Gratitude Breaths are written by Jeannie Martin, who is a retired Deaconess and a social worker who works with assisted living residents. These breaths are going out to residents of six nursing homes, through the activities directors. The neighborhoods are South Boston, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Brookline, Allston-Brighton, and Chestnut Hill. The contents are taken from Jeannie’s Relaxing Through the Arts groups in these homes.
Week of April 19: Sunlight
Take a slow, gentle breath. Notice your breath as you breathe in and out.
Maybe as you breathe the air around you, you are also breathing in a little sunlight. Certainly the sun is the source of life here on earth, as is the air we breathe.
Most of us have childhood memories of playing in the sunshine. Maybe at the beach, jumping in and out of the hose, or playing baseball down the block. You may have worked outside, and so the sunshine was even more important. Even on cold winter days sunlight can make us feel warmer and more comfortable.
Anyone who is a gardener knows the importance of sunlight on growing and flowering plants. Harvest season too, is dependent on the right number of sunny days to grow healthy crops.
Sunshine affects our mood as well. Most of us feel more cheerful on a sunny day, just like days of gray overcast can cause a feeling of gloom.
On the next sunny day, notice the sunlight as it comes into your room, creating shadows on the walls and furniture, and lighting up the corners and the table tops as it makes it way through the day.
Once again, take a gentle breath. In this spring season, we take special notice of the sunshine.
parting the curtains
to let in the sunlight
from wall to table
table to wall
a day full of sunshine
Week of April 12: The Sky
Look up. What do you see? If you are near a window or outdoors, you will most likely see the sky. Like most of the natural world, the sky is continually changing. Sometimes from day to day and hour to hour, but also immediately, in real time as we look at it. One day we may wake up to a clear blue sky, which then turns cloudy, then dark, then heavy with rain clouds and storm. Then becoming clear again. We may have a gray sky for several days in a row, then finishing the week with a bright blue clarity. In terms of colors we see a bright blue sky, a gray sky, a hazy sky, and sky with streaks of color of sunrise and sunset.
No matter what, no matter how much the sky may change, we cannot control this. The sky will be what it is. We are the participants in the sky of each of our days.
The sky as we know it is the earth’s atmosphere. It protects us and our planet from the harsh elements of outer space. Our sky brings weather, and filters sunlight for us. The sky holds the air, so with the sky we are able to breathe.
Sky Mind is a term used to describe an open and receptive mind; a mind clear of unnecessary thoughts and worries that needlessly trouble our days. With your sky mind you can see the natural world around us more clearly, with detail that may not have been noticed before.
Take a gentle breath. Look at the sky. What do you see? Let you mind be clear of clutter and worry. Let yourself open to the vastness of possibility, of what is happening now.
down to my fingertips
a breath of sky
clouds above clouds
Week of April 5: The Color Green
If we associate one color to this time of year, springtime, it may be the color green.
Green is new growth.
Green is fresh-ness.
Green is often hopeful.
We look for green now, in the small buds on the branches of trees; in the shoots of spring flowers pushing up from the ground; in the new grasses beginning to grow, where before there was only bare earth. Do you have a favorite color? Maybe right now it is green.
Take a gentle breath. Look around you:
out through a window
out through an open door
out through the car windshield
or, as you step outside, or take a walk outside.
As you look, notice the color green which is a sign of growth, new-ness and spring.
You may see different shades of green, from the light green of new growth to the deep green of evergreen trees.
Take your time. Let your eyes rest for a moment on these patches of green. Breathe gently but fully into these moments.
without a sound
blade by blade
Week of March 29: Robins
Robins, the original early bird, are here to announce that it is truly early spring. Once we see a robin scampering across the lawn we know spring is here. Yet also robins sometimes are here with us all year, wintering in the trees and waiting, like us, for the warmer weather.
Robins are recognizable by their orange or red bellies. And certainly too, by their lilting songs. They live near us in the trees in our front yards, in the trees that line our streets and in our parks. They nest near us too, and we can hear them as they ready their nests for baby robins. Robin parents work hard to care for their young, coming and going for food, and keeping the eggs, and then baby birds, warm and cozy.
Take a gentle breath. As you breathe, let yourself become quiet. Listen in the silence: perhaps you will hear the lilt of a robin’s song. Or, if you sit quietly you may see a robin searching for earthworms on the lawn or in a grassy area near you.
As spring progresses we see more and more robins. And with them more and more of spring.
robin, pigeon, robin
what was that?
robin’s first song
Week of March 22: First Crocus
Are they here yet? Not yet, but soon. Pretty soon. A first crocus is a sign of Spring for sure, and that will happen within the next few weeks.
If you look closely at the ground you can see small green leaves growing and curling out of the earth. They are arranged in small clumps, not much more than an inch or so high. The early green almost seems magical – as it quietly pushes upward from the hard, dark soil, looking young and fresh and radiant.
This early growth is mostly likely crocus plants. The blossoms will be here soon, and yet they are always a surprise.
Take a gentle breath. Soon you will see a crocus, and another and another. You may even touch one with your fingers. The first harbinger of Spring, coming to us from beneath the ground.
ah, Spring !
with Spring =
Gratitude Breath: March
It is finally here. March – the month of longer days and shorter nights, the month when we have daylight savings time. The month of melting snow, and yes, we often do have heavy snowstorms during this month, but they tend to last not quite as long, and melt faster. Certainly this week we are experiencing the mild weather that we all look forward to later in the Spring.
We might also eye flower beds and heaps of earth, perhaps cleared and made ready for the first flowers of the season. March, then, is also a month of waiting: for warmth, for sunlight and for those first crocus blooms. Somehow, in March, we know Spring will happen.
As the poet Emily Dickinson says:
A light comes in Spring,
not present in the Year
At any other period –
When March is scarcely here.
Take a gentle breath. Look out your window or stand at your door. What do you see? What is the March sunlight like? Do you feel a warmth behind the chill of this early Spring day? You may hear more birds chirping as they go about preparing nests and foraging for food. Look closely at the branches of the trees. Soon these branches will produce tiny green buds. It is happening: the warmth and light of Spring will be here.
as I clean house
a bird readies
Gratitude Breath: Pigeons
Pigeons are the city bird – they hang around Boston most all the time, even reaching out to the suburbs when they are in the mood. You can see them with a quick look out most windows: sitting on ledges, pecking at the groups either alone or in large groups, and flocking together in parks and along bridges. Pigeons are also here with us all winter long. Unlike many other birds, they never seem to leave.
Yes, pigeons can be a bother but, right now during this pandemic, they almost seem like they are our more loyal feathered companions.
What do we know about pigeons? Well, they are a part of the dove family, they feed on seeds and fruit, plants and left over lunches they find on park benches. Pigeons are also the world’s oldest domesticated bird, dating back perhaps 10,000 years. Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, mention them 5,000 years ago.
Take a gentle breath. Next time you see a pigeon or pigeons take a moment to remember how long they have been here with us. And maybe they like it here, just like we do.
pigeon pigeon pigeon pigeon
nest or no nests
where are all
the baby pigeons?
Week of February 22: Bare Branches
It is only in deep winter when we can see all the branches of all the trees that loose their leaves. You can see them on clear, cold days rising in patterns and configurations toward the sky. You can see them on overcast days as they seem to move back and forth in the mist and fog.
By February all the trees that will loose their leaves have done so – and there are many here in New England, from birch trees to maples trees, to shrubs and small trees that line streets and parking lots. In a way, we are surrounded by bare branches as we walk through the cold on our way to our cars, walk the dog, pick up take out-food, or walk a few blocks to do an errand.
Yet even though we are surrounded by bare branches, we might miss them. We may not look out the window as much on these cold days, or if we do go outside, we may be more focussed on not slipping on the ice then looking up at the trees.
Take a gentle breath. Relax. Sit down in a comfortable chair and look out the window. What do you see? Are there trees within your view? Look carefully at their bare branches. You might want to trace the patterns of branches with your eyes. Notice the thicker branches growing up and out from the tree trunk, then the smaller branches extending from the larger ones. What are the shapes of the branches? Do they seem to form patterns as they rise together toward the sky?
Do you wonder what might be going on in these branches of trees? They may be completely dormant; they may be home to some birds and other wildlife, or they may be experienceing the beginnings of running sap. Sometimes the bare branches may seem to be like us – waiting for warmer weather, for springtime.
high in the
empty robin’s nest
from branch to branch
Week of February 15th: Your Thumbs
We are learning so much these days about what we have in common with the rest of the animal world: how smart many animals are, how they have feelings and relationships, how they nurture and protect their young, memorize travel routes, and so forth. We keep learning more and more about animal behavior which increases our compassionate understanding of other species.
Yet, there are significant ways we humans are different. One way, is that we have thumbs. We have opposable thumbs which means we can touch each finger of our hand with our thumb.
There are a few other animals that have this too, but not many.
Due to our opposable thumbs we can write, make and build things, paint, play music, create, do arts and crafts, sew, do tech work…the list goes on.
We might say that entire civilizations are built with the use of our thumbs.
And yet, we kind of take our thumbs for granted.
Take a gentle breath. Sit down, and take a long look at your thumbs. Your thumbs have been with you all of your life. Notice exactly what they look like, and remember all they have done: through work, through taking care of other people, through doing art, making music, and holding a pen or pencil so you can write. Say a little thank you for your thumbs.
beside an ancient
cave painting —
a single thumb print
good-bye for now –
we lock hands
we lock thumbs
Week of February 1: The Wind
We are heading into mid-winter and with it, the cold winter winds. How could anyone be grateful for the wind? It swirls around our heads, makes it difficult and even dangerous at times to walk, and can even make the already cold temperatures seem even colder. So what is it about the wind that may be a good thing?
Some people say a gust of cold wind is invigorating. Others may say that there is nothing wrong with cold winter wind, you just have to dress for it. These observations may be true, but perhaps for most of us, wind can be appreciated, and even enjoyed, from the inside rather than outside.
Next time we have a windy day, look out your window. Sit down, and notice the trees as they blow in the wind, their bare branches bending and swaying. Listen closely to the sound of the wind as it rushes around your house and pushes leaves down the street, creating its own unique sound as it moves the air.
All nature is in motion. The wind shows us this just as much as the waves of the ocean, the tides of the sea, and the rushing waters of rivers and streams. .
Take a gentle breath. Remember the last time we had a windy day. Maybe it was a snow storm or a rain storm. From safe inside our homes we can experience the energy of the natural world from one of its prime movers, the wind.
cloud passing cloud
of the wind
winter wind –
of bare branches
Week of January 25: Sunrise
January is the time of longer nights and shorter days. It’s true we have more darkness, but also, there are benefits. For example, we can see the sunrise each morning if we wake up about 7:00 AM. The sunrise is a special daily event of nature, ushering in the day with soft colors of yellow, orange and maybe blue spreading gradually throughout the landscape.
Although it looks like the sun is rising each day, we know that is not quite true. In fact, the earth is rotating toward the sun. So the song, Here Comes the Sun, might be called, Here Comes the Earth, to meet the sun.
These have been such troubled times, but just as the sunrise means a new beginning to each day, we also have a new beginning. The Covid vaccine is here and with it the opportunity for immunization. We also hope that the newly elected Presidential Administration will soon put in place ways to end the pandemic.
You might want to see the sun rise tomorrow. If you are already up early, find a place by a window facing east so you can watch the slow glow of sunrise coloring the hills, trees and grass. If you tend to get up a little later, make sure to set your alarm for 7:00 AM so you can see this daily special event. The sunrise sets a tone of gentle beauty to help us through these cold winter months.
Take a gentle breath. Notice the colors of the sunrise as the earth moves to meet the sun in the night sky. As you watch, the earth will take on a soft glow. Keep the memory of this glow with you throughout the day.
a sound –
soft, and softer
the glow of
Week of January 18: Snowflakes
Winter is now upon us – there is no denying this. Days of deep cold, nights of winds. If we go out we must be careful not to slip on ice, which can be everywhere. We have to put on coats and hats, gloves and scarves just to go outside to the mailbox or around the corner for a container of milk.
Yet there is also beauty to this time of deep winter. That beauty can be as close to us as our window. During the next snowfall.
If you look closely you can see snowflakes forming on your window, each one delicate and intricately made. As the snow falls these snowflakes tend to crowd together, but if you watch for the right moment you can see each one, separate in its own beauty.
Perhaps you learned as a child that each snowflake is different; that there are no two snowflakes alike. This appears to be true – each snowflakes is different. It is a marvel from childhood that we can take into our adult life. With each snowfall, snowflakes appear and are in fact what makes snow, snow.
Take a gentle breath. Next time we have snow, take a long and careful look at your window. Watch each snowflake as it appears, takes form, and then either melts away or joins other snowflakes to cover the window. This little drama plays itself out every snowfall, and you can be there to see it.
snowflakes on the window
snowflake, another snowflake
Week of January 11: Recollection
We have been waiting for some time and it is finally here: the year 2021.
A new year brings hope for new possibility, and almost a promise of better times ahead. We feel this way in particular for 2021 – that the pandemic will end, and the vaccines will serve to protect us. We are all hoping for a new 2021.
And yet, even with the pandemic, there were good things about 2020. Waves and smiles from behind face masks, beautiful sunsets, clear nights when the stars seem close, and the moon shining brightly.
This past spring and summer all kinds of flowers bloomed in abundance, undeterred by the coronavirus. We saw both wild and domestic flowers lining streets, growing in parks and yards, and peeking out from behind fences. Even dandelions seemed a deeper and more vivid yellow.
The new year will continue to sustain these things of the natural world while we begin to pull out of the pandemic. We can greet the moon and the stars, the flowers of spring and summer like old friends.
the quiet of snow
this year, last year –
last year’s bulbs
waiting to bloom
then, and now
Week of December 28: Evergreen Trees
Evergreen trees – pine, fir, and spruce to name a few, are the stuff of myth and legends, and yet they also live here with us. There is something magical about the fact that these trees do not lose their needles – staying green all year long.
Have you been to the woods of Northern Maine, the country of the tall pines? Or perhaps to the Redwood forests of California? Some of these trees live for many years, even for centuries. They are objects of much curiosity and wonder. We bring boughs from the evergreen tree into our homes this holiday season. Pine scent creeps into candles and cleaners and even into some kinds of hand cream.
The Christmas tree was a tradition brought here by homesick German soldiers during the American Revolution. Decorating an evergreen tree was a custom there and is now a custom here.
Take a gentle breath. Perhaps you have an evergreen tree near you – one you can see out your window and pass by on the street. Look carefully at the tree. Notice its trunk, the pattern of branches encircling the trunk, the shape of its boughs, and the length and green color of its needles.
Do evergreen trees remind you of a story from your family, or your childhood? The holiday season, together with the snow and the cold December weather, may bring home these memories.
from bough to bough
just brought in
with the cold
scent of a pine tree
Week of December 21: Light
Today is the shortest day and the longest night of the year – December 21. That is when the earth, on its journey through the solar system, is tilted the farthest away from the sun, our source of day light. This time of year we are all aware of how early the night falls, the dimness of the sunlight, and the afternoons of long shadows.
In these times of longest nights and shadowy days, we crave more light and so are more appreciative of when and where light is, and its many forms. Light can brighten our days, lift our spirits, and remind us that longer, warmer days will come. And in fact, each day after December 21 brings more daylight, a few moments at a time, which begins the stretch and opening into the sunny days of spring and summer.
Take a gentle breath. Light comes in many forms: Candles of all kinds, lamps, strings of holiday lights, flashlights, a great variety of light bulbs, and a campfire or fire from your fireplace, are some. There are more too. The sea has within it creatures with an iridescent glow. The sky contains all manner of light from stars, and those objects that reflect the light of stars such as planets, moons, meteors and asteroids.
So even darkness teems with light. Look around you.
Where do you see light?
darkest night –
becomes a star
lighting one candle
with another –
Week of December 14: Each Other
It’s been a long time since many of us have seen the people we most want to see, most want to be with. It may have been a long time since you have seen anyone up close and personal to share a laugh or a smile, to give a pat on the arm, a hug, or just to drink a cup of coffee together. This pandemic will end, but right now with the surge of the covid virus and the darkening cold, it seems like it has been a very long time.
Staying in touch is vital to our emotional health, and many of us have found ways to do this in the form of phone calls, sending texts or emails, through zoom, talking through open windows and even writing cards and letters. This is good, and very important. You may also have one or two people you know are safe to see, who may live with you or near you.
This all brings into focus the special people in our lives. People you have known for years maybe, or those who live nearby, or members of a particular group or community you are a part of as well. There are many ways we meet and become close to other people, and they to us.
Take a gentle breath. Picture a person who is special to you. What do they look like? What is the sound of their voice? Their laugh? What do you like to talk about when the two of you are together?
As you picture this person, say a gentle “Thank you” to them. For their friendship, for their being in the world. You might want to reach out to them, to give them a call or a text, or send a card. We all like to be remembered and this may be a way to let this person know you are thinking about them now.
cold weather walk
the warmth within
Week of December 7: The Grass
Have you noticed how the grass is still green? Well, most of it is. If you look outside you can see green grass lining the sidewalks, poking through cracks in the cement, covering front yards and inhabiting parks and neighborhoods. What is this about? Maybe the green grass has been here every year, but we just have not noticed it.
The grass is quite a dark green, much if it thick as if it were going to stay that way for some time. And perhaps it will. The green grass seems to be a survivor, a reminder of warmer times of summer and early fall. If we look closely we can see the grass remaining green under falling leaves, under piles of leaves, under the rain and wind storms of the past week, and under the by-gone leaves and stems of summer flowers.
Take a gentle breath. If you can, step outside onto the grass. Let your feet sink down into the grass. Walk on the grass and appreciate its thick cover – its encouraging message that green is here now, and will also be here again with us in the spring.
If you want, pick a few blades of grass. Notice its slender toughness; its tender look. Grass is everywhere there is earth, even in the most urban areas of our city.
As you breathe, think of inhaling the air along with the scent of grass. Take that freshness into your lungs, remembering the turn of the seasons and what holds us during the winter months.
after the rainstorm
the grass green
Week of November 29
Falling leaves take us through the autumn season. At first, in early September, they hold tightly onto the tree branches even as they begin to turn soft colors of orange, yellow or red. As we move into October more leaves turn color but they still cling tightly to the branches.
Then, on an early November day, you wake up to find a few leaves on the ground. Soon more leaves drop, then more and more until they begin to cover the ground with splashes of red, orange, yellow, green and brown. We may crunch among them as we walk, and step carefully to avoid slipping on wet ones after the rains.
Soon too we see leaves raked into piles, and more piles, and then even more on the ground as these autumn leaves continue to fall, covering the grass beneath.
As the leaves fall from the trees, we can see the sky, perhaps, more clearly. The branches of the trees come into view. A new vision of the autumn season emerges as we notice the outlines of the tree branches against the blue November sky.
Falling leaves bring their own beauty, as they remind us of the changing colors, shapes and sizes of this season.
Take a gentle breath. Look up into the trees. Notice the shapes of trunks and branches as they become more and more visible. These outlines will be with us, sometimes covered in snow, throughout the next months until green buds of leaves begin in the spring.
between leaves –
touching the small ones –
large falling leaves
on the way down
This year is a very different Thanksgiving, and yet it is still a time to reflect on all that we are thankful for, as well as a time to give our best wishes to the people around us.
November can be a dreary time, but take a few moments to notice the natural world as it reflects what only this time of year can show: the blue and cool purple shadows of the setting sun, the silvery sunshine of the late afternoons and the glimmer of lights as they turn on one by one in houses and buildings near us.
Some leaves are still clinging bravely to the trees, and others, like the evergreen trees, are settling in for the long winter of cold and snow. We remember that even these last Autumn days can bring light into our lives. As you think of light, also remember what happy moments have been there for you these past few weeks. This may be a time to give a thank you to people who helped to make it that way. You may want to give a card of thanks to someone who will be happy to receive it.
Thanksgiving is also a time of sharing. We share food, but also share greetings and good wishes. This may be a time to phone or email a friend or relative you have not heard from in awhile. Sometimes a call like that can cheer you both up.
We can also always look up, and see the phase of the moon that greets us during these Thanksgiving days.
late November –
have I thanked you enough
another rainy day
another flower bulb
planted for spring
Week of November 22: Calm
A couple of weeks ago most of us were glued to our televisions or computers watching the minute by minute breaking news of the United States Presidential Election. Each hour seemed to bring a new level of anxiety, of uncertain outcomes, of hopes and disappointments. This was also true of some congressional races, but most was about the big question: Who will be President of The United States?
Although we are all not in happy agreement about the outcome, we can agree that this was indeed a highly stressful time. Perhaps more stressful and upsetting than we even realized.
Now, as the electoral results become clear, we can take a deep breath and start to enjoy a moment of calm.
Calm: a sense of well-being, of quiet stillness, of comfort. We can learn to become calm, to remain calm, by paying attention to our breath, and perhaps with our breath to say a comforting and calming word to ourselves. In this way it is possible to become calm, and also to stay calm or return to calm after a stressful moment.
Take a gentle breath. As you breathe say the word “calm” to yourself. Picture a safe, beautiful and restful scene. This may take some practice but you can return to your calming breath whenever you want. This is the gift of our breath.
breathing in calm
breathing in moonlight
a brief moment
Week of November 15: Pumpkins
We see them everywhere these days. Sitting on front porches, lining the tables of roadside stands, on sale at grocery stores and in the front of many yards. This is the time for pumpkins. If you go out to the countryside you can see rows and rows of pumpkins harvested from the fields, waiting to be turned into all kinds of food items: pumpkin pies, jams, jellies, fancy drinks, cakes, muffins and even used in turkey stuffing. Pumpkins themselves are a nutritious type of winter squash rich in vitamin A and other vitamins and minerals.
Pumpkins are native to the Western Hemisphere and most likely originated in Central America. They are made famous by their delicious taste, but even more so by the tradition of carving them into Jack-O—Lanterns at Halloween.
You may have some fond childhood memories of carving a scary face onto a pumpkin shell, then placing a candle or light inside to make it glow. And perhaps afterward roasting and eating the pumpkin seeds. No matter how you remember pumpkins, they are part of our Autumn experience, especially here in New England.
Take a gentle breath. Remember the last time you carved a pumpkin. Look forward to the next time you may taste and eat pumpkin, perhaps in a pie at Thanksgiving or as pumpkin bread. Pumpkin has a full, rich taste that comes to us from nearby farms, close to the earth. We can appreciate pumpkin as a food, a treat, and also a trick-or-treat.
the orange orb
of a pumpkin
a taste of
Week of November 8: Sunset
This week, with the time change, sunset seems to take on a whole new meaning. With the sun setting an hour earlier (according to our time zone), we feel ever more closely the onset of cold weather, and the coming winter months.
Sunset – when the turn of the earth moves us away from the sun, so it seems to “set” or go down, in the west. Yet we know the sun is always there, giving us light and warmth even in the dark night.
So perhaps we can view the sunset in a new way: we cannot always see the sun, but we know it anchors our solar system. The sun is our star, ready every day at “sunrise” to start a new morning, a new day.
Take a gentle breath. Watch carefully as the sun sets. Notice the lengthening of the shadows as they cast gray and purple reflections across our paths. Then the gorgeous rays of orange, red and yellow as the sun goes down, with the promise of sunrise in the morning.
to sunrise –
the same sun
the glow of
lengthening shadows –
our own personal
Week of November 2: Apples
Autumn is the time for apples. Apples of all kinds: Macintosh, Gala, Empire, and Cortland are native to here. Just to name a few. We are indeed in apple country, and many of our local dishes are made of apples. Apple pie, apple crisp, apple cobbler, apple sauce, and apple cider are some of our favorites.
Many of us remember the warm smell of apple dishes cooking on the stove through these chilly fall months. And there is also nothing quite like biting into a fresh, crisp apple.
When was the last time you ate an apple, whole or otherwise? It could have been months ago, or just today. Apples are everywhere, generating good health, fun memories, and knowing they are our own local fruit.
Take a gentle breath. Pick up an apple. Handle it. Notice its color, shape, weight, and size. Take a bite. Notice the sound of the crunch, the texture of its pulp, how juicy it is, and its fresh, clean, orchard smell.
The next time you bite into an apple, remember this Welsh proverb:
“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.”
that red apple
eating an apple
down to its core
Week of October 26
Maple trees are special to New England, in particular New England Autumns. We can see them up and down the streets, in backyards, across lawns and over fences. Around this time of year they seem to be everywhere as they billow out with the thousands of red leaves they are so known for.
As special as maple trees are to New England, they also can be found throughout Europe and in parts of Asia. So they are an international tree as well.
And yet too, we may feel a personal connection to maple trees. You may have spent time under a maple tree as a child, daydreaming or playing games with friends. As an adult, you may have spent time reading under a maple tree, daydreaming, or taking a nap.
Whatever your connection to maple trees may be, we know them as our friends. Maple trees offer beauty, shade, and color throughout the summer and fall, and in the winter and early spring offer us the promise of green and growth.
Take a gentle breath. As you breathe, picture a maple tree you have known. Maybe this tree lived near you, and you watched it grow. Maybe it grew in a place you especially liked, such as a park or near a dear friend. Wherever and whatever your connection with a maple tree may be, it is one to remember and be grateful for this time of year.
middle of the night –
only the glow
of red maple leaves
from my hand
to your hand –
a red maple leaf
The middle of October is often the most colorful time for Autumn leaves, at least here in New England. Their bright reds, oranges and yellows, all from local trees, seem to billow out in color as they get ready to fall to the ground. They cover the earth with piles of colors: leaves upon leaves to walk through, jump into, rake into, and mostly just to admire.
This Autumn of 2020 is very different in many ways. One way is that the Autumn leaves are not as colorful as they may be in other years. This is due to the drought we have had for some time.
And yet, the Autumn leaves are still beautiful in their own way. The muted colors of yellow blend into one another. If you look closely, you will notice many leaves are both green and yellow, the yellow fanning out from the green. Soft orange leaves line forest paths and city streets. We do not see as many bright red leaves, but there are still some to decorate streets and sidewalks. In fact, we also see much more green. It seems that this Autumn many trees are keeping their green leaves and not turning much at all.
Take a gentle breath. Look out the window. What do you see? Notice the soft contrasts of the colors of the leaves; ones that have remained green mixing with the muted colors of yellow, orange and red. Autumn leaves welcome us into the fall, and usher in the colder months of winter.
this leaf crumbles yellow
in my hand
a flash of light
as it falls
Week of October 19: The Color Yellow
Autumn is the season of many colors, as we fade from the green of summer to the gold, orange, red, and brown of fall.
Yellow in particular is a color to be noticed, and deeply seen.
The yellow of
The Harvest Moon
The many yellow leaves we see in the trees, on sidewalks,
in the streets, yards, and roadways.
Maple leaves blaze forth in yellow
as do birch trees, and many bushes.
Take a gentle breath. Look around you. Where do you see the color yellow?
Perhaps sunlight streaming into your room, or the moon outside your window. A yellow leaf on your window sill.
What household objects do you see that are yellow? Maybe a quilt, a pillow, a hand towel, a coffee mug, or the curtains on your window.
lighting one candle
with another –
for my philodendron too
a yellow leaf
Week of October 12: The Planet Venus
If you look up into the night sky, you may see the planet Venus. Venus is the planet closest to us. You can find her shining brightly this month once sundown has come and gone, twilight has faded, and the evening darkness has settled in.
Venus looks like a bright star this September, so she is easy to see. She has been in the press lately because, possibly, we may have discovered that life was there many years ago. We do not know this for sure, yet. We do know that Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system. She is named for the Roman goddess, Venus, a long time ago.
Venus has often been regarded as the planet of love and romance. A magical planet. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps all the planets are.
Take a gentle breath. Look up into the night sky. Even if you do not see the planet Venus, we know she is our closest neighbor, floating out here with us in this corner of vast, cold space.
learning to love
one last stone
for the garden wall –
Week of October 5: The Sky
You may have noticed the deep blue of the sky in recent days. That is indicative of early Autumn, when the summer haze disappears and the sky is revealed as deep and clear.
No matter what we are doing, and as long as we have a door or window nearby, we can look up at the sky. The sky, to our eyes, is always changing. Winds, storms, sun, snow, and ever changing cloud formations make it an always interesting place to look.
So look up. See the sky. What is it doing today? How is it changing? Can you predict the weather by watching the sky? Do you know what time of day it is by looking at the sky? Can you see birds? Maybe a special cloud or cloud formation that is coming together and then, drifting apart?
Notice also the changes to the sky throughout the day. From sunrise to sunset, from sunlight to moonlight, there is always something to see.
Take a gentle breath. Look up. See the sky. What do you notice today? What might you see in a few hours, or later in the day? There is always something to see in the sky.
robin egg blue
what I know
the same sky
Week of September 28: Your Breath
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Each time you take a breath, you are claiming you are alive. For breath is life. In fact, the Hebrew name for breath is Ruah, or Spirit.
We do not have to remember to breathe, as our bodies do that for us. We take many breaths a day, as many as 23,000 breaths during a 24 hour period. And yet we may not even notice this miracle occurring. At times, if we are sick, it can be difficult to take a breath. We have all heard about and been concerned for people with Covid-19 who have had to be on ventilator machines. “I CAN’T BREATHE” reminds us of the urgent need for social justice for Black men in this country.
All of this, taken together, reminds us again and again about the value and life of each of us, and that is recognized in our own collective breath. For everyone in this planet breathes, as do most living things.
Take a gentle breath. Become aware of your breath as it moves through your nose or mouth and into your lungs. Let your breath out gently, again noticing the course of your breath as you pause to take another one.
Each breath is a small gift, one that keeps us alive.
with each breath
a deeper calm
first Fall day
with the maple trees
Week of September 21: The Harvest Moon
The Harvest Moon, the last full moon of the summer, will shine most brightly on Wednesday September 2. This moon is also called the Corn Moon, named by the Algonquin, for the season of gathering in staple vegetables such as corn and squash.
The Harvest Moon is a staple for us as well, shining low in the sky, as it calls us to the beauty of this time of year: to the end of summer; the first of the early fall when there is a slight cooling to the air and the sky is a clear, deep blue. This is a time too when we move from the heat and activity of the summer to a quieter time as we prepare for the indoor living of the cold months.
If you go out for a walk or look through a window you can see the Harvest Moon. At times this week it has been shining through a slight cloud cover, its edges softened into a round orb. At other times this moon is clear in its fullness, creating a bright light in the night sky.
Take a gentle breath.
As you exhale notice the deep brightness of this Harvest Moon this day, this week, this moment.
the Harvest Moon
fills the sky
outside my window
the Harvest Moon
Week of September 14: Your Face
No one has a face just like yours. In fact, we know that no two faces are ever alike. Your face is your face throughout your life.
We greet the world with our face. There are some things we can do to change it, such as make-up, shaving, smiling or frowning in a particular way. But for the most part the face we have does not change very much.
When you look into the mirror, what do you see?
and the entire shape of your face
Our faces come from our biological families. Maybe your face looks a lot like your father’s face, your mother’s face, or someone else in your family.
You may have a special facial feature that gets passed down the generations. Your face has changed over the years, but its fundamental features have stayed the same.
It is with our face that we greet the world.
Take a deep breath. Be grateful for your face. It is you.
a look in the mirror
I see you
on the mirror
yes, that’s me!
Week of September 7: Crickets
If you open a window or stand outside, you can hear crickets. Their chirping is a sound of the summer, when they are most vocal. Crickets are especially active in the hot summer, their chirping chorus sometimes filling the July and August evening air. Once late summer arrives, they become less vocal, until the cooler weather stops them completely.
Why do crickets chirp so much? The chirping crickets are the males calling to the females. They call and call all summer, during this time of the mating season.
You may hear crickets in a yard or on a playground or in a park. They seem to collect under bushes and leaves to sing in a chorus. And if you come near to them, they stop chirping. This is Nature’s way of protecting them from predators, or just the curious, like us.
Once the Fall comes you may hear only a few crickets, or even just one or two, their distinct chirp easily recognizable.
Do you have childhood memories of crickets? Their sound can bring us back to long summer evenings of playing outdoors, sitting on a porch, or taking an evening walk.
Just like many small creatures, crickets are our close companions. They add to our experience of the summertime.
all through town
the single sound
outside the closed window
Week of August 31: The Dark
When I was a child, my mother use to say to me, “The darkness is your friend.” But I questioned this. How can the dark be a friend when we cannot see anything?
And yet, there is much to appreciate about the dark.
The dark of night, when most of us are asleep, is a time of calm and quiet, of slumber and deep breathing.
A time of dreams and gentle waking.
A time of pulling up the covers and turning over to sleep.
A time, maybe, of seeing the moon or the stars through a window near the bed.
A time of cool night breezes over the skin.
Childhood fears of monsters, and mysteries under the bed, are gone now. We can now enjoy the darkness as a time of rest and rejuvenation, when the body and mind are restored.
Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes.
Let yourself breathe into the darkness behind your eyelids.
in the darkness
the slow twinkle
of a night light
to a single star
Week of August 24: Jupiter
If you look out your window or stand outside and look up on one of these summer nights, you may see the planet Jupiter. On a clear night, Jupiter is visible in the southeast sky until about 4:00 AM. Right now, this summer, Jupiter is closer to earth than it will be for a long time.
In the night sky, our solar system of eight planets is more visible. You can tell if you are looking at a planet instead of a star if the light is steady. Planets are shining because they reflect the sun. Stars do the twinkling.
Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system, was named after the king of the ancient Roman gods. Jupiter is the stuff of legends and fairy tales as it glows large in the sky. There is still much we do not know about the planet due to the thousand mile cloud cover that prevents us from seeing it directly. We think it consists entirely of gases, but we are not completely sure. In many ways Jupiter still seems like a magical planet.
What we don’t know about Jupiter reflects what we do know about our own planet home. Our earth is filled with flora and fauna: plants and animals, flowers and trees and all kinds of living things. Our oceans, mountains, and forests sustain life along with the rains, clouds and sunlight.
Take a deep breath. Look up. Watch for the planet Jupiter with your own feet on the ground.
just when I thought
things were solid –
star gazing –
this dirt under
Week of August 17: Day Lilies
Day Lilies are everywhere. We see them growing in small front yard gardens, clustered together on corner lots, and lining the fronts of buildings and houses.
As perennials, day lilies are here each year to greet us as they grow through much of the summer into early fall. Their blooms open with radiant yellow, pink or orange each morning, then close for the night as shadows darken the gardens.
Each morning, a new bloom appears from the same bush. These flowers grow, bloom, close, then grow and bloom each day.
Not only do day lilies radiant joy, but also hope. Hope that each morning brings more of these brightly colored blooms, born from the thick foliage around them, the mother plants, year after year.
Day lilies seek the sunlight, and if in the shade, perhaps under a tree, they turn to face the open sky. Quietly they line our streets and gardens, a calm bit of bright color during these pandemic days.
day lilies yellow
in the yellow
day lilies turn
to face the sky
Week of August 10: Birds
Birds are often called our “feathered friends.” They live everywhere in the world, even the polar regions, and there are many who live right here in Boston, among us. Some, like pigeons and certain types of sparrows, live with us through the long, cold winters, while others come to stay with us in warmer times. We see them flying in the air, sitting in trees, hopping along the ground looking for things to eat, and maybe, if we look closely, fussing with their nests.
Canadian geese fly high over our heads on their way south to South America, and then back to the wilds of Canada. Pigeons live on the ledges of high buildings and peck away in parks, while robins stay closer to us, in the yard. And who has not had a sparrow ask for a crumb or two from your muffin while you are eating outside ?
Some of us have had birds as pets. They can be good company: parakeets as chatty companions; canaries who sing us songs.
You don’t have to be a bird-watcher to see that birds are very smart. They even are able to problem solve around getting food, keeping warm, and how to fly to where they want to go.
Look out your window – what do you see? These are the birds close to you, to the people around you. They are our constant companions. Where would we be without birds? Living in a less melodic, less beautiful world.
pigeon, pigeon, pigeon
just outside my window
Week of August 3: Twilight
Twilight: The time before sunrise; the time after sunset. The very early morning time when birds start to chirp, perhaps waking us from sleep. The evening time of the glow of the sun after sunset, when the world slowly darkens into night.
Twilight can be a magical time, of waking up or getting ready, slowly, for sleep. A time when the world is in half-shadows with only whispers of light. It is a changing, a transition time that ushers in, and closes, the day.
Most of us are more likely to notice the evening twilight when we settle in after dinner for evening activity. That may be reading, talking on the phone, doing some computer or other games, or watching television. Twilight is generally a more quiet, slower time than during the day.
Take a gentle breath. Notice the lights going on around you, the lengthening of shadows, the rise of the moon. Look for the planet Mars and the planet Venus; the stars as they begin to light up the sky. There is much to see during this time as we are more likely to be less distracted. Let yourself relax. There is little, hopefully, you have to do but relax and engage in quiet activity.
into longer shadows
the glow of the sun
the glow of a candle
Week of July 27: The Crescent Moon
If you look up at the sky in the early evening, right after sundown, you may see the crescent moon. The crescent moon appears to be in the shape of an arc, or a crescent as it faces eastward, toward the sunrise. This is the illuminated part of the moon that is lit by the sun as it grows from the new moon, to the crescent, then widens into the half moon and eventually, the full moon.
But it is the crescent moon, with its gentle shape, that we admire in the early evening. It can catch us by surprise, as we may not expect it. Often the crescent moon seems to be hanging low over a building near us, or over the trees. Once again we see, and welcome, its familiar shape.
Do you have any memories of the crescent moon, perhaps from a camping trip, or an evening walk? Maybe an outing on a boat when you see the moon shine brightly across the water? Or just sitting on the front porch or looking out the window?
Take a gentle breath, and as you do, picture the crescent moon – its calming arc of light as it welcomes the night sky.
turning off the lights
at my window
familiar face –
the crescent moon
of my childhood
Week of July 20: Your Face
We all need to wear masks during this pandemic, to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But in doing that, we are not able to see each other’s faces. No smiles. Instead what we see are eyes over a half-covered face.
Faces, and looking at each other’s faces is a primary form of expression and connection. We appreciate faces even more now.
The next time you wash your face, look carefully into the bathroom mirror. What do you see? Maybe your face is like your father’s or your mother’s. Maybe there is a family facial feature, passed down through the generations, that you share. Look carefully at your mouth, your eyes, your nose, your chin and your forehead. This is you. You are here. You are present. Your face may have changed some, but it is still yours.
Take a gentle breath, and softly brush your hand over your face. Look at your face: the color of your eyes, the shape of your mouth, the way you smile. So much of our personality is expressed through our faces.
Take care of your face. Splash on some warm, then cool water. Dry gently, and smooth on a little lotion or cream.
Your face is the way you greet the world, even from behind a mask.
from behind a mask
with my eyes
all my life
I wear my grandmother’s
Week of July 13: Houseplants
You may have a plant that grows in a pot on your windowsill. This may be a new plant, or one that you have had for a long time. Either way, you water your houseplant, tend to it, and watch it grow. Maybe your plant produces flowers from time to time, and most certainly, green leaves.
Houseplants are our calm, quiet companions. No matter what goes on during the day, they are there on your table, shelf, or windowsill. In their own way, as they grow, they keep us company. They share our living space. We even share the same air. Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, while we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. So we help each other.
It is impossible to imagine a world without plants. For sure, we would not be able to live in it as plants are the source of all our food. And they make our world a much more beautiful place.
Look carefully at your houseplant. Notice its leaves, its stalks, and maybe its roots that appear from the soil. In some ways, sitting there in the sunlight, houseplants bring the outside world of growing things inside, to be with us.
shaped by the sunlight
on the windowsill
I put my arm around
Week of July 6: The Air
These days we are all wearing masks because of the worry about what may be in the air around us – that the air may carry the coronavirus and spread contagion. It is true we all have to be careful of this possibility.
And yet we also know that there is nothing quite like fresh, clean air. The air that comes through our windows on a clear spring evening, or a warm summer night. The air that blows fresh and cold into a stuffy room in the middle of winter. All is very inviting and invigorating. We know that taking a full breath can bring us energy, and a gentle breath can bring us calm. We also know that breath is life.
As you breathe, imagine the fresh air circulating through your lungs to all parts of your body. Imagine too that most all creatures upon the earth breathe too. We breathe along with our dogs, cats and other pets. We breathe with the rabbits and squirrels in the parks and trees, and with the birds flying in the air.
Sometimes it is comforting to remember that we all breathe the air from our earth’s atmosphere, and this breath connects us to other living things.
you take a breath
I take a breath
up and down the street
even the trees
Week of June 29: Color
As a child, did you have a favorite color? Do you have one now? Maybe a color you choose when selecting clothes, or deciding about the color of bracelet, hat, or scarf?
Colors reflect not only our personal choices, but the earth too as we are all part of the color spectrum:
green for leaves and plants
brown for soil
blue for ocean and sky
yellow for the sun, and sunlight
black for ebony, onyx, obsidian
red for roses and other flowers
pink for sunset
orange for orange fruit
white for the moon
purple for dusk, or twilight
Take a gentle breath, and look at the colors around you. Do you see one that is a favorite? Perhaps it is the color of some flowers on your table, or the sunlight as it travels over a wall or floor throughout the day. Or maybe the pink of the sunset outside your window. Your hair, your eyes, your skin too all reflect colors of the earth, from which we came.
the glow of purple
of summer sunlight
Week of June 22: Songs
Do you have a favorite song? One that you may have learned as a child? Perhaps a song that was sung to you by your mother or grandmother? Or maybe there are many songs you have liked throughout the years. Let yourself remember these songs: songs of place, adventure, love and romance; songs of faith and friendship. Jazz, pop music, show tunes, classical songs, hymns, blues, lullabies, folk songs.
Choose one or two now that you can sing or hum to yourself. You may want to tap along with the song, to keep up the melody and the bounce. When you want, from time to time throughout the day, hum a little tune, a little song. Take a gentle breath. Music is wonderful company, and can give us all a little lift.
Here’s one song we all know:
‘Tis a gift to be simple
‘Tis a gift to be free
‘Tis a gift to come down
where we want to be.
And when we find ourselves
in the place just right,
It will be in the garden
of love and delight.
I tune my dulcimer
to another key
with each breath
a melody –
Week of June 15: Tulips and Daffodils
Tulips and daffodils are everywhere this spring. Lining streets, growing in yards and around houses; even in vacant lots and on street corners.
Maybe this is due to all our April showers or, since there is no one on the streets, tulips and daffodils want and need to take up more space.
Tulips we know grow in many colors: red, pink, orange, yellow, white, and even purple. Daffodils are always yellow, but with splashes of orange or white here and there.
Each blossom opens to the sky, the open air, the sunlight. These are outdoor flowers, here now to greet us, one of the first flowers of the spring season. As perennials they grow and blossom every year. Their bulbs carry the past, present and even the promise of future blooming with them.
In many ways these humble flowers, present almost everywhere, are messengers of hope, and certainly, beauty.
Do you have a favorite memory of tulips or daffodils? Maybe they grew in your yard or on your street. Maybe they served as a first spring bouquet.
In whatever way you remember them, these flowers are still here, blooming their brightly colored petals, for us all to enjoy.
from my hand
to yours –
all down the street
the yellow light
Week of June 8: Stretch and Breathe
These days most of us spend a lot of time sitting – a good time to stretch and breathe in your chair. Taking a natural, full breath opens the lungs as well as our spirits. Taking a deep but gentle stretch can give a lift to the day.
First, take a gentle breath. Become aware of your breath as it moves into your lungs, and then out again. A soft sigh.
Let your whole body relax a little more into your breath. Begin with your feet. Wriggle your toes, move your ankles, and let this gentle stretch move up your legs to your stomach. Picture this relaxation and stretching going to your back and shoulders too.
Move your arms, your wrists and your hands, then take a few moments to relax your neck and shoulders. Gently and slowly, move your head from side to side. You may also want to look up, and then slowly look down.
As you finish, welcome this feeling of relaxation with a big smile. A smile is good for the face as well as the spirit.
Anytime you feel a little tense, or stiff, remember that a gentle stretch and breath can help you feel more relaxed and flexible.
all the branches
reach up and out
across my room –
patterns of sunlight
Week of June 1: Rain
You might remember the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers”, and it seems, May showers too.
The rains this spring have been gentle; soaking the ground to bring forth life: grass, abundance of daffodils, and blossoming trees. The sky is gray many days but the ground, the earth, is green and flourishing.
Can you hear the rain? Its pitter patter can be a reassuring sound that tells us the earth is taking care of itself and providing abundance even in these troubled times. Rain has a special smell, of both earth and air, as it falls to the ground. The smell of rain can be one of our earliest memories, when we were children looking up at the sky.
The next time it rains, open a window or walk out to a porch. Breathe in the earthy, wet air that lets us know plants are growing, and spring is here.
opening a window
to let in the rain
all night rain
Week of May 25: Breath of Deep Calm
Inside each of us, even in these troubled times, there is a place of deep calm. This may be where the heart and mind meet: the pairing of a peaceful word or phrase with our gentle breathing. To be calm is to feel a sense of comfort and even security that no matter what happens you will be okay.
You can always find this place with your breath.
To take a calm breath, place your hand over your chest or stomach and, like the gentle breath, notice the movement of your breath in and out. Now, as you inhale, say a comforting word or phrase to yourself. Hold this word or phrase in your mind and your heart, and then gently exhale. It is a simple as that.
We all have these words and phrases that carry deep meaning. To find the one that is right for you, you may want to think about the calm words of your mother or grandmother as they comforted you. Some examples might be:
It’s going to be okay.
I love you.
All will be well.
This too shall pass.
Or, you may want to think of a song or prayer that carries this sense of comfort and sustained hope. Words from a favorite folk song or hymn such as Amazing Grace, or a popular song, can carry great meaning. The Beatles song, Here Comes the Sun, and Bill Withers, Lean on Me, are two favorites for many people.
You may have a song or prayer from your country and culture that brings comfort in times of distress, and also throughout your life.
Whatever your words and breath are, they are meaningful for you. A breath of deep calm.
Week of May 18: Your Window
Taking a gentle breath can be deeply calming. Just put your hand on your stomach or chest and notice your breath as you breathe in and out.
This is an easy way to relax, and in that relaxing to gently notice what is going on around you.
Look around your room. What do you see? Notice the window in your room: the sunlight as it comes in through the window glass and screen, and between the curtains or blinds. Perhaps the sunlight creates shadows on your wall or floor, or patches of sunlight there as well.
As you look through the window you may see the sky, or the top of a tree; its branches ready to welcome spring. If you look closely you may see small buds, or tiny leaves ready to unfurl into that fresh green color of springtime.
Even in these times of illness and worry, outside our windows the trees are budding with thousands to leaves to welcome spring.
my window –
springtime in bloom
the dust on my window
begins to glow
Week of May 11: Your Hands
Our hands are the way we touch the world. Yet we sometimes take them for granted. Take a few gentle breaths, and as you relax into your breath, pay some special attention to your hands. Look at them carefully: your fingers, your thumb which can touch each finger, and your palms. With our hands we can grasp, hold, lift things, turn the pages of a book, use the remote, do some arts and crafts, and even play a little music if we like.
With our hands we have worked, taken care of children, cooked and eaten many meals, and perhaps tended a garden and cared for dogs and cats. Our hands are expressions of who we are, and our love and care for the world.
Stroke your hands. Massage them gently. Wash your hands and then apply a little lotion to give them comfort. Your hands take care of you, too.
from my hand
touch of sunlight
to touching it
touched by it