inside was a small porcelain crown. The person who found it received a little plastic one to wear. It was in my piece, and I still have my crown, tucked away in my journal.

Instead of only one day, which gives lip service to the birth of our Savior, but in reality has become the biggest shopping event of the year, there were 12 days to reflect on the most important birth. According to that, today is really the fifth day of Christmas.We’re about halfway through the celebration.

I say, slow down and enjoy the moment. We decided to slow things down a bit at our house. Yes, the presents have all been opened. Our children have eaten almost everything that was in their stockings (and ours), but we’re still taking time to recognize this special season. We’ll read a talk about Jesus Christ. We’ll still sing about peace on earth and good will toward men. And our tree isn’t going down until our children have all ready been back in school for a few days. So while the rest of the world starts filling out Valentine’s Day cards, we’ll be wishing a merry Christmas for another week or so.

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Is There Music inside You?

Every year I try to cross an item off my bucket list. Some years that has meant doing a particular hike, climbing all of the highest county peaks in Utah, or riding LOTOJA. This year I decided to learn the guitar. I have been practicing each night, using Hal Leonard lesson books and CDs. I have found it immensely satisfying to pick up my guitar and play a song. I’m not a great guitarist, but I can play a few chords (really, you don’t need to know more than four), pluck out a melody as long as it doesn’t have anything more complicated than an F-sharp. I’ll get better but I’m still good enough that my family knows what I’m playing.

This isn’t my first experience with music. I sang in choir in high school. I continue to sing in my department choir at work (that happens when you work for the LDS Church). When they don’t make practice too early, I even sing in my ward choir. I took up singing when I misunderstood a relative’s comment that I was the basest teenager she knew, but that’s another story).

What makes this new is that the music didn’t come FROM me as it does now. Even what I sang, with few exceptions, didn’t come out of my heart like it does when I play. It made me think about music and how it has changed. Fifty years ago an artist would write a song and release it. If it were a popular song, dozens of others might release the same song. Kaw-liga is a good example (You may not know country music, but it’s one my dad used to sing in the truck). Hank Williams wrote the song with Fred Rose. The same song was released by a dozen different artists. The first one to record and release it wasn’t even Hank Williams.

Now, we generally leave songs to the first person to release them. I think it’s because we have such easy access to Youtube, iTunes and Spotify, that we have no reason to explore the music beyond the person who first recorded it.

Going back 100 years, if you wanted to hear a song, you either played and sang it yourself, or your friends did. Edison’s phonograph was relatively expensive. My point is to show that we have gone from producing music, to consuming it. We can fill our ears nonstop for months from our iPods, but the music passes is taken in like an audio candy bar.

It reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. In the novel, everyone had wall-sized TVs, but didn’t talk. We get together to play games, watch movies, or listen to music, but how many of us sit down and talk, not about current events, yelling into our echo chambers but to build worlds with words, to philosophize and even challenge our deepest beliefs. I remember waking up early and listening to relatives talk. I’d pretend to be asleep because I didn’t want to disturb the flow of conversation.

Think about what we do in the evening. Do we watch a video? Spend the night scrolling through social media posts? What about reading to one another and discussing what we read? It sounds hokey, but that was the main entertainment 150 years ago. The words we took in became part of our souls. Now we seek for constant entertainment, until we can’t produce any music because we haven’t fostered our souls enough to allow those little seeds to grow, whether it be into a song we play, a book we write, or an invention we share.

I hope that I am a producer, not just a consumer. Our souls desire to create. Don’t drown it out by filling your head so full of noise and lights that you can’t think your own thoughts.

Raising Dragons

Two weeks ago I had an intense week. There was a shooting, there were political battles as a result of the shooting. Donald Trump still is running for president. Some friends had various personal crises.

It’s moments like this that make you realize that life is too short to do things that don’t bring you joy. But the long and short of it is that I’ve decided to leave my occupation and start a new career in ranching.

This is returning to my roots in some ways. My dad raises cattle and grows alfalfa. He has raised sheep and various crops in the past. My grandfather raised and traded horses. My great-grandfather had a farm including dairy cows.

But I don’t want to just live in the past, well maybe I do, but not the recent past. But my point is that I don’t want to do things the way they’ve always been done. I want to take on impossible tasks. I’ve shared my idea with some, and they ask, “Why? It’s impossible.” I look at the impossible and say, “Where do we start?”

So my dream is to start a ranch for dragons. I recently started an Indiegogo campaign hoping to raise the funds I need to purchase my first dragon. I thought about the idea and sat down to draw up a solid plan to establish myself in the business of dragon husbandry, and definite steps to expand my business.

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Dreaming of Dragons

You’d think that getting into raising dragons would be a simple matter of getting a couple and letting them do what comes naturally, but life is never that easy. Dragons can be pretty picky about their partners. It’s also hard to run the bureaucratic mazes needed to comply with regulations of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

But I’m not a quitter, and I will reach my dreams, despite the scorn and derision from those who claim that dragons don’t exist. Just because something is fantasy, doesn’t mean it’s not real! Yes, I’m looking at you, dear wife.

Anyway, take a look at the campaign. If it makes you smile, then the world’s a better place. Just think how much matter it will be once we bring dragons back from the brink of extinction.

Finding Joy

I read two books recently that have come together to illuminate a life-changing truth for me. The first is Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The other is The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up by Maria Kondo.

Intuitive Eating says a couple of important things. First of all, dieting doesn’t work. The minute you say to yourself, “I can’t eat this food” then that’s all you think about until you cave in. The second thing it talks about is our mindless eating. We eat things we don’t like for many reasons: boredom, emotional release, and to be polite for example. These are things we don’t really want to eat, but we do so for a variety of reasons.

This book suggests 10 principles of intuitive eating. Basically, don’t eat if you’re not hungry. Eat what you really want. Eat until you’re satisfied. Don’t eat more than that. Eat things that give you joy. Really taste and appreciate one bite of cheesecake and you’ll get more out of the experience than wolfing down a large slice. As someone who has tried to multitask by reading or sorting email as I eat, this has been quite a change. But I’ve lost 10 pounds since I started.

The second book, is about how to live in a clutter-free world. There are two main points:

1) Sort through all of your possessions. Hold each one and ask yourself, “Does this give me joy?” If not, you should get rid of it.

2) Once sorted, you should create a specific place for every item.

As I was reading this second book, one thing that struck me was when she said that when we discard items that we don’t love, we make space for the life and person we want to become.

This was an illuminating experience. As I held a paint-stained pair of army-green coveralls, my answer was yes, these give me joy. I wear them when working on home-improvement or car-repair projects. Their functionality is a symbol of self-reliance.

At the same time, I held a fleece jacket someone gave me as a gift eight years ago. I rarely wear it. I had asked specifically for this jacket, but never wore it. As I held he jacket, I realized it was because it’s a size too big. I hate how it looked on me. It hung off my frame like a cardigan sweater. Since it didn’t give me joy, I got rid of it. I honored the efforts of the person who bought it, and honored myself by deciding I didn’t have to keep it.

I am more careful about what I purchase. I needed a new suit, so I found one that I really liked—one that made me feel good. My wife noticed that I stand taller when I wear it, and someone compliments me every time. It gives me joy.

Now, to bring all this together: both books have in common the idea that we improve our lives by filling it with things that really give us joy.

This idea has spread out into other areas. I have been sorting my acquaintances. There are people I would love to have as close friends. But when I really examine the relationship, it’s me inviting them to do things and them declining. When I think of these people I feel some anxiety as to the possibility that I may have offended them somehow. I also feel discouraged when I think of them. So I have stopped trying to force these relationships.

When I consider activities I make better decisions. It’s easier to say no to binge watching my favorite show until 3 a.m. It’s fun, but I’ll feel worse the next day. Going to a funeral to support a grieving friend? Of course. Reengage in a toxic relationship? No, thanks. I choose not to receive that. It’s easy when you remember that joy comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for us here on the earth.

I’ve noticed some physical and emotional side effects of this new philosophy. I have more energy. I exercise more, and more intently. I feel more creative. I’m calmer, and I’m happier. I’m more patient. It’s also easier to recognize my own limits. I respect my own fatigue and need for solitude, just as I respect my own hunger and satiety.

So find your joy. If you can’t, start by discarding the things that don’t bring you joy. Eventually you’ll cut through enough noise that you can find it. Then nurture it. Examine it and change the rest of your life to fit it. This might mean quitting your job, learning a new skill, or making new friends. Whatever it is, discover it, and go for it.