Sometimes the deliciously simple solution to our problems is right in front of our eyes.
I’m a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan, as much for the nuggets of wisdom and the rich symbolism that are strewn about the books as I am for the story. One of my favorite lines is spoken by Bilbo, “I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that is scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right.” This scene takes place at the beginning of the story. Gandalf the wizard realizes the Bilbo’s magic ring is gaining too much power over him. Bilbo has possessed it so long that he is beginning to get thin. Gandalf urges Bilbo to let go of the ring. The rest of the three novel story revolves around the struggle to destroy this ring—this ring that gives power and extends life without giving life. The ring becomes a powerful symbol of possessiveness and the desire to control.
I often feel like Bilbo—a bit of butter scraped over too much bread. I have said that before and added with a bit of bitterness that I don’t even have a ring of power to show for it. But as I sit and analysis why I feel this way I wonder: do I have a ring of power that I try to hold onto even though I know it hurts me? I feel thin and stretched because I tend to have too many personal goals that I feel I need to accomplish; then on top of that I pile commitment after commitment. I feel that I need to do everything everyone asks me to do.
Why? I often feel powerless when I say yes to too many things. But if I’m honest, this tendency to take on too much is a bit of a power play. When I say yes to too many things it usually comes about because I want people to like me: I want to control how others feel about me. When I have all these goals I want to reach, it’s because I want to feel accomplished; I want to be a type of wonder woman, a super hero who manages all the challenges life throws at me. Of course, I have better, higher motives as well. Those are what I focus on until I realize I’m too thin and stretched. Then I have to ask myself where I’m overreaching.
Maybe it’s time to do a little interior spring cleaning. Maybe it’s time to dust out the corners of my heart. Maybe I need to dig a little to see what I need to let go of.
But that that’s a long term project. I need to feel less thin and stretched today: when I’m pressed for time and need to somehow need to finish writing my blog post, take a relevant photo, get to work on time. Oh yes. And eat. I forgot about eating.
I am really so stupid that I was taking pictures of dense, healthy, substantial bread wondering what I was going to make for breakfast this morning. Then I asked myself if I was try to make everything more complicated than it needs to be. Then I saw my solution right before my eyes. Then I ate my solution without toasting it, with nothing but the butter that was there. And it was delicious. It gave me strength and an idea how to wrap up my thoughts.
When I feel too stretched, it is usually because I am trying control every aspect of my existence. I try so hard to cover all the bread with butter that I forget that for the moment all I need to do it cover a slice or two for breakfast. When I’m trying to look in every direction, I forget to focus on what is right in front of me. I wonder how many deliciously simple solutions that were right right in front of me throughout life that I’ve missed because I was trying too hard to control the situation.
Today I invite you to drink deeply of the golden silence of winter. Think of a snowy night when the traffic is minimal, and folks are at home where it’s warm. Snow muffles what little sound there is. The silence invites you. Step outside and breath in the cold, quiet air. Let your self be revived if only for a moment.
Maybe your conditions are not as I described them. Maybe your winter is gray and rainy. Maybe you are reading this as you procrastinate from a task with a looming deadline, sirens are going down the street, and your teenager is blasting the kind of music you hate. Never mind all that. If you procrastinate a few more minutes, it isn’t going to make much difference. You might even find yourself revived enough to finish the task at hand. Your teenager won’t die if you ask them to turn down the volume. (They might think they are dying and act like they are dying, but it won’t actually be fatal. Maybe they need an invitation into reviving silence too.)
One way or another, step away from the noise even if you can only do it in your mind.
Speaking of your mind—when you step into silence, your mind can sometimes become very noisy. A thousand thoughts may crowd into your head. Stepping into silence, ironically can be like stepping into a noisy party in your head. A few dozen thoughts can suddenly start trying to talk over the background music. We never heard them when our attention was turned outward, but now they see their opportunity to get our attention, and they all start to yell.
Ask them to be still for a moment. It is important to try to keep them at bay and give silence its place. Like whitespace on a page that makes it possible to read the written word, silence is the background that makes our thoughts intelligible. The silence will let them be heard when the time is right, but that is a subject for another day. Today we are making space for the silence.
Silence is like the winter rain and snow that refresh the earth so that life can spring up again when the season changes. If the plants spring up too soon, they are killed or set back by the frost. Let yourself be refreshed by the silence before you let your thoughts spring up.
When the winter rains and snows come, don’t curse them. Bless them: They are inviting you into blessed, refreshing silence.
I have a hard time getting myself outside in winter, but it is always worth the effort. I do enjoy going for a walk or messing about in the yard or garden with various clean up projects. I love the subtle beauty of winter with or without snow. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to see the beauty that is there. That makes winter the perfect time to train your eyes for seeing nature and to plan for the upcoming growing season.
A winter garden takes some planning ahead. Now is the time to do it. One of my favorite things to do in winter is to snuggle next to a fire and read seed catalogues. As I’m are doing that, I dream about my summer garden but also think about plants I can continue to enjoy in winter.
There are few vegetables that will survive into January in my location. On rare occasions, Brussels sprouts and kale will make it. Parsnips will make it through the winter, but if the ground freezes solid, they can’t be harvested. I can’t count on being able to dig them in January, but there is something especially rewarding about winter harvesting when it is possible.
Some ornamentals plants remain beautiful even after a frost. These include ornamental grasses and plants with ornamental seed pods or berries. What fun to go out in the snow and pick a bouquet of seed pods to grace your house in winter! Some weeds such as teasel and cattail can also contribute to a winter bouquet.
Here is your challenge for the weekend.
Go out in your back yard if you have one and notice whatever beauty is there. If you don’t have one, take a stroll through your neighborhood or a local park. Do you see anything that retains ornamental value in winter? Do you have trees of shapely form or gnarly bark? Can you identify them by their form and bark? Do you have any interesting weeds? Do you see anything you can gather for a winter bouquet? (If you aren’t on your own land, make sure you have permission.) Are your neighbors’ gardens more interesting than yours? Do you see anything that you might like to try growing in your own garden?