Weary from a day of playing, I thought about Woody Woodpecker and the mysterious hole in a tree I had discovered that day. Through the first layer of crusty brown, segmented bark that once protected the old spruce tree, one could peer deeper, past the next layer of tighter fitting, lighter brown inner-bark beyond the moist, the raw wood of a pine or spruce-scented layer into the fibrous inner core of the tree. Within the core of the tree lived the mystery of the land where thick roots extended deep into the rich earth, meeting the life-sustaining banks of the brackish tidal waters of the Kennebec River.
Abenaki people of the dawn understood the value of each tree, young or old in their forest. They watched as each bud burst through layers of composting oak and maple leaves, emerging taller during the next season as a sapling, following that season into a straight, tall tree reaching toward the sun, often growing in girth to reach three feet in diameter, finally carved by Englishmen with the King’s Broad Arrow, marked to become the mast, timbers or planking of a mighty sailing ship that would take cargo holds full of Kennebec Ice to Barbados, India or another port half a world away.
Now that a pileated woodpecker, obviously Woody’s cousin, tufted feathery hat above his tough-as-steel pointy beak, dug his claws into the bark, jolting pecks targeted precisely at one spot in the outer bark of the tree, exposing layer after layer of bark until rewarded beyond the softer pulp inside, obtaining the juicy fresh treats he sought deep inside the core of the dying tree. Only woodpecker instincts directed him to satisfy his penchant for consuming great quantities of insects living in a colony deep inside the tree.
His rat-a-tat-tat skull jolting, hammering took several days of diligent pecking, echoing through the forest for a mile or more surrounding the tree, the original hole where the insect colony entered the tree becoming a ten-inch circular “door” with a frame radiating outward from the original and nearly invisible entrance, now surrounded by a fresh, light-colored wood frame, trimmed by the darker brown outer bark.
Peering into the core of the yet living inner tree I saw undisturbed, fibrous-core vertical strands, no larger than a pencil appearing like a growing mini-forest in the center. Looking beyond the strands, only when the slight shaking of filigree glassine wings caught my attention, I met the tiny tree faeries that were cowering behind what appeared to be trees. After my own shock subsided, in my very softest voice and most friendly manner, I greeted the two timid forest faeries by saying “Hello in there, I am Teanne, I wish you no harm. By what names are you known?” There was no immediate reply, but the two faeries I could see, obviously conferring with each other, timidly attempting to consider communicating.
Holding my breath as the two tiny miracles looked at each other and then outward from behind their little “pencil” trees, I was waiting to see if, when my vision was restored, they would still be there or for my mind to realize I was merely dreaming. During this intensely quiet moment, I happened to further notice the fragile, nearly transparent but iridescent dresses the two wore. What was the possibility of these visions being real? Of course, they were not; this moment must be a dream! If this moment was not a dream, then what more of what I considered reality might be fantasy? Was this what it felt like to sink into dementia? If it were, then it was certainly promising to be pleasant and exciting, making me hunger for an adventure.
When at last the forest-faerie-duo decided to communicate, they danced around holding hands to show how thankful they were for the opportunity see once again the sunlight, relieved to have the insect infestation eradicated by the gluttonous pileated woodpecker, the precious pair were at once in a positive frame of mind. Exposing them to danger, the new “door” allowed them life-sustaining oxygen needed but also an easier egress from their winter quarters when deep snowfall left crust the lower entrance solidly frozen shut.
All at once, my sleepy eyelids were open, kitchen sounds indicated the woodstove in the kitchen was being primed and I knew the creaky old house would soon be warming. What a pleasant way to begin my day, transitioning from a faerie fantasy into another opportunity to explore my magical island.
We are disconnected from and underestimate our innate ability to thrive By Nour Azhari
Reaching rock bottom is often a time when we make significant changes in our lives. Whether you end up in rehab, unexpectedly lose someone important to you, are diagnosed with a severe health condition, or go through a near-death experience, these moments automatically ground you and often act as turning points to a more authentic and fulfilling life.
This begs the following question: Why do we begin to take charge of our lives reactively and not proactively? Why do we not consistently live more intentionally?
There are many contributing reasons. I will highlight three main ones.
Our need for constant stimulation Today’s digital age brings many advantages and opportunities; it would be difficult to argue with that.
What is problematic is not the technology itself; it is our mindless and obsessive use of it.
As we allow ourselves to be exposed to a never-ending stream of ads, news feeds, and social media notifications, this influx of information consumes our minds in incredible ways.
But this addiction to our devices is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. More generally, our need to constantly keep our minds engaged, to always be doing something, represents our profound resistance to being alone with our thoughts and feelings.
That’s because the moment we sit quietly, unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and memories might surface. And many of us prefer to push these away rather than tolerate them.
In fact, in a series of studies conducted by the University of Virginia, researchers asked participants to sit alone for fifteen minutes without having any external stimulation. They were given the option of administering a mild electric shock to themselves during this time.
All the participants had received the shock before starting the experiment and stated that they would pay not to get shocked again, i.e., it was unpleasant.
Surprisingly, they found that as much as 67% of the men and 25% of the women eventually decided to self administer at least one electric shock during the fifteen minutes; to distract themselves from their thoughts.
Why is this finding problematic from a well-being perspective?
Well, if we are serious about wanting to design a life that is meaningful to us, we have to get intimate with our deepest self, not be afraid of or uncomfortable with it.
If we don’t face our complex emotions, they will keep on unconsciously driving our behaviors. To move beyond them, it is necessary first to acknowledge and tolerate them.
And if we do not have the mental space to be in touch with our gut feelings and reflect on our needs, values, and goals, how can we ensure our actions align with them?
Formal education and societal norms
We are born as passionate, creative, and expressive beings.
Just pause for a moment and visualize a child singing, dancing, performing, or speaking about their dream career with complete confidence and without any shame or self-consciousness associated with it. There is almost no gap between their internal self and the person they show to the outer world.
This attunement to one’s internal experience and authentic self-expression is crucial to happiness and life satisfaction.
As we become increasingly conscious of societal norms and as we go through formal education, we internalize values that aren’t ours and slowly begin to create a wall between our internal self and our outward expression of self.
As we perceive our unique aptitudes, interests, and character traits as not serving us in being what is expected from us and what is celebrated in our environment, and as we internalize shame and judgment, we begin adding layers to our personality that are more compatible with those external signals.
This molding of oneself according to one’s environment helps us feel accepted and connected to others, rather than alone and not good enough.
Dr. Gabor Mate, a childhood development expert, rightly put it by saying:
People have two needs: Attachment and authenticity. When authenticity threatens attachment, attachment trumps authenticity.
For example, in school, a very particular and narrow idea of success is introduced: That of the calm and cerebral kid who excels in Math, English, Science and doesn’t fool around too much in the creative space.
Given that children tend to be quite innovative, unorthodox, and spirited, this portrait of the model student excludes many of us.
If our parents, teachers, and other significant figures in our lives don’t encourage us to follow our natural talents and curiosities, we learn to stop paying attention to them as well. As this wall thickens, the wall between our internal and external self, we gradually become oblivious to our values and aspirations.
As we stop nurturing what we are good at and what is meaningful to us, it’s no surprise that our naturally driven and passionate selves take a hit. This is partly why feelings and thoughts such as these are so common in adulthood:
“I am not satisfied with my life. Something is missing.”
“I don’t like my job, but even if I were to quit, I don’t know what I would want to do. Nothing excites me.”
“I’m not great at anything. I don’t have a talent.”
The subjective mind and objective reality A third fundamental reason for our automatic way of living has to do with the mind-matter duality understanding of the world; The notion that our mind (energy) and matter (everything in our physical world) are separate.
In the 1920s, through what they called the “observer effect,” quantum physicists showed that what we call matter is primarily made up of energy and that our mind can interact with and shape the material world.
The placebo effect, the phenomenon in which patients show improvements in health conditions after only receiving an inactive drug, is a well-known illustration of just how powerful our minds can be. In fact, researchers have shown that the placebo response involves changes in brain connectivity, demonstrating how our thoughts can change our biology.
The rise in the use of meditation and eastern practices in the western world is evidence that individuals increasingly recognize the link between our mind and what we consider more tangible: Our relationships, health, career growth, etc.
Nevertheless, most of us do not fully grasp the extent to which and the mechanisms of how our minds can shape our physical lives.
Going one step further, we certainly haven’t been trained to use some of the coping tools that are very much part of our inherent abilities.
Techniques routinely used by mental health professionals, such as: Shifting from a limiting to an empowering perspective of viewing or handling a difficult situation, visualizing desired behaviors, developing a growth mindset, accessing our unconscious mind to become aware and let go of self-sabotaging habits, etc.
These techniques have scientific evidence behind them.
For example, a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the students who were asked to simulate good study habits mentally studied more and had better grades than those who did not. In another study, visualizing one’s performance was found to enhance public speaking performance.
Even as these strategies can allow us to build resilience and take charge of our lives, there is a lack of awareness about them.
Evidently, the fact that they have not been integrated into mainstream educational curriculums doesn’t help.
And because we do not operate with the fundamental belief that we can utilize the power of our mind to transform our everyday reality, we tend to react to events in our lives rather than actively attempt to create them.
After all, it seems foolish to focus on our desired experiences if we do not viscerally believe that we are agents of our own lives; and if we believe that our past experiences, internal roadblocks, and present circumstances define us and our future possibilities.
Final thought We tend to go through our lives quite passively because we are disconnected from what matters to us; our “inner compass” and from our innate ability to thrive.
Certainly, re-connecting with these inner truths and capacities can be challenging. Often, what holds us back in reclaiming agency over our lives are unconscious beliefs, negative feelings, and behavioral patterns that we have been stuck in our whole lives: Self-victimization, fear of failure, co-dependence on others, fear of judgment, low self-esteem, to name a few.
Professional guidance from a therapist, coach, or another type of mental health professional can be quite valuable in helping us move beyond these deeply rooted and usually unconscious internal blocks.
Unlike those who have reached rock bottom at some point in their lives, you may never be explicitly nudged by your external environment to re-examine your life as a whole. That being said, I would encourage you to summon that motivation internally.
To let your life slide by without expressing yourself fully and without experiencing all that you want to and can experience is a pretty significant loss, in my opinion.
Let that be your new rock bottom and enough of a reason to begin actively creating the life you desire as a unique individual. You owe it yourself to live wholeheartedly and unapologetically.
Bronnie Ware, palliative career and bestselling author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, wrote that the most common regret she had heard from her patients was that they wished they dared to live a life true to themselves and that they had honored some of their dreams.
Let’s learn from the wisdom of others and commit to living in a more authentic and meaningful way.
Reliable, waiting for Grampie’s parched lips to seek the pure, cool refreshment it provided inside, the tin cup hung with dignity by the handle end crooked over the lip of the stoneware crock. The crock with blue hand painted stripe ran around its girth like a belt around its barrel shape, held fresh cold water. Like a sentinel at the edge of the freshly oiled cast iron sink, waiting for him to remove the lid of the crock and dip the battered old tin cup on its long handle down into the cool water, he threw back his head slurping a long drink after a day of laboring on his island farm.
The 12-oz. tin cup was a dull grey from the friction of many years’ past use, displaying various odd shaped dents and dings speaking of numerous inadvertent thuds against something harder than its tin metal self. Maybe that culprit had been the wood cook stove. Perhaps the ladle was used as a gavel to demand Gramie’s attention or had been used as a playful kitchen tool for a child fascinated by making different sounds. Maybe the ladle would have been used by my grandfather as a teasing husband looking for some fun on a warm spring evening when the peepers were out.
The crock and ladle were fixtures in the kitchen. The ladle offered a clear cool drink of water after long mornings of planting winter rye, summers of dry-as-a-bone haying or a welcome respite from thirsty afternoons of chopping wood for winters’ heating. Hanging there it waited to relieve thirst after he consumed great quantities of Grammie’s famous Saturday night baked beans loaded with salt pork. The ladle was exclusively Grampie’s drinking cup. Grammie took her refreshment from the crock too but in a 12-oz. jelly jar turned drinking glass. In those days people collected series of painted jelly jars, some decorated with movie themes or cartoon character decals.
I wonder, as I turn the tin ladle over in my hand now, if there isn’t some direct connection, a silent vibration between the pleasures this tin cup ladle gave my weary Grandparents and my warm hand today? As I glance at my reflection in the window, I see a warm smile on my face and know my heart is glad to have that memory. I am the keeper of the tin cup now and with this story I will pass it along to my daughter when she is mature, curious about her roots, and the time is right. These are small comforts and happy memories in the daily routine of the sole residents of a tiny freshwater game preserve island in the Kennebec River.
FOR A HISTORY OF THE MUSICAL WONDER HOUSE in Wiscasset, Maine, click below on a LINCOLN COUNTY NEWS article from 2014:
WISCASSET, MAINE — In a stately old home you will find on the shelves and in the drawers, on display and out of sight in Wiscasset’s Musical Wonder House, cylinder records, thousands of them, mixed up and out of sorts. Some are valuable, some are not, but all are windows to a bygone era of recorded sound.
As the Musical Wonder House finished its season, the museum’s staff and supporters looked forward to a busy winter of sprucing up items in a vast collection of music boxes and gadgets. The place is known for miles around for its elaborate wind-up musical cufflinks, shoe brushes, footstools, teapots, cigarette dispensers, snow globes, paintings, and more.
The age-old craft of restoring antique tune carriers may have some computer-based company in this off-season’s workload, though: creating a database that catalogs the venue’s enormous and scattered collection of cylinder records.
Longtime Musical Wonder House visitor and volunteer Glen Gurwitz is an expert on the cylinders, which predated disc-shaped records and were developed in the late 1800s for use in Thomas Edison’s Phonograph machine — or another subsequent imitation.
Gurwitz spent an entire week sizing up the seemingly endless task of sorting through the museum’s cylinders in anticipation of an effort to organize the collection with an online database.
Cylinders were matched with appropriate canisters, which were compared with the correct lids. The old records came from various sources, as people who’d discovered them in attics or garages over the years would offer to donate or sell cartons full of the musical antiquities to the Wiscasset collectors.
“You can’t get this stuff from a book,” Gurwitz said. “You have to be doing it for years. Is it made out of brown wax or black wax, or celluloid? Is it foreign or domestic? Is it vocal or instrumental? Does it play for two minutes or four minutes? Is it something extraordinary or something very average?
“There are thousands of them around here — they’re all over the place,” he continued. “You can open up any drawer in the house and find them. Which ones are worth $5, and which ones are worth $500? There may be some here worth $1,000, but this isn’t a money hunt. This is a way of seeing what they have and taking inventory.”
Gurwitz, who lived in Vermont, is a retired customs inspector on the U.S.-Canadian border south of Montreal, has been visiting the Musical Wonder House since 1969.
The longtime historian of recorded music talked about the old cylinders and their players so contemporary listeners might relate to them.
“People have always valued entertainment,” he said. “At one time, almost every household had a piano or an organ or violin. By the 1920s, most families had some kind of a phonograph, the same way we all have computers and cell phones now.”
The phonograph and similar machines fell out of favor at the end of the Roaring ’20s, as the onset of the Great Depression left many Americans unable to afford new cylinder records to play. In addition, free music and news soon began to be broadcast over the airwaves, and old gadgets like those that populate the rooms of the Musical Wonder House became obsolete.
I remember the day I stepped into the Musical Wonder House to apply for a bookkeeping position for Mr. Danilo Konvalinka. Greeted by a formal but friendly Glen Gurwitz, I was overwhelmed by the cases of shiny, intriguing, vintage music boxes of every size and shape, some so ornate they were pieces of art. Next my eyes skimmed the Grand piano, wind up phonographs, shelves of music sheets, and antique tapestries covering nearly every wall in every room. Ushered upstairs to a room with boxes of random paperwork and receipts to be sorted, calculated and presented to Mr. Konvalinka in a form appropriate for tax processing. After that first day I questioned my motive for accepting such a position but decided to give my effort a second day.
The second day I arrived at the hour expected, near lunchtime. Glen met me at the door and invited me to meet and talk with Mr. Konvalinka, who immediately asked me to call him Danilo. He was cooking and invited me to sit down at his black and white enamel top kitchen table and talk with him as he stirred the dish on the beautiful but enormous eight burner commercial gas stove in his huge old kitchen. His dish, he explained, was a Bavarian specialty (the name now escapes me), made with sauteed and shredded cabbage, grated carrots, fennel seeds, celery seeds, a bit of olive oil, a tiny measure of apple cider vinegar, pepper, and salt. We shared the savory dish as we talked to get to know each other. His history was fascinating, and he certainly had a fascination of everything musical.
At the conclusion of our lunch, Danilo asked whether I would like a “tour” of his establishment. I was nearly beside myself at this invitation and merely managed to nod enthusiastically YES. As we walked from impressive dark room to dark room, (blinds prevented fading his valuable tapestries) the back of his fingertips swiped lightly across each tapestry as he explained its complicated significance and that he personally collected most of them in foreign countries. Some of them were one-off originals. His face glowed with pride, drinking in my excited reactions to each tapestry, obviously significant to him.
Next, we advanced to the shelves and shelves of numerous unique music boxes. Opening the glass doors of one, he gently brought a couple individually off their glass shelves and wound each fragile mechanism to play the tunes just for me. The ornamentation of some of these handcrafted boxes was exquisite, and what an extensive collection! Some of the musical tunes were humorous, some were catchy, and many were classical music tunes. We must have spent hours in that room, him demonstrating how each music box worked, winding and playing the tunes for my fascinated face.
When my bookkeeping project was completed, Glen and I shared another scrumptious lunch and lively conversation with and prepared by Danilo. It was a bittersweet couple of weeks for me as I did not want it to end.
Danilo Konvalinka peacefully passed on in 2015. He was a great and impressive man who loved music. I am richer for having met and come to know him just a little bit. He taught me through the tours of his MUSICAL WONDER HOUSE much more than how to cook that cabbage dish!