Category Archives: Musings

Embracing Those Zen Moments

  

Sunday morning I went to church. But this was not your typical preacher at the pulpit, dressed in our Sunday finest, we seek forgiveness for our multitude of sins, here’s five percent of my paycheck, followed by breakfast at Denny’s type of church. It was instead my personal choice of places to go when seeking communion with the Divine. My church of choice is Nature.

I grew up in those traditional houses of worship, but as an adult I find them uncomfortable and often filled with hypocrisy. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not harbor disdain for those who choose a traditional church as their place of worship, but I personally have been unable to find my own peace there. 

When I walk in nature with my feet planted firmly against the earth, embraced by the breeze and serenaded by bird song, I become instantly relaxed and at peace. In those moments I feel closer to a God than any other time in my life. Everything makes sense to me as I walk along and see the beauty before my eyes.

Yesterday I had one of those little “Zen Moments” where I felt connected to everything and found beauty in the simple things. My hope for each of you this week is you will find your own Zen moments as you navigate this noisy life.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Corned Beef, Leprechauns, and a Wee Little Bit of Irish Brogue



** Window display at Evangeline’s, Old Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Every St. Patrick’s Day I think about my favorite grandmother. She was as Irish as they come. She did have some noble French blood traceable back to the time the French Hugenots were driven from France mixed in with a bit of this and that, but she had more fun embracing and identifying with her Irish side.

There was no one in this world who could tell a story the way my grandmother could. On St. patrick’s day she would don her apron and spend all day in the kitchen cooking corned beef and cabbage. Later in the evening with her grandchildren gathered about her feet, she would sit in her rocker and in her best Irish brogue, spin tales of Leprechauns, pots of gold, and St. Paddy himself. We were mesmerized as we hung on every word that poured forth from her mouth in the language of our ancestors.

Her own mother, who I unfortunately never met, came to the U.S. from Ireland as a wee little lassie. My grandmother’s brogue was a part of her own mother and grandmother she loved to mimic when the appropriate occasion would arise. To this day I myself love to break into a bit of the brogue and whenever I do, I feel my grandmother smiling down on me for carrying on a piece of our history.

So to all of you who are of Irish descent and to those of you who simply like to try on a bit of Irish for a day, I say to you (imagine me with an Irish accent) what my grandmother used to say:

“May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
Quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.”

Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Equilibrium





** “Tango.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

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noun equi·lib·ri·um \ˌē-kwə-ˈli-brē-əm, ˌe-\

: a state in which opposing forces or actions are balanced so that one is not stronger or greater than the other

: a state of emotional balance or calmness

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I have been thinking a lot lately about equilibrium. As humans we are in a constant struggle to reach it, some of us more so than others. 

A few days ago I was feeling stressed so I made it a priority to drive out to the local wildlife area and take myself on a walk. As I walked, I found myself involved in a battle to clear my mind. I was trying very hard to let go of the noisy, jumbled list of to-do’s that was being broadcast on one side of my brain while attempting to hush the nagging voice of worry and doubt that was trying to take over my internal dialogue from the opposite side. At the same time my whole mind was working overtime to oppose my spirit. The spirit that desired nothing less than to embrace peace. 

As hard as I tried, peace would not be mine that morning. I drove home feeling defeated.

Sometimes life brings you gifts when you least expect them but are most in need of receiving them. One of those gifts arrived that morning as I turned onto my street and pulled into the driveway. I noticed a police car parked in front of our neighbor’s house. As I opened the door and set my keys down, two more police officers arrived. I could hear our neighbor Jenny inside her house yelling and wailing. 

Jenny suffers from Bipolar Disorder. She struggles constantly with maintaining a balance. Her equilibrium is off more times than it is on. Even with the help of medication she struggles. 

I stood on the porch and observed as the three police officers and Jenny came out of the house. She was highly agitated and began to walk fast circles in her driveway. The police officers were wonderful with her. Their voices were soft, encouraging, and kind. One of them gave her a gentle bear hug when she asked for one. I heard him say “we all need a hug every now and then.” 

Jenny continued her fast dizzying circles as she threw her hands in the air and began to preach about God and Heaven and how much she needed to go back to the hospital. The officers redirected her whenever she headed towards the street. Her circles became larger the more manic she became then she would pause for a moment to look up towards the heavens as if waiting for an answer or some sort of relief from her mind’s frenzied state.

I felt my heart break for her and tears began to roll down my cheeks. 

I watched Jenny continue to struggle as if lost in some parallel universe where she could not find the doorway to come back home. Then she saw them. A row of beautiful flowers planted against the front of her house. She ran to the flowers and said, “this is exactly what I need to do!” She began to pull the flowers up by the handful to form a bouquet in her hands. Nature in all its beautiful glory was able to catch her attention and provide some semblance of peace for her shattered mind.

As the ambulance rolled away with Jenny and her bouquet, I realized I had found my own equilibrium in the scene that had unfolded before me. I was reminded of the fact we all struggle at times but even when we feel the furthest from peace, our spirits crave it, and seek it out, and eventually find it. My peace came that morning when I witnessed Jenny’s connection to the flowers. The flowers that were right there in front of me the whole time but I failed to notice them until Jenny pointed them out.



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


For Every Ending There is a Beginning



** A Dandelion flower in the fall as it begins to dry out and die. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014-2015. All rights reserved. **

I have been thinking a lot lately of endings and beginnings. I suppose my reflection is motivated by several events that have occurred in my life. My age for one. The older I get the more contemplative I become as I slither towards that inevitable ending with this dance on earth. Yet I do realize life can become extinguished at a moment’s notice and not necessarily at the point when one is old and wrinkled and worn out. 

The second motivator has been my health challenges over the past two years. First it was West Nile Virus followed a year later by treatment for skin cancer. Both were stressful physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Illness brings you face to face with your own mortality and changes you in ways you could never imagine while in good health.

When friends die or face serious illness or debilitating accidents, especially when they are younger than myself, it causes me to pause and take a good hard look at how I am currently living my life. Over the past month one of my friends and former Aikido Sensei’s, Denise, died from a sudden illness. She was eleven years younger than me. This was followed by the news of my friend Julie’s accident that has left her locked in a coma. Two very valid reasons why thoughts of the precarious balance between life and death have been brought to the forefront of my mind.

Nature is the perfect reflection of endings and beginnings. Within it there are many. It is the place to come to an understanding of the fluid nature of life. When you take a walk in the forest evidence of the cycle of life is everywhere. Out of the decomposing duff created by a fallen tree, wildflower and tree seedlings spring forth. The end of one thing makes possible the other. And on and on it goes.

Spring approaches quickly and the evidence is mounting. That which has passed before has allowed new life to arise. People die and babies are born. A flower wilts and another opens its petals to the sun. One door closes and another one opens. Life continues and ends right in front of us every single day. Whether or not we live the moments we are given fully, is our own decision. Whatever our choice, there will continue to be endings that turn into beginnings and beginnings that come to an end.



** Lupine growing near Bassi Falls, Eldorado National Forest, California. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon.


A Dance in the Spring Rain



This morning I woke up to a cleansing Spring rain. Unlike the east coast, things have been extremely dry here in California so any bit of moisture that falls from the heavens is welcomed with open arms. 

So in the spirit of my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature,” I decided to start my morning off by donning my rain boots and doing a little puddle dance. It was so refreshing to stand in the rain and feel the drops fall on my face. I immediately felt more alive, awake, and cleansed.



For me the rain makes a perfect backdrop to focus on my writing. The remainder of my day will be spent working on one of several companion books to “Zen in the Garden.” The first one I am writing is about growing and harvesting herbs and spices for health and healing.

I will of course take many breaks throughout the day to stand in the rain, take photos of the new blooms in the garden, Look for the rainbow, and refresh my soul. My hope is each one of you will find a bit of time for yourselves today to sit quietly somewhere in nature and renew your souls.


The Waiting Game

"Upside Down" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Upside Down” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The past few weeks have been spent focused on design projects for clients while finding ways to keep my stress levels under control. Burying myself in “busy” is a great way to forget about the cancer but it doesn’t necessarily bode well for subconscious stress management. We have been having quite the heat spell here in California so I have not been spending as much Zen time out in the garden with my camera. Instead I have been starting my days off by making my way to the air-conditioned gym to pedal, lift, and sweat away all those ugly stress bugs.

"Cradling the Moon" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Cradling the Moon” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The surgery to remove the cancer on my back is now scheduled for August 27th. The back surgery should be relatively straight forward with minimal recovery time. A lot will depend on the pathology report a few days following the excision. If the margins are not clear, then I will need to go back in for more. If they are clear then I will have 10 days to recover before the Mohs surgery on my face.

I am the most nervous about the surgery on my face. Most of that comes from all the unknowns that are tied in with this spot. They won’t know until they begin to cut away, freeze the tissue and look under the microscope how much they will need to remove that day. It could be anywhere from a few passes to an all day affair. It all depends on how far the cancer has spread beneath the surface. Once the surgeon gets clear margins I will then need to have reconstructive surgery with the Oculoplastics surgeon that same day. Again, how much reconstruction I will need is an unknown until the cancer is removed.

Hibiscus flower - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hibiscus flower – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Tuesday of this week the U.S. Surgeon General for the first time ever issued a call to action to prevent this disease. This warning is long overdue. Hopefully it will have a strong impact on how people think about UV exposure and the real threat it has on their health. I know it took my own diagnosis to shake up my world and clarify for me the real dangers of tanning, whether it be from the sun or in a tanning bed.

Please wear your sunscreen and those big, floppy, oh-so-sexy hats. Protect yourselves and the ones you love. Pale is definitely the new sexy.


Finding My Center

"Qi" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Qi” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This past week I have been embroiled in a feeble attempt to find my center. There are moments when I feel like a derailed train that continues to move forward without a clear vision of my destination. There have been a whole lot of unknowns that surround my day-to-day. I float somewhere in this middle ground that follows diagnosis but comes before surgery and treatment.

I don’t do well with unknowns. What I do know is the cancer is still growing while I wait to have it removed from my body.

So, I spend an inordinate amount of time doing research on anything related to skin cancer, Mohs surgery and Efudex treatment. I have always been the curious sort with a need to know, oft-times to my own detriment. But I would much rather be educated than blind to the facts and possibilities before me. I suppose it provides me with some semblance of control in the midst of feeling out of control over the current circumstances during my body’s rebellion against the sun.

"Gazania 2" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 2” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

When you stop and read the statistics on skin cancer it is a bit astounding. One in five people will have some form of skin cancer in their life time. One in five. Yet we continue to have this sordid love affair with tanning booths and the sun.

Skin cancer is not just a simple trip to the Dermatologist to have a couple of bad cells scraped off or frozen away. It can be that for a few, but it also has the potential to be extremely disfiguring. And it can kill you.

We have been taught to shrug our shoulders and say “at least it’s just skin cancer.” In my mind this is nothing more than a statement of denial since we tend to place bronzed skin and vanity on a pedestal far above common sense. Skin cancer of any type can metastasize and spread to the organs if left untreated. I challenge anyone who thinks that skin cancer is “no big deal” to Google it and read the blogs and stories of people who have or are now going through it. It’s not pretty.

Black Beauty

Although I do feel lucky to so far avoided the diagnosis of the creeping black spider that is Melanoma, this in no way diminishes for me the seriousness of my own diagnosis. The fact I have any type of skin cancer at all increases the probability that I will have more in the future. All those days in my past spent carelessly soaking up the sun for the sake of vanity altered my DNA and have finally culminated in something not so pretty.

"Gazania 3" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 3” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Monday I meet with the Opthamologist/Oculoplastics surgeon for the pre-op appointment prior to the Mohs surgery on my face. Since this lesion is close to my eye and my eyelid it is considered high risk. I will need reconstruction surgery and most likely a skin graft following the removal of the cancer by the Mohs surgeon. I should know shortly after this appointment the date of my first surgery.

So, for now as I continue to ride the roller-coaster of stress and emotion and fumble for my center, I take trips out into the garden and attempt to focus on the beauty I see through my lens. When I do this I feel my whole body exhale. I feel my feet grounded on the soil below me. I begin to find my center. I forget, if only for a moment, about the ugly and garner hope for a future filled with the magnificence of the small things we are often too blind to see in this life.

"Emanating" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Emanating” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

You can now purchase any of the photographs from my “Zen in the Garden” series on my Etsy shop here.