People exercise in order to make their muscles stronger. I still remember the day the physical therapist shook her head and looked at me sadly, saying “the nerve connections are gone, honey. No amount of exercise will make that leg stronger.” That was 2001. My legs and one arm are paralyzed now and I’m losing function in the remaining arm. No amount of exercise will make my body stronger.
But all is not lost. In 2011, I decided to work with my mind. Research in neuroplasticity encourages me to believe that I can develop new habits in how I think. That’s what the 12 kind promises are all about.
When it comes to daily exercise, my favorite is the Delight of the Day. Each day, I watch for a time when my body and mind come together in the present moment. My mood lifts, my eyes sparkle and I smile. Even on my “bad days,” there is always such a moment. On watch for my Delight of the Day, I notice more and more moments of joy.
Saturday, tiny mushrooms erupted in the wood chips the landscapers put around the trees outside our apartment. The largest was no bigger than my fingernail. I thought they had a light blue tint, though the photos Ralph took don’t show it. Happily, Ralph wasn’t working and was available to capture the moment. By Sunday, the mushrooms had disappeared.
Saturday was a day of delights. I also heard a story on NPR about Emily Dickinson’s gardens. When I read that Dickinson rarely went out of her house in later years, I pictured her in a dark, Victorian drawing room with doilies and antimacassars. (I had to look that word up. It was in my head as anti-massacre and it turns out you put them over the back of a chair, so you probably wouldn’t have both doilies and antimacassars. It makes the point, though – I thought Emily stifled.) It turns out she lived on 14 acres of glorious gardens, including vegetable, flower, orchards and a conservatory!
(In the midst of an outbreak of envy, I remembered that I have Father Hennepin Bluffs Park and the Mississippi River out my front door, so I had better not complain.)
Emily Dickinson called the mushroom “the elf of plants” and “vegetation’s juggler,” putting it in a sort of trickster-god role. (She also called it nature’s apostate, which sent me running to the dictionary again and reminded me why I am not a Dickinson enthusiast.)
Anyhoo, the little mushrooms are a perfect metaphor for delight. They spring up unexpected, are easy to miss and are gone in a blink.
My Delight of the Day practice is to notice at least one delight each day and log it in my journal. I hope to expand and make more sensitive the areas of my brain that respond to small joys.
Emily knew such moments. “‘Tis so much joy! ‘Tis so much joy!” she wrote in a poem that includes sixteen exclamation marks in eighteen lines. Those exclamation marks just crop up like mushrooms.
So I, in this failing body, choose to build strength in finding joy. There is one meaning of exercise that means “to put into action.” We use it when we advise people to exercise caution. Just so, I am learning to exercise joy.