Me and My Shadow – Winter Solstice inspires living more authentically

My shadow on Winter Solstice 2020

Here in the Heartland of America, the Winter Solstice couldn’t have fallen on a more beautiful December day. I took a walk in the bright sunshine without mittens or a heavy coat. I was alone, except for an exaggerated shadow that followed me playfully. Turns out we cast our longest shadow on the shortest day of the year.

As my shadow loomed next to me and mocked my every move, I felt like Peter Pan, whose shadow was a distinct character in the novel by J. M. Barrie. At its insistence, I finally stopped and addressed the figure that boldly stretched more than fifty feet across the ground as the late afternoon sun hung low in the horizon. My shadow seemed to plead, “Look at me!”

Had I been accompanied by a child or a friend with my sense of wonder, I imagine we would have jumped, posed, danced, and laughed out loud at our circus-like shadows. Instead, I just moved my arms and legs a little and giggled, hoping no one was watching.

When we look at our shadows, we don’t see facial features or skin color. We don’t see signs of age or wealth. We don’t see talents or insecurities, good luck or misfortune, successes or failures. We only see the shape of a human body, a vessel that carries us through every moment of our lives.

Psychology has much to say about the shadow self. My limited understanding is that it’s the darker side of our personality containing parts of ourselves we might not even be aware of, or want to admit to if we do.

Observing my shadow, one would never know I struggle with perfectionism. No one could tell how I crave solitude, or that conflict fills me with anxiety. I hide these things about myself, convinced they’re negative traits I should be embarrassed by and try to change.

I am learning to honor those shadow parts of myself and accept they’re part of what makes me uniquely me. By the same token, I must try to view others without judgment, knowing the traits hiding in their shadow make them uniquely them.

Despite our individual quirks and idiosyncrasies, we are more alike than different. This year has revealed that more clearly than most. Line us all up shoulder-to-shoulder around this big blue marble and deep in our shadows we all want the same things ~ health and happiness, equality and respect, love and peace.

The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of brighter days ahead. It comes at the end of a year filled with stunning moments that made us re-evaluate who we really are, what we stand for, and how we want to live.

As for me and my shadow, we’re going to end the year with the intention of living more authentically. On the next Winter Solstice, my shadow and I are going to joyfully do a cartwheel, no matter who is watching. §

The Perfect Holiday Gift – 11 ways to give our presence (even from a distance)

The past three years, my husband and I have lived deep in the woods where cell phone service is spotty at best. There’s only one place in our home where I can reliably get a good signal. No more chatting while I unload the dishwasher, cook dinner, or put away laundry. To avoid the frustration of a dropped call, I must sit down and simply converse. The situation has forced me to experience the joy of being present.

This holiday season, most people need our presence more than our presents. Though it will probably be from a distance, being present offers the gift of our most precious time, energy, and attention.

11 ways to give our presence this holiday season ~

1. Let Go of Expectations. Even without a pandemic, the holiday season can struggle to live up to our commercially-driven expectations and standards. This year, instead of thinking how we wish things were, let’s focus on enjoying life exactly as it is.

2. Reach Out. Because of the virus, many people will spend the holidays alone. While we might be tempted to pull the covers over our head until next year, we need to reach out to people. A cheerful conversation remembering old times and looking ahead can do wonders for everyone’s spirit.

3. Really Listen. Often when someone is talking, we’re waiting to get in our two cents. Conversations require some back and forth, but don’t be afraid of a little silence. Instead of thinking of our response, we can take that time to process what was said and respond by asking questions and clarifying the other person’s words.

4. Pay Close Attention. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world we don’t really see the people we care about. Taking time to notice subtle, non-verbal communication helps us understand other people’s feelings and gives us a chance to offer genuine compassion and empathy.

5. Cut Out Distractions. We all know the feeling of talking to someone who is clearly focused on something more important than your conversation. To really connect with someone, we must eliminate distractions so we can give them the gift of our full attention.

6. Dive Deep. This year we won’t be attending any big holiday parties where small talk is most appropriate. Take advantage of smaller gatherings and phone calls to enjoy some conversation that goes beyond the weather and typical surface exchanges.

7. Make Eye-Contact. At least those annoying masks don’t cover our eyes. Looking at others warmly shows we are engaged and interested. Whether meeting in-person, on Facetime, or a Zoom call, eye contact is a powerful way to demonstrate our care and respect.

8. Choose Mindful Activities. There’s nothing wrong with having a family movie night, but it might not be the best way to spend quality time. Try taking a walk together, playing a game, making a craft, or just talking over some hot chocolate.

9. Tune-In to the Senses. One of the best ways to immediately be more present is to become aware of our senses. Focusing on what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel can get us out of our heads and into the moment. Twinkling lights, holiday music, a glowing fire, and delicious treats are all sure ways to enjoy being present.

10. Lend a Hand. If we listen and pay attention, we often find there is something we can do to help others. When at our home, both of our sons-in-law are wonderful at noticing what needs to be done and quietly doing it. Our presence is always appreciated when we lighten the load for someone else.

11. Give Love. It’s been a long year, and we’re all worn out by such unprecedented events. The gift of our presence is a sincere and thoughtful way to put more love into the world this holiday season, and that’s a gift everybody can use. §

Question of the Week: What tip do you have for being more present with yourself or others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Wishing you a week filled with holiday presence. Merry Christmas!

Please subscribe to The Simple Swan by clicking the Follow button. The Simple Swan is on Twitter at 1SimpleSwan.

Simply Remember Your Favorite Things ~ this Christmas and always

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

These sweet words, written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, first appeared in the Broadway production of The Sound of Music in 1959. Julie Andrews performed the song on a holiday television special in 1961, making My Favorite Things an instant Christmas classic.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Long ago my mother sang this song when she tucked my sisters and me into bed, and I sang it to my own children as part of my nightly lullaby medley.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

I still turn to this song when sleep and I can’t find each other. I silently sing the words in my head accompanied by a full orchestra that soothes my worried heart and reminds me everything will be okay.

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Here are a few of my favorite things. How wonderful that they are simple and not too difficult to find if I put my mind to it. Even when they aren’t physically present, I can imagine them.

Flower Gardens
The Sky
Gentle Smiles
Wild Birds & Critters
Impressionist Paintings
The Changing Seasons
Heart-Shaped Rocks
Sunlight-Filled Rooms
Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
Pretty Words & Music

What are a few of your favorite things? I’d love to know! I sincerely hope you find them this Christmas season and always. §

Like a Swan ~ inspiration for living with grace, simplicity, and joy

The Swans, 1900 by Joseph Marius Avy

Many times I’ve been asked why I named this blog The Simple Swan. I suppose I’ve always had an affinity for this elegant bird that graces the scenes of art, literature, and ballets.

My earliest encounter with storybook swans was Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Ugly Duckling and its powerful message of transformation, kindness, and love. Who can resist the idea that no matter how awkward and rejected we feel, deep down we are all beautiful swans?

Another favorite novel of mine is E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan. It tells the sweet story of a trumpeter swan, Louis (cleverly named for Louis Armstrong), who learns several lessons in his journey first to self-love and eventually to true love with a beautiful swan named Serena.

My love for swans was sealed when I was a little girl taking dance lessons. My mother took my sisters and me to a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and I was mesmerized. Ever since, a lovely picture book of the ballet has had a place on my shelf.

Seeing swans in nature only increases their fictional dreaminess for me. As I watch swans regally float on the water, I’m inspired by their natural poise, beauty, and simplicity. They might be paddling like crazy just below the surface, but they always appear to serenely glide through life.

When my own children reached the same age as the eighth graders I taught, I had a daily routine of stopping by a park on the way home from school. For fifteen minutes or so, I would sit in my car and watch the swans on the small peaceful lake.

In the midst of hectic days blessed by teenagers at work and home, the swans soothed my soul and reminded me how I wanted to show up in the world as a teacher, parent, and human being.

Especially now, as I near my sixties, swans seem to possess a wise and mature sense of joy. They aren’t showy like peacocks or cute and flighty like chickadees. Swans represent the simple, refined, and deep contentment I seek in my own life.

No matter what life brings, we can at least aim to effortlessly glide through both the seasons of the year and the seasons of life inspired by the serenity, grace, and joy of a simple swan. §