Napoleon Hill said, “Action is the real measure of intelligence.” I have always prided myself on getting things done. But we are human beings, not human doings. In a pandemic world where everything moves at lightning speed, it’s challenging to slow down. It’s even harder to make enduring change. You may recall that it took me seven years to launch this blog.

Other times, things change in a heartbeat. Following the stressful events of last week, I’ve identified areas I want to change in 2022. I want to let go of the illusion of perfection, eliminate the word “should” from my vocabulary, seek out and enjoy tiny daily pleasures, and slow down before the good stuff passes by.

The ten-foot tall snowman my husband, daughter and I built during perfect snow conditions in February, 2021. Slow down and enjoy.
Snow brings me immense joy. My husband, daughter, and I built this ten-foot-tall snowman during perfect conditions in February 2021.

What Brings You Joy?

My family, physical activity, writing, photography, animals, nature, and helping others top my list. What’s on yours? May this post be an invitation to notice and name what brings you joy.

Whenever I experience a lack in any of the above areas, I overcompensate in others. Last week my journal became my salvation. I wrote more than thirty pages. As things return to normal, I feel compelled to pair seasonal images of family joy with the discoveries in this post.

However you celebrate the holidays, my hope is that you’re with loved ones doing things that bring you joy, no matter how big or small.

A brave flower peeking through the soil following February's snowfall, 2021.
A brave flower peeking through the soil following February’s snowfall, 2021.

Slow Down and Enjoy Moments of Gratitude

The first thing I noticed at the end of last week’s event was a bright sunbeam peeking out of the clouds, illuminating the tile at my feet and bringing a smile to my face. As I headed outside, I stopped to caress the wilted buds on a bush. I dropped to a knee and skimmed my hand along the tops of frozen, brittle blades of grass.

I deeply inhaled the frigid cold air, trying to bring a gallon into my lungs. As my husband and I walked, I marveled at the crunch of the grass, the uneven surface of the gravel, the smooth pavement. At the gulls and crows soaring overhead. A squirrel darted away, a prized nut in its mouth. We meandered slowly, intentionally absorbing every detail. I wanted to hold onto this moment of blissful freedom, enjoying everything Mother Nature offered.

Ajax and the author's attempt to make a snow dog in his likeness during last February, 2021's snowstorm in Seattle. Snow Play Seasonal Pleasures
Ajax and the author’s attempt to make a snow dog in his likeness during last February 2021’s snowstorm in Seattle.

The Joy of Coming Home

Once in the doorway of our home, I dropped to my knees to let Ajax bathe my face and hands in kisses, wagging full-body around me countless times. Did the four days feel to him like four years? He’s been my shadow since we got him in July of 2015, and my steady hiking companion for the past two years. Everyone should be so lucky as to know the bliss of a pup’s unconditional love.

As I continued through the house, I marveled at the soft lighting, the familiar smells, the peaceful quiet. The comforts of everything we’ve chosen to adorn our home. A refrigerator with wholesome, nourishing food. A yard to enjoy in all seasons. The most comfortable bed on the planet. My gym and workstation. A hot tub to enjoy after long hikes. Signs of my family. Our decorated tree. There truly is no place like home.

Ajax at eight weeks old and the author's daughter cuddling July 2015.
Ajax at eight weeks old and the author’s daughter cuddling July 2015.

Slow Down to Notice Signs

Yesterday I received a newsletter from a journaling association I’ve followed for several years. Normally I’d hit delete, as I recently tried to reduce clutter from my inbox. Not only did I open it, but as I scrolled down, the following poem jumped out. Did this person somehow inhabit my brain? With Lynda Monk’s permission, I share it below in hopes that it delights you as much as it did me. (Bold highlights are mine)

Another neighborhood creation, Bigfoot lounging on front steps.
Another neighborhood creation, Bigfoot lounging on front steps.

For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing

By John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

Slow Down to Find Joy in Simple Pleasures
Our homemade igloo!

Empty Time

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through
.

Slow Down to Find Joy in Simple Pleasures
The author’s daughter adding artistic detail to the outside of the igloo.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

Slow Down to Find Joy in Simple Pleasures
The author’s journaling and grounding station next to Ajax and the snowdog built in his likeness.

If you would like to receive inspiration and ideas for your own journal writing journey, get a free journaling gift from the International Association for Journal Writing. And if you have any questions about how journal writing might help you, please post them in the comments box.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

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6 Comments

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  1. One of my new favorite poems – beautiful in its evocative metaphor for “slowing down”.
    LIVE in the sunshine,
    swim in the SEA,
    drink the wild AIR.

    Emerson

  2. Thank you Courtenay for the post and the John O’Donohue poem! The necessity to slow down and discover grace and beauty all around us is so essential in a world that seems to have gone off tracks, taking dangerous curves at too high a rate of speed. I have no interest in spending my time “bracing for impact”.
    When driving or biking, I use different gears in function of the path ahead and my goal for the trip. Should I not do the same when at the steering wheel of my life? When I slow down, I shift my focus from looking to seeing, from moving to being moved… and it is truly amazing how much there is to enjoy that I would have otherwise just whizzed by.
    I LOVE to step out early in the morning, when all is dark and the neighborhood is so silent; I instinctively quiet down so as not to disturb a world seemingly at peace. I LOVE to wait for the first signs of light on the eastern horizon, ushering the birth of a new day. When on the trail, I LOVE to purposefully switch my state of mind from “I will get to the end of this trail, tag another summit or enjoy grand views (brass ring mode)” to “What all can I discover on the way there and back (treasure hunt mode..)”. There is no end to what is on offer when doing that: wildlife or course, amazing colors and textures, the wildness of a stormy sky, the sounds of the forest (eyes closed), the quiet of a pond, the elegance of ferns, placing an open palm against the trunk of an old-growth tree and feeling its stately presence, etc. I LOVE to listen to my breathing and my footsteps when they are steady and speak of the life in me, and a cornucopia of possibilities in front of me. I LOVE to watch how the sunset light slowly kisses the walls of our living room and the artwork displayed on the shelves, sometimes shimmering as it filters through a suncatcher. I LOVE to listen to my wife “talking” to the backyard creatures (cats, squirrels, raccoons, countless birds…). I LOVE being grateful for the warmth and safety of our home when the weather flexes its muscles (remembering the frailty of my tent when facing the elements “on their own ground”). I LOVE it when I witness people doing something they thoroughly enjoy and are good at: John O’Donohue’s poem is an obvious prime example (loved “…patiently learn to receive the self You have forsaken in the race of days”.. it DOES take patience)… the blog has a very similar effect on me. I LOVE to be present at the CREATION of beauty when so much speaks of destruction lately. I do love it when I sometimes realize I am hurrying, on “autopilot” for no good reason beyond habit, and am able to slow things down to a point where I am fully present and engaged in the choices I make; I are more alive then. I suspect that there are countless and very potent benefits (to ourselves and others around us, near and far) to opening ourselves to grace and beauty; certainly from a mental health perspective, but also beyond.

    1. Beautiful post, Gerard. Lots of “loves” there! Are you SURE you’re not a writer-in-hiding? Yes, O’Donohue’s poem really spoke to me. I was running errands this morning and the chaos of everyone’s pace doing last-minute buying “rubbed off” on me. I must go walk my dog, bury my toes in the grass, and pull out my journal to reset myself from the crazed frenzy everyone else seems H-E-double-hockey-sticks-bent on maintaining. SO not for me. I’ll take peace, the outdoors, and greater perspectives anytime. A plus: I thought I’d have to go out again looking for cranberries, but, buried deep in the freezer, I found just enough for Saturday dinner. I am officially DONE with the “must do’s”. Now let the festivities commence. The fresh outdoors calls!

  3. Joyful moments in being with family, friends and myself. Love being outside in nature, exploring the same hiking trails over and over, and new ones as well. Will continue with my daily photography. Love the idea of journaling everyday…don’t know if I can commit to it. Love getting lost in a good book. I always said to myself happiness is a choice…so I make sure to do small things that bring me joy, contentment and happiness. 😍