My latest quilt top--an Irish Chain.
1. A walk a day will cure what ails you. I start most of my mornings by taking Travis for a turn around the neighborhood. No matter how cold or overcast it is, there are always birds singing in the trees and plenty of beauty to go around. I've decided if I ever start a New Age Celtic band, I'm going to call it Wintervine. Branches make me happy, as does watching Travis in all his canine aliveness.
2. I'm not a Buddhist, but sometimes I play one on TV. When I'm in a funk, I try to do as my buddhist friends do: Practice awareness. Find the source of distress. Chop wood, carry water. If my mind is going down a neurotic rabbit hole, which happens a lot this time of year, I make myself stop and sit down, preferably with a cup of tea. I say the Lovingkindness meditation ("May I be filled with lovingkindness/May I be safe from inner and outer dangers/May I be well in body and in mind/May I be happy and at ease), first for myself, and then for the Man and the boys and whoever else comes to mind. I breathe in deeply through my mouth and let the breath out through my nose.
After I'm done with that, I've usually calmed down enough to pinpoint what's really bothering me and come up with ways of dealing with the problem. After that, I go chop wood and carry water--which is to say I do the dishes and pay attention to how the warm water feels as it washes over my hands in their yellow gloves, or I practice being aware of the feeling of the stairs on the bottom of my feet as I carry up the laundry. There is something about paying attention to your own life as you're actually living it that's amazingly therapeutic.
3. If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful. I got this notion from Sam Wells, who was Dean of the Chapel at Duke before he left us to go to St. Martin's in the Fields in London last summer. "If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful" was the theme of the sermon he preached on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He was talking about large tragedies, but I apply this to smaller sadnesses as well. Some days will simply be gloomy and sad, and there's not much you can do about them ... except do your best to make them beautiful. Clean the house, move the art around so you can appreciate it anew, make bread, work on a quilt ... And straighten out your altars. I wrote about this last year here, and it's still one of the best ways I know to settle my mind. There is something about uncluttered table tops that is a balm for the soul.
4. Remember: God is your co-pilot. Now, for those of you who aren't religious, or at the very least aren't Christians, you may think me quite mad when I tell you that one thing that lifts my spirit is pretending Jesus is in the car with me. There's a prayer I wrote down once (and now can't find anywhere) that begins, "Jesus, my good brother." So that's what I call Jesus in the car. "Jesus, my good brother," I say, and Jesus raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Hmm? How can I help you?" Then I ask him to keep us all safe and to keep me from despair and to make this a day where no children are harmed, and, while he's at it, if he could keep me from overdoing it with sugar, well, that would be nice, too.
It's very cheering to have Jesus in the car with you. If that's too much of a stretch for your spiritual (or nonspiritual) sensibilities, may I suggest imagining the Dalai Lama riding shotgun? I think he would be a boon companion as well.
5. Write notes to yourself and carry them in your pockets. Last week when I was feeling gloomy, I remembered Sam's story about making all your tables into altars, so I wrote the word "altar" on a tiny piece of paper and put it in my pocket. I don't know why it made me happy to carry around the word "altar" with me all day, but it did. I also write down bits of poems and Bible verses and songs and shove those in my pockets, too.
Those are the main steps I take to shake the winter blues. I also work on quilts and knit socks and dream big dreams of sunny days. And drink a lot of tea. It all helps, and when it doesn't, I go to bed early and remember that tomorrow is another day.
So what do you do to keep from feeling blue?