Breaking the Hurry Habit

In one of my favorite poems, My Symphony, William Henry Channing advises us to “hurry never.” As much as I’ve always loved that sentiment, it’s something I’ve been slow to learn. Breaking the hurry habit can be difficult, but it is one of the best things we can do to take better care of ourselves and to capture that elusive everyday elegance.

As a busy mother and teacher, I operated on two speeds for decades ~ a hundred miles an hour and passed out from exhaustion. Most days, I hit the ground running the second I crawled out of bed in the morning until the second I collapsed back in at night. During the five minutes between classes, I flew around like a whirling dervish, squeezing in as many tasks as I could before the next class began.

I don’t say this to boast. It wasn’t healthy or wise, and it was anything but elegant. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency when there was none. I had a hurry habit.

It seems the want to rush isn’t just a symptom of our modern, fast-paced lifestyle. These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

I sympathize with those in the hectic stages of childrearing, caregiving, homemaking, schooling, or career. I know it sometimes seems there’s no choice but to be in a hurry. I also know the toll it can take on our relationships, health, and inner peace.

We all want to be active and efficient, but we can learn to do so at a slower and more deliberate pace. As a reminder to myself, and to you, here are ten ways breaking the hurry habit can help us live with more grace ~

  1. Better Health ~ When I catch myself rushing, I feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Our bodies aren’t meant to be in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. Slowing down can improve our physical and mental health.
  2. More Beauty ~ I wonder how many sunsets or full moons I missed because I was too busy to notice. The more we slow down, the more we notice beautiful things around us.
  3. More Help ~ If our life truly demands us to constantly be in a hurry, it’s time to get some help. It’s smart self-care to ask for help when we need it. No matter what we’ve been taught to believe, nobody can do it all.
  4. Sweeter Memories ~ Have you ever been so busy that you felt you completely missed a child’s important milestone, a holiday, or a special event? Time moves on whether we’re aware of it or not.
  5. More Kindness ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down allows us to be more courteous, patient, and aware of others.
  6. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad choices.
  7. Better Decisions ~ When we set an intention to stop hurrying, we find it easier to make decisions about what we can include in our lives. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something more important to us.
  8. More Peace ~ Think about the difference between frantically driving someplace and leisurely driving to your destination. A calmer, less rushed demeanor can bring more peace to ourselves and those around us.
  9. Better Planning ~ A school secretary I worked with had a sign over her desk that read, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” If we want to stop rushing ourselves and others, planning ahead is crucial.
  10. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. By breaking the hurry habit, we can calmly glide through our days with more elegance and composure.


“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
~ William Shakespeare

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/Vb1yTP11csg

The Elegant Inspiration of Swans

Nature offers us all the inspiration we need to move through life with elegance and grace. Our physical world is filled with breathtaking landscapes, plants, and animals. Consider a majestic black stallion, a dainty gossamer butterfly, or a strong and courageous lion. Among these elegant creatures is the swan, an ethereal bird that graces the scenes of art, literature, and ballet.

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 on his journey first to self-love and eventually to true love with a swan named Serena.

My affinity 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 picture book of the ballet has had a place on my shelf.

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

I began teaching middle school before my children were born. By the time they 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 ten or fifteen minutes, I would sit in my car and watch the swans on the small lake, while I decompressed, meditated, and prayed.

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 ~ peaceful, placid, and poised.

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

Most of us feel drawn to certain things in nature. Do you have a spirit animal that displays traits you’d like to emulate? Though it may not be a swan, I’m sure you appreciate their beauty and are inspired by their grace and serenity. No matter what life brings, we can at least aim to effortlessly glide through our days with the elegance of a simple swan.§

“Swans always look as though they’d just been reading their own fan mail.”
~Jill Struther

To watch or listen to this post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/qBecvQpO5s0

The Elegance of Decorating Like an Artist

There are many famous paintings of home interiors, demonstrating the importance houses have had to people throughout history and throughout the world. These beautiful paintings of bedrooms, parlors, dining rooms, powder rooms, and kitchens are as different in style as our own homes. Inspired by paintings such as Henri Matisse’s Interior with Phonograph (pictured below), here are ten ways to add beauty to any room. 

  1. Color ~ The most striking aspect of Matisse’s painting is his use of bold bright color. Every memorable room has a distinct color palette. You may prefer pastels, earth tones, rich shades, or even a monochromatic look. Study paintings, magazines, and friends’ homes to find a distinct color palette that speaks to you.
  2. Music ~ Matisse named this painting Interior with Phonograph, even though the record player is only partially seen to the right of the painting. I wonder what album was turning on that phonograph the day Matisse created this masterpiece. Music fills a house with beauty and emotion. 
  3. Flowers ~ Notice the flowers on the table. Are they pink roses, carnations, or maybe azaleas? I wish I could lean in and smell them! The tablescape wouldn’t be as attractive without that little vase. Flowers always make a house feel like a home.
  4. Food ~ Fruit, bread, wine, and cheese are often included in paintings. The big pineapple and peaches on the table make Matisse’s room come to life. Food represents comfort and joy. The sight, smell, and taste of delicious food should be a central feature of our homes.
  5. Decorations ~ In this scene, we see a gold tray, a basket, a decanter, and the flower vase. Each object adds to the beauty and function of the room. Think about the decorations, accessories, and art in your home. Does everything serve a purpose and make you smile? 
  6. Textiles ~ Imagine this room without the yellow swag curtain, the red and white striped tablecloth, the rug in the far room, and the patterned wallpapers. Textiles make any room more comfortable, warm, colorful, soft, and welcoming. 
  7. Light ~ Whether a room is lit by a candle, a lamp, or the bright sun streaming through a window, lighting makes all the difference in the atmosphere of a space. In this painting, Matisse captures the cheerfulness of a sunny day. Adjust the lighting in your home for the purpose and mood you’re trying to create. 
  8. Composition ~ Just as every painter must make decisions about where to place objects in a painting, we must decide where to place things in our home. Don’t be afraid to move around furniture, art, and necessities until you have everything arranged in the way that’s most practical and pleasing to you.
  9. Cleanliness ~ Let’s face it, no matter what style it is, a dirty home isn’t elegant. Pay someone, bribe someone, or just do it yourself, but the cleaning must be done if we want our home to sparkle like this Matisse painting.
  10. People ~ Not all paintings of interiors include people. Often it seems as if the homeowner has just stepped out while we get a glimpse of their private dwellings. However, if you look closely at the center of this  painting, you’ll see the small face of a bearded man, perhaps approaching an open door to the home. Matisse reminds us that homes are nothing without people. Those who live in and visit our homes are what truly fill a room with style, beauty, and love. §

“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.”
~
Hazrat Inayat Khan

To watch or listen to blog post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~
https://youtu.be/vjTiplRhqtg

The Elegance of Not Cussing

“Language is the dress of thought; every time you talk, your mind is on parade,” wrote Samuel Johnson in the 1700s. It’s certainly still true today. We can be dressed to the nines, but the words we speak must be equally beautiful for us to have any hope of being elegant. As a former language arts teacher, I’m aware of many things we can do to improve our communication, but we can start by not swearing.

The ubiquitous use of expletives has made it easy for them to slip into our conversation. Words that dropped jaws a generation ago, barely get a reaction today. Network television still has a list of taboo words, but even cable news is peppered with four-letter expressions. Throw in movies, reality shows, social media, and routine conversation, and we are exposed to a slew of curse words every day. In a 2018 report, Business Insider said the average American utters 80 to 90 curse words a day!

Swearing is most often done to express anger. And aren’t we an increasingly angry lot? Life can be stressful, and venting with the perfect four-letter word might initially feel like a good way to let off steam. However, in my experience, it does nothing to help me feel better and makes me question my self-control. If we aim to be elegant, profanity-laced rants undo any attempt to be calm, cool, and collected.

Swearing is frequently used in an attempt at humor. I once spent an evening at a comedy club and left feeling like I needed a long shower with lots of soap. We’ve all seen colorful sayings on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers. These quips might make us giggle, but surely we can think of more clever things to say. In the words of Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

Cussing can make us seem less refined and even boring. CEO and author Michael Hyatt said, “If you can’t be interesting without profanity, then let’s face it, you’re not that interesting.” Ouch. Conversing can be difficult and can even produce anxiety in some. Relaxed conversation takes practice, and we can learn to edit out bad words. Cursing downgrades any conversation.

I was recently at a social event, and while I wasn’t particularly offended by the conversation laden with profanity, I knew others within earshot would be. I excused myself and went to the restroom feeling like an old fuddy-duddy. Then I reassured myself that the whole point of good manners is to make others feel at ease. Swearing can be disrespectful and make others feel uncomfortable, so it’s simply not polite.

Finally, it is never okay to swear at or in front of children. Research shows cursing at a child causes increased aggression and insecurity. Children are going to imitate what adults say, even when they don’t know the meaning of the words. I’m not one who finds it cute when children repeat curse words. Every adult is a role-model to every child and should take that responsibility to heart.

Some may counter that swearing doesn’t really hurt anybody, and maybe I should lighten up. Perhaps. But as someone who spent decades teaching poetry and literature, I long for beautiful words and phrases. Why put an ugly word out into the world when we can choose a lovely one? I agree with contemporary author Rajesh Walecha who wrote, “Speak beautiful words to create a beautiful world.” §

“The wise one fashions speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”
~ Buddha

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/OnrelpQ-XCc