Where’ve I been? Stuck in my own head, of course.

I was talking with two friends the other day about roller coasters. One of them is like me. We’ve been going on thrill rides ever since the first time a ride operator pretended to not see us on our tippy toes, proving we were tall enough to ride. The other friend never rode a roller coaster until he was an adult.

The coaster lover and I were comparing our greatest ride experiences when the other friend chimed in about how the few coasters he’s ridden were unenjoyable because they jarred his back.

“That’s because,” I said, “You lock up in the seat. You stiffen your back trying to remain in control. You can’t fight the effects of gravity and physics during the ride. Instead, you have to relax all of your muscles and let your body move with the machine.”

Amusement roller coaster ride
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The thrill of the ride is in letting go, placing your trust in the machine and allowing yourself to be completely free – free to fall, free to flip, free to wave your arms and scream as loud as you can. Be the living proof that the life inside you is strong enough to withstand it all. Then at the end – when the ride has come to a complete stop – be brave enough to say, “Let’s do it again!”

In that moment, I finally realized why I’ve been struggling mentally through the pandemic, why I’ve been absent all these months from my blog. I’ve tried so many times since October (when I published my last post) to dig down deep and find a story to share that I thought might help bring clarity to someone else, but I kept coming up empty. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to be uplifting to others when, as my mom would have said, I felt so “down in the dumps” myself.

What happened to my Zen?

To be honest, for these past months, I’ve felt hollow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to others, “The pandemic has broken me. I’ve lost my Zen.”

OK, I didn’t actually lose it – it was just misplaced. I was still carrying out my daily checklist:

  • Counting my blessings every day.
  • Keeping my heart open – accepting and being kind to all people.
  • Using my natural skills to help and support others.

But I had lost sight of one of life’s basic principles and the basis for the famous Serenity Prayer: Change the things you can. Accept the things you can’t. Understand the difference.

The part I had lost sight of was staying flexible, not trying to fight the forces of the pandemic roller coaster, but to accept the changes brought on by it that I had no control over. And to make the best of the things in life I could control.

Swings amusement ride
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Here’s the wrong stuff I had been focusing on:

  • I absolutely HATED working from home. I didn’t care about working in my pajamas or not having to drive. I desperately missed the energy of the office and the nearness of my coworkers. Of the spontaneity that came with both joyful moments, and the times when you could see someone struggling or they could see it in you, and the unselfish support that would erupt.
  • Both my husband and I got COVID at the same time, and not in a small way. We weren’t hospitalized, but not because of lack of severity. We just were stubborn enough to stick it out at home. Then we faced the awareness of long-hauler symptoms. We continue to wonder whether things like fatigue, headaches, weakness, and depression are post-illness symptoms or just our bodies’ responses to the wide range of changes to our former lives and routines.
  • I got vaccinated, but only out of a sense of obligation, not need. I tend to have sensitivities to medicine, so I was afraid of what I’d experience. Turns out I didn’t have one adverse reaction – I had three. I suspect I’m experiencing long-terms affects from that as well.

All the while, I’ve desperately wanted to return to the mental health I had before the pandemic, and I’ve been waiting around for someone or something to make that happen. But guess what? I’m finally remembering something I had learned long ago – I have control over my own attitude, but not only that, the responsibility to make it a good one lies with no one else but me.

Climbing out of my hole

Maybe I am starting to get my Zen back. Now I’m looking again at that list of things I’ve been burdening myself with for the past year and a half, but with a better outlook:

  • Working from home was a temporary inconvenience, and it’s already over for me. The company I work for was compassionate enough to know there were certain employees like me who were struggling and that allowing us back under appropriate safety guidelines was the right decision for us. I’m grateful to still be working for this company.
  • I contracted COVID, but thankfully my body had the strength to come out of it in better shape than a lot of people. And I went through that experience with my husband. It’s one more story we’ll get to tell our grandkids one day – about the time grandma had the COVID panic attack and grandpa struggled through his own coughing fits to reassure me I wasn’t going to die that night (and he was right, LOL). I’m fortunate to have him as my life partner.
  • I didn’t get the vaccine out of concern for my own health. I did it out of gratitude for the ability to return to work ahead of the bulk of employees. It was my show of appreciation to those who had given me the opportunity. I felt their selflessness being extended toward me, and I wanted to be respectful in return. I’m proud to have put others’ health and safety ahead of my own.

It seems I am regaining my clarity when it comes to seeing the big picture. I’ve been reminded of a life lesson that was reinforced for me through Pierre Pradervand’s The Gentle Art of Blessing: “When something goes completely askew, life is teaching you a lesson: trials are blessings in disguise.”

Amusement park
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What I learned here is that my former thinking was shortsighted – once I achieved my optimal state of mindfulness, there was no guarantee I’d stay there indefinitely. I’ve been known to say, “Happiness is a decision, not a destination,” but during the pandemic, I wasn’t able to hold onto that. And that’s ok.

“In the amusement park of life…” each of us tolerates the rides differently. As I’ve said, I’m great with roller coasters – hills, drops, flips, and whirls – bring ‘em on! But don’t dare put me on a spinny ride like the teacups! I will be running for the trashcan the moment I get off.

Amusement ride spinning
Photo by sergio souza on

The pandemic has been like a teacups ride for me. Cheesy metaphors aside, we don’t get to pick the challenges that we face in life. All we can control are our attitudes and actions in response to them. Without our worlds being turned upside down once in a while, we won’t be forced to adapt. We won’t learn anything new about ourselves. We won’t grow.

In time, I suppose I will be grateful for my ungraceful journey through the pandemic, because if my theory is correct, it will give me new insight to share.

How fast will these seeds grow?

I don’t know at what pace I’ll resume posting new blogs, but I do know “spreading seeds” is still a very important part of who I want to be in the world. Thank you to everyone who has continued to provide positive feedback despite my absence. I hope I will be able to return the favor of providing small inspirational moments like those you’ve given to me.

Finally, my heart goes out to everyone who’s experienced hard times during the pandemic — which is every single human on the planet. (I believe I have just enough love to share a small bit with each one of you!) We’ve all been through a lot, and unfortunately we all still have a ways to go with it. My hope is that we all feel increasing strength to embrace the gift of life we have today, to not take tomorrow for granted, and that we always remember togetherness and selflessness create more meaningful, less lonely days than solitude. Reach out right now and tell someone you love them!

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…


3 priorities a panda taught me

There’s a lot to be said about the lessons we adults can learn (or be reminded of) when reading children’s books. And why not? Children’s books teach about kindness and friendships, sharing, caring, exploring, learning. They engage imaginations and open minds to possibilities and wonder.

When we become adults with responsibilities and pressures, we think we have to let go of childish ways in order to survive the real world. Truth be told, so much of those childhood lessons are exactly what we need to live by, but somehow they get lost in yesteryear.

Young girl reading a book
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The children’s book that taught me how to act like an adult

When my kids were in daycare, they’d bring home book catalogs. I ordered books for them every single time. I kept the books that I hope to read again to my grandkids one day. But in the meantime, there’s one particular book that I keep at the ready for me.

It’s called Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth (published by Scholastic in 2005). It’s about three siblings who befriend a large panda named Stillwater. While the friends are spending time together, Stillwater tells them stories that relate to everyday life. The stories he’s telling them are actual centuries-old Chinese parables.

Reading the book to my kids, they connected with the children and the large, peaceful bear. I, on the other hand, soaked in the parables. To this day, I still rely on them to help me adjust my perspective when holding too tightly to stress.

Stuffed panda toy with the handwritten words "love yourself."
Photo by Dzenina Lukac on

The package of panda parables

Here are Stillwater’s three stories and how they continue to help me:

  • Uncle Ry and the Moon – Uncle Ry is based on a Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk named Ryōkan Taigu. In the story, Uncle Ry places no value on his material possessions. He values selflessness — putting others’ needs above his own. When a robber comes into his home, Uncle Ry gives him his last possession — his robe. Feeling bad that the robber is in need of things he doesn’t have, Uncle Ry wishes he had something more beautiful to give the robber, like the moon.

Recalling this story helps me when I want to remember that the people in my life are more important to me than the things around me. I rely on Uncle Ry to remind me that people come first and, although we don’t have to literally give people the shirt off our back, helping people who are in need is a basic human kindness.

  • The Farmer’s Luck – this Taoist story is probably the most well-known of the three that Stillwater shares. The gist of it is that you can’t tell if luck is good or bad until you see the result of whatever happens next.

A farmer’s horse runs away. Bad luck? It returns with two more horses. Good luck? The farmer’s son breaks one of his legs while trying to tame one of the horses. Bad luck? The army rejects the son as a draftee because of his injury. Good luck?

This story reminds me that you can’t always control what life sends your way, but you can always control how you react to it. You can understand that bad luck doesn’t have to devastate you. You can choose to make the best of it instead. You may end up learning a great lesson because of it, which might mean it was good luck all along.

  • A Heavy Load – this is my favorite of Stillwater’s stories. It’s about a young monk who is silently agitated for hours that a woman does not thank his companion, an older monk, for carrying her across a large puddle. In the end, the old monk says to the young one, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

I often say to myself (sometimes even out loud), “Put the woman down!” This is when I realize I’ve been stressing over something needlessly — someone or something that’s not worth the time and energy I’m wasting thinking about it. Or something that’s out of my control to change. It’s time to focus on something more meaningful that is within my control.

Stacked stones in a pink sunset
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In (Zen) short…

Those are the three perspectives that have changed my life. Somehow, in this one simple children’s book, I found the remedy to almost any challenge. In short, my options are to:

  • Decide how this challenge impacts my relationship with the people I love. Do what I must to preserve them. Other than that, nothing else matters.
  • Accept it for what it is and gauge my response in proportion to its relevance in the grand scheme of my life. Over reacting gets me nowhere and is a waste of time and energy.
  • When it’s all said and done, leave it behind and move on.

Thanks to this panda and his groovy Zen shorts, I’m able to enjoy life most days with the peace of mind to keep my priorities and perspectives in check. I hope you are able to find this kind of peace within yourself as well.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…