SAVOR weekly digest

What a difference a week can make! Our world is constantly changing and as always, our lives are filled with ups and downs. Delicious and painful impermanence. Such a dialectic. As we greet one other and each moment, a warm helping of mindful awareness and self-compassion goes a long way.

A reminder from last week’s digest about how I’m loosely organizing these posts into three categories (HEAL, GROW, and SAVOR), to align content with The SAVOR Project’s mission:

  • HEAL supports mental health treatment and trauma recovery.
  • GROW is additional growth-oriented resources, to include art, social justice, therapeutic horticulture, and mindfulness practices.
  • SAVOR because positive emotions boost overall health.

Please keep in mind, as always, that you can save these digests for a later time because they’ll often contain a dizzying array of resources – kind of like a big meal you can’t expect to eat all at once, so save some of what follows for “leftovers,” to be enjoyed at your own pace.

HEAL:

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the impact of trauma, as it relates to mind/body health and our responses (individually and collectively) to the crises unfolding in our world. In a conversation with a psychologist colleague recently, we discussed how the research on ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) is gradually making its way throughout the field of healthcare and also how our understanding of what constitutes an “adverse” experience continues to evolve, to include intergenerational poverty and systemic racism. If you haven’t viewed this TED talk video by pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is now the Surgeon General of California, I’d recommend it:

More on this topic later, but here’s yet another research article on the healing benefits of nature for war veterans and other trauma survivors. There’s a reason why I’ve grativated increasingly to the fields of horticultural therapy and ecotherapy as I’ve matured in my career as a clinical psychologist.

A few tips as we continue to navigate multiple stressors and daily responsibilities at work, school, and/or at home – which for some of us, may not be distinct arenas anymore:

  • Our lived experiences matter. Be kind to yourself when you notice that you may be reacting disproportionately to a current stressor. Your experience of the present moment may be very different from those around you because of what you (and your ancestors) have lived through, as well as the unique stressors you encounter every day. Undoubtedly, you are incredibly resilient but also healing from wounds that are usually beneath the surface of the world’s gaze. Remember this fact, also, when you interact with others.
  • Often, we benefit from more support than we realize, to navigate this current era of accumulated life stressors. Most of us are sleep-deprived, over-stimulated, and under-nourished. Can you identify one soothing strategy that is free (no Amazon delivery required) and takes only a minute or two, which you can realistically integrate into your day?
  • Change is possible, but often it requires time and patience. This philosophy relates to both personal health as well as larger justice movements. As someone in the mindfulness community repeated, “Walk slowly. Get further.” Sometimes we take huge leaps ahead – and they should be celebrated. But often it’s the tiny steps….going to sleep 15 minutes earlier, keeping your phone elsewhere so it’s not next to your bed, going on a 5 minute walk or getting down on the floor to let the earth hold you, committing to wearing your mask for at least another 100 days, or adopting a tiny houseplant to water (as you also nourish yourself).
  • As social animals, we crave connection.I identify as a highly sensitive, introverted personality, but this past year has still felt incredibly painful because we are so physically and socially distant from one another. Take in hugs when you safely can, because touch releases oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone.” And the good news is that researchers are suggesting that oxytocin is also released when we practice loving-kindness meditation, engage with a pet or nature, or share meals with one another, too.

So if you happen to see me in a Seattle-area park and I’m hugging a tree, you’ll know why. Feel free to join me!

Photo by Tim Samuel on Pexels.com

GROW:

Speaking of connecting with nature, check out this article by Sebene Selassie in November’s Mindful Magazine, about mindfulness, joy, and connecting with the elements of the earth.

In case you missed Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at the presidential inauguration, some additional excellence to brighten your day. Remember that art saves lives. How can you nourish yourself through creative expression or by receiving the gift of art, including that found in nature?

An interesting essay published under the title “These Four Walls: Living Indoors,” published in The New Yorker (September 2020).

On my Instagram account, I’ve been posting this past week about healthy soil and how I’m taking a deeper dive into soil science. This journey will be lifelong, for sure, and I can only take in so much information these days, but every little bit of knowledge “amendment” is much appreciated. I also found this family-friendly resource on the many benefits of playing in the dirt.

A charming poem about dirt – excerpt below:

“Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you,

I thought that you were only the background

for the leading characters—the plants

and animals and human animals.

It’s as if I had loved only the stars

and not the sky which gave them space

in which to shine…”

by Sharon Olds, Ode to Dirt. Follow this link to hear the poet read aloud.
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

SAVOR:

Lastly, I’ve been keeping a more intentional tally of “savoring” moments – experiences in which I’m mindfully aware of joy or pleasure, arising in the present moment. Such examples include:

  • Observing my 11yo biracial daughter watching Madam Vice President Kamala Harris (a champion of food justice and worker protections) being sworn in by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor
  • The view of the snow-capped Cascades as I drive around our new city
  • The smell of freshly poured soil as I prepare rooftop edible garden containers for planting
  • The colors of the salad I created to accompany this past week’s Shabbat dinner
  • The bird call (and occasional squabble) from song sparrows waiting for their turn at our feeders
From my May 2019 Oregon garden (clockwise, from bottom): Starburst radishes, parsley seed, red-veined sorrel, snap pea, German chamomile flowers, apple mint, mustard mix, Redbor kale, borage flower, sage flower, New Red Fire lettuce. Tristar strawberry and nasturtium (middle).

Opportunities for joy, gratitude, connection, and pleasure abound. I don’t say this lightly, and we, too, have faced some dark days in our household. But I savor the moments that wake me up to the reality that I’m still alive (such a precious gift, especially this year!); that I can connect with nature in its various forms, even in my densely populated urban setting; and that, always, I have options for how I greet each moment.

Can you form the intention to savor one pleasurable experience per day, for just a few seconds? It might be your breath, the feeling of warmth from your socks, the bit of daylight streaming through a window, the wet nose of a beloved pet. Look around you, and look within.

Dr. Dawnn McWatters, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist (WA), adult educator, and long-time edible gardener. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington, with her transracial, interfaith family, mountain dog and tuxedo cat, and a wild, constantly changing assortment of plants.

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