The Elegance of Winter’s Simplicity

IMG_0469Just outside our upstairs bedroom window, winter trees stand like elegant steel sculptures against a silver sky. As I awaken, my eyes trace the trees’ bold, black branches. The bare winter trees inspire me to simplify.

Based on the popularity of books and television shows on the subject, I know I’m not alone in my urge to simplify, nor am I the first to be motivated by nature. Isaac Newton wrote, “Nature is pleased with simplicity.” He was referring to mathematical principles and philosophical reasoning, not kitchen cabinets and sock drawers, but I think his point remains.

During his time at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau observed, “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with nature herself.” Wouldn’t we all accept an invitation to more purity and ease?

Inspired by the winter landscape, I am beginning the new year by simplifying. Like beauty, simplicity is in the eye of the beholder, but maybe you can relate to my goal of tackling the following areas.

Physical Possessions ~ I’m reconsidering every item in every drawer, closet, shelf, box, cabinet, glove compartment, and secret nook and cranny. I’m keeping only things I love and that align with my idea of a simple, elegant life. Uncomfortable shoes, be gone!

Health and Finances ~ I don’t know about you, but during the winter months I tend to put such things on the back burner. I have experienced the relief of being on top of my game in these areas, and I’m not going to wait until spring to feel that way again.

Digital Footprint ~ Newton and Thoreau didn’t have to worry about this one, but it’s a struggle for me. Photographs, emails, documents, passwords, downloads and “the cloud” hang over my head. I hope to take control of my technology before it changes, and this old dog has to learn more new tricks.

Activities and Pursuits ~ Just as we have limited space in our cupboards, we have limited space in our days. I’m letting go of vague dreams to travel the world or become a gourmet cook who is fluent in French, but I am fully committed to a small number of true passions.

Thoughts and Emotions ~ Sometimes intangible baggage prevents us from simplifying. Just like physical clutter, we have to let go of the stuff in our head and heart that keeps us from living our best life.

I hope you will join me in answering Thoreau’s call to simplify, simplify! If we get stuck, winter’s elegant inspiration is right outside the window in the clarity of a shaft of sunlight, the peace of dormant fields, the freedom of geese in flight, and the beauty of a snowflake. §

“In winter, the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of more exalted simplicity.”
~ John Burroughs

Nature’s Cure for the Holi-daze

The most wonderful time of the year can quickly turn into a frenzy of shopping, decorating, hosting, toasting, and to-do lists as long as the lines at the stores. Even though my tiny tots are grown and I’m no longer teaching excited middle-schoolers, I still have to be careful I don’t spin into holly jolly overdrive, turning the holidays into a holi-daze.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order,” wrote John Burroughs, a late 19th century essayist. Our senses are the miraculous way we process the world, but too much merry-making can cause sensory-overload. A mindful walk outdoors provides a cleansing reset to help us experience the simple beauty and true meaning of the season. 

Bundle up and take a senses-soothing stroll with me where all is calm, all is bright. 

Look ~ With the abundance of twinkling lights and plastic decorations, it’s easy to lose sight of the winter wonderland around us. Notice the elongated shadows, the haloed clouds, the bare trees standing like sculptures. Do you see what I see?

Listen ~ Be still and pay attention to the sound of the wind rattling the last of the copper leaves, birds in the distance, a squirrel’s silly chatter. Listen very closely and you may even hear a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea.

Smell ~ Does the air smell earthy and fresh? Lean into an evergreen tree and inhale its aroma. Rub its foliage between your fingers to release the fragrance. It’s even better than a holiday-scented candle. 

Taste – Elves may like to stick to the four main food groups of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup, but all those holiday treats can lead to a month-long food coma. Take a long walk and give your taste buds a break. Catch a few snowflakes on your tongue, but whatever you do, don’t lick a frozen flag pole!

Touch – The stagnant, indoor heat can make us sluggish and lethargic. Go outside to feel the chilly air on your cheeks and the ground below your feet. Pick up a pinecone, a spiky gumball, or an acorn and feel its shape and texture. Though the sense of touch refers to physical sensations, give some thought to how you’d really like to feel (and how you’d like to make others feel) this holiday season.

It’s ironic we often turn the anticipation of a silent, holy night into a time of stress and consumerism. A reflective walk in nature can calm our senses and help us more consciously celebrate this peaceful season when all of heaven and nature sing!