Friday, May 11, 2012

Taking Inventory

My grandmother was a farm woman who loved to can. You know, put up preserves. "Shore up the larder," as she used to say.

It seemed she could can just about anything: rhubarb, peaches, tomatoes. She made sauerkraut, jam and applesauce too. You name it and she'd have the pressure cooker fired up, ready to go.

I used to dread that contraption as it rumbled and steamed on the stove. I was afraid of it, afraid of it exploding, and someone being burned as a result. Me in particular.

But before my grandmother would start canning, she'd descend the stairs to her Michigan basement and take inventory. (A Michigan basement is one that has sloped walls and a "shelf" of sorts for the storage of food items. The basement is cool and dark so foodstuffs last longer.)

The shelf was lined with colorful glass jars, each perfectly sealed to keep in the freshness and make the deliciousness last well through our frigid Michigan winters. Grandma would determine what she had plenty of and what she needed more of to keep the larder full. I can still picture her standing there, wearing her apron, one hand on her hip, the other counting the jars of tomatoes and peaches.

I learned from my grandmother that it's good to take inventory; to acknowledge what you have an abundance of and what you're lacking—or need to make more of.

In terms of life, this could mean stopping at any given moment to ask yourself, "Am I feeling grateful today?" And then calling up your gratitudes and stating them clearly. Doing so lightens the heart and provides courage for the journey ahead. Or it can make you simply sigh with delight.

Last night as I lay in bed beside my husband, I found myself doing this. We'd just watched a good "relationship" movie, quite romantic, and as I felt his warm body next to mine I said aloud, "We are very lucky, aren't we?" Yes, he agreed sleepily, though I'm not sure he knew exactly what I was talking about.

At another time, I might stop and pause during the day, and take note of my thoughts. I look at what's preoccupying me. Perhaps my mind is replaying a conversation I had with someone a while back, one that still stings. Or my mind is lost in the future, worried about where we'll be moving in three months because I have no idea where we're going to land.

That's a form of taking inventory too. Irritation is confirmed. Worry is recognized.

When we've "taken stock," as my grandmother would say, we can really see what's in the storeroom and then decide what we'd like to do about it. Do we want to create more irritation by replaying the story? Would it be wiser to sort the stinging situation through and let it go—for good?

Perhaps, letting the pressure cooker steam and rumble a bit could release the pent-up worry; letting the steam out in stages so it doesn't explode and make a mess of your kitchen or hurt someone in the process.

Whichever method we choose, it's good to process cumbersome thoughts and emotions. My method? I sit and ponder awhile. I notice the story I'm telling myself, breathe through it, and let it drift away. Steam released.

Or I like to write it down on paper. Or fire-up my laptop and write it out there. It feels good to let it all out.

Writing to me is a lot like spending some time with that pressure cooker. If you just stand there watching, feeling it rumble, fear may keep you quaking. Difficult thoughts and emotions just keep stewing. Your relationships suffer. Your health dives. It's not good to keep such stuff inside. Let it out. Free yourself.

Lean in gently, take a breath, and tip the lid—just a little—and let some of the steam rise. The pot will settle down again and you will too. And you'll both feel a lot better from having done so.

I value myself. I value my good heart. I trust that writing will serve me well when I've temporarily lost my way. It returns me to the land of milk and honey—equanimity.

And strawberry jam. I can taste its humbling sweetness now.


Join me in June for a taste of sweetness and relief. "Writing for the Healthy of It," my new 30-day, 5-minutes a day, self-expression program is taking place June 1 - 30. Receive one, deliciousness-filled writing exercise each day, then come to the feast at our private Facebook table. Share your bounty and be nourished by the offerings of others. I can hardly wait. I'm hungry for good company! Please join me.

"Writing is giving voice to our unspoken thoughts, feelings, desires, joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams. An empty page can lend an ear to the unsaid within each of us." JLL

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