Compass Points is my monthly letter to share and celebrate our #HeartspokenLife. Reading time: under 5 minutes.
November 23, 2019
It’s almost Thanksgiving!
I’m trying to catch my breath and enter the holiday season filled with gratitude, peace, and equanimity, but honestly, life is conspiring against me. Of course, I’m grateful for so many blessings, but like everyone, I’ve got worries, anxieties, and genuine concerns for people I love, the state of the world, and the political polarization here in the United States. I am holding fast to the principles of my faith and the philosophy of the Stoics: do what you can, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and let go of what you can’t control.
What’s going on at Riverwood?
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus
The tree colors peaked three weeks ago, but still the Massanutten Mountains behind us are dotted with rich shades of yellow, orange, and red as the oak and beech trees hang onto their leaves longer than the maples. Who knew shades of brown could be so beautiful?
Nighttime temperatures are dipping below freezing more often than not, but I can still bundle up for an afternoon walk most days, breathing deeply the bracing, cold air with that loamy scent of fallen leaves.
John thinks he has mowed for the last time, though he might have to make one more pass to mulch the late-falling leaves.
What’s going on in your part of the world?
✧NORTH—Faith: Bring out the traditions
In the midst of the commercial craziness, holiday traditions can be an anchor to both our faith and our sanity. At Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at home, our family reads this family prayer that my father wrote in 1951 when I was a year old. In early December, I will bring out the nativity scene that John’s Aunt Mamie gave him in 1957. Setting it up and putting it away in January have become sacred and reflective traditions for me.
Don’t let yourself be sad when traditions have to change. For years, our Thanksgiving tradition was to gather at my parents’ home in Fauquier County, but now whichever of my siblings is in town will gather for the Thanksgiving buffet at Mom’s retirement community in Winchester. It has become a happy new tradition with one unchanging theme: it is still a time for being together and giving thanks to God for all our blessings.
Do you have a treasured holiday tradition in your home or family? I’d love to hear about it.
✧SOUTH—Connection: How to talk to anyone
During the holidays, you’re likely going to find yourself in family and social gatherings that test your communication skills to the limit. This delightful and very helpful page from Medium’s “Forge” publication on personal development has compiled all the answers: “How to Talk to Anyone” includes links to posts on how to talk to teenagers, old people, estranged family members, children, shy people, your parents, and more. I was especially intrigued by “How to Talk to a Rando” by Duncan Birmingham. I had no idea what a “rando” was, but it’s slang for “random,” that odd person in the holiday gathering whom nobody knows except the host.
✧EAST—Self-Awareness: Pay attention to your emotional triggers
You may be the most balanced, well-grounded individual on the planet, but I’d be surprised if the holiday season didn’t hold at least one or two emotional triggers that might trip you up if you’re not prepared. It might be the heartache of a loved one missing from the table, an argument with your spouse triggered by stress, a feeling of self-loathing when you overindulge at a party, the nagging pressure of trying to find the right gift for the right person, the anxiety of getting your house ready for visitors or attending all the extra activities at church. Ironically, emotional triggers can be happy things as well as dark things.
Meditation masters say it’s important to notice these feelings and treat them like clouds floating by in the sky. Don’t pretend they aren’t there. Observe them with curiosity as you would an unusual object or flower. Try to identify their true source without placing blame on yourself or anyone else. Noticing and recognizing emotional triggers can not only keep them from blindsiding you, but might also help you avoid them in the future or prepare a defense in advance.
✧WEST—Nature: Get outside, even when it’s cold
Yes, it’s colder, windier, and often drearier this time of year, but it’s still important to get outside. Research is clear that cold air contributes to both physical health and mental acuity. To maintain its core temperature in cold weather, your body may even burn more calories. In response to cold, your heart will definitely pump more oxygenated blood to compensate for both your exercise and to maintain your body temperature. All of this can help you sleep better at night too.
Sunshine, even in late fall and winter, stimulates the production of Vitamin D—essential to healthy bones and a robust immune system. Exposure to sunshine can ward off depression and minimize Seasonal Affective Disorder. You should still wear sunscreen if you’re out very long.
So bundle up, protect your head, ears, and hands, and enjoy the health benefits of getting outside.
What I’m loving this month
This is the time of year for some of the best choral music you’ll hear all year. Even in our rural community, we can partake of some professional-quality performances. I recently enjoyed a marvelous performance by the Vesper Singers conducted by Harlen Miller. Here in Shenandoah County, we look forward to concerts by the Masterworks Chorus Shenandoah Valley and the Lebanon-St. Stephens Community Choir. Check your local newspapers or radio station websites for your own area concerts. If a concert doesn’t call to you, check out your local tree-lighting festivities. There’s nothing like music and little children to get you in the Christmas spirit.
Recent posts at Heartspoken.com
Our Family Prayer: This prayer was handwritten by my father, James H. Herbert, in the back of his prayer book given to him by his father, R. Beverley Herbert. More than 70 years later, our family still reads it at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.
Heartspoken Moment: Always Count The Cost: Everything you own and every choice you make comes with a cost, either up front or ongoing. You should always count the cost.
Our Heroes Don’t Have To Be Perfect: Veterans Day Reflection: Our veterans, living and dead, are all heroes to me, and thinking about heroes led me to think about revisionist history.
Pray (and Write) Without Ceasing: The October Faithful Writers Toolkit – Encouragement for Faithful Writers everywhere.
Saints You Should Know: Celebrating All Saints Day: All Saints Day is the perfect time to reflect on those saints on whose shoulders we stand: those who have mentored us, nourished us, taught us, and loved us.
Heartspoken Book Review: Meet Me At the Museum by Anne Youngsen: This is a tender treatment of the complexities of a decades-old marriage and the heart-stirrings that come when one feels heard and understood after years of emotional neglect.
“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” ~ Lauren DeStefano
“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
“November’s sky is chill and drear, November’s leaf is red and sear.”~ Sir Walter Scott
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See you in December, but to be kind to myself and more present to my family, my December message is likely to be short and sweet. Until then, breathe deeply, love fiercely, and savor every moment. Know you are in my thoughts and prayers.
P.S. I answer my emails! You can respond to any of these topics privately by replying to this email or publicly by following me and commenting on any of the social media platforms below. Use the hashtag #HeartspokenLife.
P.P.S. You’re invited to join my Facebook group, The Art of the Heartspoken Note, where we explore and share the joy and impact of personal notes and letters. For you eagle-eyed readers, this is a recent name change from the old “Revive the art of personal note writing!” I’m hoping it’s easier to remember.
Bonus supplement: End the year strong!
After this newsletter was sent out, I received a very comprehensive resource that might help you end the year on a strong note and get your new new (and new decade!) off to a good start. It’s called “Your End of Year Guide: Gifts, Feasts, & Final Projects” by Rebecca Moses. It covers everything from self-care and personal motivation to holiday travel and cleaning your house for the holidays. I’d encourage you to skim the subtitles, check out the infographics, and read the sections that call to you the most.