Querencia

I recently came across the word querencia and it grabbed my heart in a way few words can and simply will not release me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Do you know this word? You should. 

I’m going to pull an excerpt from where I discovered it, because Barry Lopez explains it far better than my rehashing would (emphasis my own) : 

 

"In Spanish, la querencia refers to a place on the ground where one feels secure, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn. It comes from the verb querer, to desire, but this verb also carries the sense of accepting a challenge, as in a game.

In Spain, querencia is most often used to describe the spot in a bull ring where a wounded bull goes to gather himself, the place he returns to after his painful encounters with the picadors and the banderilleros. It is unfortunate that the word is compromised in this way, for the idea itself is quite beautiful — a place in which we know exactly who we are. The place from which we speak our deepest beliefs. Querencia conveys more than “hearth.” And it carries this sense of being challenged — in the case of a bullfight, by something lethal, which one may want no part of.” *

 

A place in which we know exactly who we are. Where we gather ourselves and prepare for the challenges we face in the world. A place from which we draw our strength of character.

Can you see why I’m obsessed? 

It’s no secret that the idea of “home” has been something I’ve thought a lot about over the last year or so. I’ve spoken of it here repeatedly. And querencia conveys what I have been ruminating on far more thoroughly than the word “home” does. Because I haven’t been trying to figure out where we each lay our heads to sleep or where we hang our clothing or store our belongings or where we prepare our meals. I haven’t been looking for “hearth.” I have been searching for an understanding of querencia.

It must be innate, part of our DNA, rooted deeply within us. When I throw my net wider, out into nature, it’s apparent that querencia is a story of survival. The western tanager knows by deep instinct where to migrate to safety when the temperatures begin to drop. A chinook salmon knows to swim nearly two thousand miles from the Bering Sea up the Yukon River to spawn her young in her querencia. The field mouse burrows her warren of tunnels deep under the snow to find respite from cold and predation.

We humans have inborn instinct for our querencia, as well. When I was in my early twenties and running from trauma and cancer and a feeling of overwhelming aloneness, I ran for a place I had never been but knew by some deep intuition was querencia. Standing among the jagged mountains and towering trees deep in Glacier National Park, I let the terror and abandonment and impotence rip its way out of me, gathered as I was in the embrace of timelessness. I have come back to mountains and trees and wildness over and over to recover lost pieces of myself, to rediscover my strength, my values, my core.

I am finding as I grow older that people hold pieces of my querencia as well. The tiny handful of trusted friends to whom I can confide my darkest thoughts or my craziest dreams or my most tentative and fragile ideas. Instead of “helping me be realistic” these friends hold my ideas, my dreams, my shaky confidences and protect them. They allow me to pull them out of my head into a world waiting to smash them and these querencia souls help me breathe life into them when I might never be secure enough to do it alone.

And I am learning where and how I carry querencia within me. How to close my eyes and pause for a breath and find the space within me that has been carved out-  chiseled out of the mountain streams and the hours on the yoga mat and the holes that have been punched through my heart and the love and embraces that have  patched those holes and the sunrises that set the sky on fire and the nights spent on blankets watching for shooting stars and the truth of my own very basic survival. I know that the word means a physical place, a place on the ground, but I can’t help but feel that perhaps I’ve begun sprouting a querencia organ that sits somewhere between my lungs and just below my heart. Maybe it is whatever the opposite of a tumor is, a tangible open space that walks along inside of me, a little field mouse warren that offers safety below the skin. 

We need this, you know. Each of us. A place to go where we can gather ourselves for the battles to come. We all have our version of a two thousand mile journey up the Yukon River, upstream moments that leave us exhausted and vulnerable and unsure that we can go on. But we can. And we can offer it to each other as well, offer the embrace or the encouragement or the safety of open hearts. We can choose to listen when others speak and to truly see them when they step into the light. I need that and so do you and so does everyone. 

Let’s find our querencia and let’s be our querencia and let’s offer querencia and let’s protect the querencias of others, be them people or field mice or a tiny, sparkling idea.

 

*From The Rediscovery of North America- if you haven’t read this short book (seriously- it’s less than 60 large-print pages... I’ve read nutrition labels longer) please do- it’s worth having on your bookshelf and coming back to again and again.

 

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We stopped by Louisville, Kentucky on our way back west, always eager to visit a few more distilleries and sip a little more bourbon. Louisville is a town that knows its spirits and knows its food and is worth a stop is ever you find yourself that way...

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Apricity

I came across the word apricity when Justin forwarded me a little “article” he thought I’d like. He was right.

I love this word. Love it.

It means “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn't it awesome?  We’ve all experienced that sublime sensation- to stand outside on a frigid winter’s day and turn so that the sun warms your face is one of life’s great treasures. The juxtaposition of cold air and warm sun rays, the way it makes us close our eyes and pause for just a moment despite the chill. The way it allows the cold air to fill our lungs with freshness without feeling as though the chill will settle in our bones for all eternity. It sings to the parts in us that love winter AND that love spring and somehow makes space for the seeming contradiction.

It’s not a word that necessarily has a place in everyday vernacular…it’s not commonly known, so to use it means risking sounding like a pompous ass. But I hold it with me, as much a reminder to look for the sunshine and warmth on my cold, dark days, the sunshine and warmth in what can sometimes feel like a cold world, as for the loveliness of the word itself.  

We are still on the road and head over to pick up Kippee tomorrow morning. Cross your fingers for us as we have no idea what we'll find after five months of her sitting forlorn and alone in the Nevada desert. From there we head toward Tucson and Justin begins work on Monday. We've spent the last week or so sleeping in sub-freezing temps outside, re-acquanting ourselves with life on the road, with the sensory experiences of hunger and thirst and cold and exhaustion. It's lovely, actually. A little discomfort brings us fully awake, engages us in ways our usual insulation doesn't often allow for and I'm grateful for each moment of it. I'm also grateful for the shower I'm about to take (the first in, ummmmm, too many days...) and the Reno friends I'm going to see tonight. This life can so often feel a bit untethered, but these are the moments that ground me right back down and remind me of the connections it offers as well. It really is warm sunshine on a cold winter's day.

You are my apricity, y'all. Thank you so much for being here. 

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There was no apricity on this fine day, but Hollis never looks prettier than when fat flakes are falling and it felt like the perfect au revoir as we departed this sweet little town we've called home these last months...

Clearing Off

My dear friend, Lisa, told me a story about a colleague she once had whose habit it was to, each Friday afternoon when the workday came to a close, pull a trash can up to the side of his desk and swipe everything on it into the trash. His argument was that whatever project/correspondence/etc from that pile of paper that ended up in the trash was important, someone would certainly bring it back to his attention when the next workweek began and that if no one brought it back to him, then it clearly wasn’t that important nor worth any additional time or attention. 

I LOVE this.

There are lots of reasons that this habit isn’t perfect and we could spend all day arguing about its merits and shortcomings. But conceptually, it is GOLD. He clears his desk each Friday afternoon and comes back each Monday to a fresh start and a clean workspace, uncluttered by last week’s unfinished business. His energy is free to apply to whatever is before him today. It also puts the burden back on whoever’s “baby” a given project is to follow up. This likely falls into both the merit AND shortcoming category of the method (we’ve all had to chase people down over and over ad nauseam to get them to finish something they’ve committed to, which seriously sucks). But it’s kind of the ultimate “no” isn’t it? How often does your daily to-do list include tasks that aren’t really yours but you’ve somehow ended up accepting responsibility for? People are really, really good at passing off to others things they don’t want to do. Sometimes this looks like work projects, but sometimes this looks like chasing down the random socks your kids have left all over the house when you go to do laundry, or dishes mysteriously left in the sink, or bills left unpaid. Figuring out how to say no to work that isn’t truly mine is one of the great projects of my life, so any metaphor that helps me “clear my desk” is welcome in my world.

We leave New Hampshire in less than 48 hours. I haven’t done any laundry or sorting or packing. I haven’t caught up my bookkeeping or set up my autoresponders or checked in with my insurance company to confirm my coverage as we travel. I don’t have next week’s post planned (or even any idea of where I’ll get internet to make sure it goes up on time). I haven’t marked a single line item off the enormous to-do list I created on my plane ride home from Texas on Monday. I’ve spent the last 24 hours brainstorming a personal project and shooting a few final photos of this little town and catching up with some last minute friends and family. I’m sure I should be worried by now. I’m sure I’m going to inconvenience someone with something I haven’t gotten to. I’m sure some piece of unfinished business will come back to bite me in the ass.

But I’m officially "clearing off my desk" right now.

What is important will most certainly make itself known. What must get done will certainly get done. And the rest will wait. It will simply have to. As it turns out, I am not a neurosurgeon on call who is the sole person able to perform life saving brain surgery. I’m not the president. I am not doing cutting edge cancer research. I write words and take photos for a living. I love this work and I love my clients and I have goals and dreams attached to all of what I do that require time and energy and discipline and attention. But no one dies if whatever is on my to-do list doesn’t get done.

So right now, I’m deleting my to-do list. It’s gone. When I finish writing these words, I will hit “publish” without going back and revising or second-guessing. Which is not ideal and not the way I generally work. But today, it’s the reality. I'm metaphorically (and, well, not-so-metaphorically actually) shoving what's on my desk into the trash bin.

I want to drive away from here in 48 hours without lugging a bunch of burdensome baggage along with me, without having my brain still attached to what didn’t get finished. I want to drive away and apply my energy to what is before me, to what is at hand. I want to start my “Monday” fresh and free and with a clear “workspace” to fill with what is important in this moment. When we eventually land wherever it is we are going (we don’t have a next assignment yet, so our plans extend only as far as retrieving Kippee from Reno), I will once again sit down and see what is still asking to be done (*cough* bookkeeping *cough*). But in the interim, I will enjoy my free “weekend” knowing that my desk is clear.

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A little piece of South Dakota, y'all...

Effort and Ease

If you’ve ever had a regular yoga class with experienced teachers, it’s likely that you’ve been instructed at some point to find some "ease within the effort,” to find places where you can soften or release while still doing the work of the posture, still maintaining focus and awareness. For example, if you are in virabhadrasana (warrior 1 pose), the posture may require effort to stay strong through the legs and shoulders, effort to remain in the correct alignment for your body, but there is no reason to clench the jaw or furrow the brows or press the tongue against the roof of the mouth and these are areas that can be released without interfering with the work of the pose.

I’ve been coming back to this idea a lot lately. If there was ever a yoga concept that felt applicable to day-to-day life, this is it, don’t you think? We all have our work, whether that be the work that pays our bills, the work of dealing with our emotional baggage so that we can move toward the best version of ourselves, the work of life minutia (the folding of laundry and the cooking of meals), the work of mending and sustaining relationships. How often do we make that work harder by the equivalent of clenching our jaws? How often do we bring unnecessary difficulty to this work? What small things can we release that would allow this work to have a bit more ease?

We head out of New England in a mere 9 days and I am writing this morning from Texas, where I’m spending a bit of time with my family before we head back out on the road. When I return home from this visit, I’ll have only four days to close out what I can of life there and pack up for the coming weeks of travel. I meant to get more done before I left. I meant to tie up some loose ends that I won’t have time to get to after all. There is a great deal to sort and organize before we drive away and it’s possible that I will need to put in a few late nights to pull it off. This is just fact, the work of living this way. But there can be greater ease within that work than I often allow. There is nothing gained by my getting snappish at Justin or getting caught up in some idea of perfection (I can be very guilty of needing things to be “just so” before moving on). There is nothing gained by frantically rushing about or needless stress. Yes, things must get done. But I don’t need to be a crazy person in order to do them, as it turns out. As a matter of fact, it could be strongly argued that they could be done with far more efficiency if I’m NOT a crazy person, actually.

As we go about daily life, it is fascinating to observe the ways that we bring unnecessary effort to our work. Preconceptions about someone’s response before we’ve even given them the opportunity to behave differently, the clinging to old ideas or identities that may or may not be true any longer, the stories we tell about relationships or tasks. Maybe folding laundry isn’t your favorite task ever, but is it made easier by repeating the phrase “I hate laundry” or is that something you can release? How about the way we brace ourselves for certain interactions? What happens when we soften those tensed shoulders and save our defensiveness for actual affront rather than anticipated, imaginary ones.

Where can we bring a bit more ease to our efforts? What can we release? Physically, emotionally, spiritually? As you make your way through this mid-week hump, give it a try…let’s see if we can bring a little less unnecessary work to our lives together and perhaps in doing so, make space for a little more focus, a little more joy.   

Happy Wednesday, friends!

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Sustainability

Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for being here and for including me in your life as we begin this year together. I so deeply appreciate the time you share with me out of your full lives and I strive to make this blog a place worthy of you.

How do you approach the new year? Do you set a laundry list of resolutions? Do you do some careful reflection and goal setting? Do you see January 1st as the same as February 1st or August 1st- simply another new month in the ongoing rotation? Or have you let go of all such notions and find yourself liberated from the yearly ritual? I’m honestly curious…what works for you?

Over the years, I’ve arrived at some kind of new-year-new-you middle ground. I admit that I relish a sparkly new calendar and the sense of “clean slate” that comes with one year sliding into the next. As I said recently, I like to mark time, to bring my awareness to the days and months and years as they pass. And I like ritual, whether it’s taking a few moments to cup a steaming mug in the mornings or lighting a candle and pausing to say thank you when I sit down to meditate each day. And piled on top of both of those things is my inherent and fervent belief in our ability to begin again and again and again, that we are always able to start fresh whenever we are ready and willing to take on the work. This applies, of course, to any day of the year, but I can’t help but believe there is a natural inclination toward new beginnings in this season in particular. After all, in addition to it being a new calendar year, we’ve also just celebrated the solstice, meaning that the days are growing incrementally longer and the promise of spring and growth lies ahead. These long mid-winter days and that promise would lend themselves to reflection and planning even without the turn of the calendar, but the fledgling year just begs us to to take stock and think about what we want.

I mentioned a few years ago that I don’t really do resolutions anymore, but that I choose a “word of the year” instead (btw, that post has some great resources at the end if you are looking for some extra tools...). That’s not entirely true. I do set resolutions…I resolve once again to do my work-  to continue to strive toward greater kindness and compassion, greater understanding and openness, less fear (and certainly fear-based decision-making), to be fierce in my love and my passion and my honesty and my integrity, to find humor and lightness tucked in with heaviness and pain. These are standing resolutions and I will always have work to do here. I also set goals for the year, both personal and professional, as well as review what worked and what didn’t in the year behind us, where I grew and where I stalled. But the “word of the year” continues to be a cornerstone of my approach to the coming year. 

I love the process of figuring out my word. Trying to find a single, succinct, encompassing word that will act as a filter in each decision I make. I’ve used Susannah Conway’s word-finding tool in the past, but I find that I haven’t needed it lately. When I allow myself a little time and space, it seems that the word I need most tends to present itself (or, you know, scream at me from my subconscious at the top of its lungs). As you may have guessed by now, this year, my word is SUSTAINABILITY.

Sustainability.

With every decision I make, from how I approach my work to the energy I give to relationships to whether or not I make time for my run in the woods, I will ask myself, “Is this sustainable? Am I creating sustainable habits and practices?” To proceed, the answer must be yes. I find myself decidedly uninterested in short-term results, in superficial band-aids. I want to build a life that is sustainable over time, that has a strong foundation of intentional decision making, clear and reasonable boundaries, and that prioritizes the truly important things in my life (as opposed to the simply “urgent”). This means being okay with things taking time. This means being okay with people sometimes being disappointed or irritated with me. This means being okay with saying no to projects and opportunities that don’t move my life and work in the direction I’m going, even when they are appealing or I could use the money.

This also means choosing to trust in the idea of abundance and to continue to let go of the fear that comes from a scarcity mindset. The life I build is only sustainable if I recognize that I have enough (food, friends, love, money, talent, ideas, etc etc etc) and that I am enough. It’s that last part that is a doozy for me. But I am. And you are. And when we really and truly let go and believe that, whoa nelly- hold on to your hats because magic happens. And work, of course- so much work- but work that is thrilling and energizing, work that fills your tank and lights you on fire. I’m not just talking about professional work, I’m talking about life work. The work of relationships, the work of self-care, the work of growth and adventure and dream chasing. We have it within us. We are enough and we have enough to make the necessary choices to build truly sustainable lives.

So that’s what I want as I move into this sparkling new year. That's my primary goal. That's my word.

Sustainability. 

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Can you guys believe I'm still sharing photos from our trip east from Reno? A few more will be heading your way (Glacier and Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks after these last few from Yellowstone!)...just think, by the time you see all of these, I'll have more for you from the next leg! Ain't traveling grand?!?