My Grandma wasn’t a zen master. My memories of her though are of a strong will, a peaceful presence and a cheerful attitude. She was wonderful and totally unique. Like many of her generation she had been thru some hard times and had many sorrows. Yet she remained cheerful and unfailingly considerate and polite. I don’t think she thought much about goals or future plans. She simply enjoyed the day for what it was. Like the popular song, her attitude was que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. She had never heard of the zen proverb of chop wood carry water but that is essentially what she did every day of her life. And she was all the happier for it!
As a young adult I met so many women of her generation with a similar disposition and wondered how they did it. And their husbands were also very cheerful. Sure, some older folks were cranky and irritable but they seemed the exception. How was it so many were contented? Younger people sure didn’t seem this way. How did these older women do it? How can we recapture some of that zen-like attitude? Let’s start by thinking about their attitudes and what they did with their time.
Granny was satisfied with what she had
These women were raised before the explosion of advertising that has made most of us want so much more than we have. Or something completely different from what we have. Today we are deluged with images that imply that what we have and what we are just isn’t good enough.
These women were taught acceptance of their lot in life as children. We are keenly aware of the downside of this now so kids are rarely raised this way anymore. We all want our children to be all they can. Still, there is a beauty in acceptance. This doesn’t mean you don’t have goals or plans, it just means you can be alright whether they happen or not. That’s zen-like acceptance.
The biggest step we can take to recapture this feeling is to reduce the amount of media we consume. Balance in all things including media is important for our peace of mind. Media comes with a lot of messages of dissatisfaction and most of us are drowning in them. Better to do something constructive or learn something new with the time. Then we miss the messages and have the satisfaction of learning or doing as well!
Granny kept things simple
Most of the time Granny served simple meals to her family. Many of these meals were repeated over and over again for years, so very often that she completely mastered these dishes. These were the dishes she was famous for, the things family begged for recipes to make. Now we’re often distracted by many yummy-looking dishes that we could potentially try that we often don’t master any at all. And we’re encouraged to believe that that the simplicity of serving simple meals is boring … boring for the cook and those eating alike. So we flit from one idea to the next, never really getting good at making any of them.
Real mastery of simple dishes made cooking a breeze for Granny … she could make a delicious dinner without much thought at all. Gaining that mastery is mostly a willingness to reduce options and then focusing on a few dishes you’d like to make really well. Of course, you’d still want to maintain a reasonable amount of variety, just keep it from getting out of hand. If you do this you get the bonus of greatly simplifying the shopping that needs to be done. Heck, if I could follow thru on this one myself I might one day be more than a good enough cook!
Granny didn’t concern herself with decorating her home in the latest style. She pleased herself instead and displayed whatever caught her fancy to brighten up her home. This usually included lots of pictures of family and bits of bric-a-brac to remind her of special occasions they shared together. She enjoyed keeping things pretty but didn’t put undue pressure on herself to be fashionable. Most of her decorating was about keeping things clean. Interestingly enough, keeping things clean is referred to as decorating by the Sidetracked Home Executives, if memory serves ;-). This is super easy for us to emulate … we can stop caring about whether our homes look like the ones on tv or in the magazines and think about whether our home is clean instead! Doesn’t sound all that exciting I know, but I think it’s more satisfying, if for no other reason than that it is possible to do! Most of us don’t have the means to have the homes featured in magazines.
Granny had fun in wholesome ways
Conversations with friends and family, parties and potlucks, picnics and weddings, reading and church going … these were the things that entertained Granny. Mostly just hanging with family and friends. Gardening offered many challenges to overcome and care of pets was a joy. Creating beautiful things was a part of life. Many practical activities like sewing, crocheting and knitting served as hobbies. Many women took great pride in the clothes they made for children and grandchildren, their homemade decor and making lavish dishes served at parties and get-togethers.
Grandma enjoyed the simple things in life. A bird in a tree outside the kitchen window, children playing, the vividness of blue sky and the prettiness of flowers in her garden.
Many belonged to clubs and volunteer organizations working to improve the lives of those in their community, preserve something beautiful or educate people. These social clubs planned plays, musical performances and community dances often as fund raisers for their cause.
This is so much tougher to do now since so much of community life has been lost and financial necessity makes so many of us work so hard. Real life isn’t as communal as it once was. But I’ve found a lot of community online and of course real world community life is still there around the edges. Also we can all enjoy productive hobbies just as Grandma did. And the simple joys of life are free to all who can see them.
Granny took care of herself while helping others
While she cared for everyone else she took care to see that her needs were met too! She didn’t work herself half to death to meet impossible standards. She did what she could do to the best of her ability and didn’t worry too much about what she had to skip. She ate three square meals a day. She rested when she was tired. She didn’t overcommit her time for months on end. She didn’t do any of these things, and really no one expected her to. That would be have been unreasonable then and it’s still unreasonable now.
She didn’t worry a lot about her appearance. If she was pretty she enjoyed it I’m sure! If beauty had faded somewhat she didn’t obsess about how to regain her prior appearance. While I’m sure she grieved a bit for lost youth, her current stage in life held it’s own charms. And besides, too much concern with looks was seen as vanity, a very undesirable character trait. No one would want to be accused of vanity … that would be very embarrassing! She groomed herself to look as good as she could, then she would forget about her appearance for the most part.
Demands on our time and pressure from society for all of us to look like photoshopped 20ish supermodels make taking care of ourselves in body and in mind so much more difficult than it was for Grandma. So I try to bring it up from time-to-time, just as a reminder. A lot of this one is about attitude. It’s about remembering that you and your needs are important too!
So there we have it! They had zen-like contentment at least in part because they practiced gratitude and acceptance, they kept their life and work as simple as they could, they had good clean fun and took good care of themselves. And they kept what’s most important in life close to their heart and always on their mind. And did they ever know how to laugh! These women are such an inspiration to me! So many of them are gone now and I miss them dearly. But I can keep them in my heart and I can talk about them, how they lived their lives and what was important to them. And I hope we can all remember them and their example to us more vividly as a result.
Tell us all about your Granny in the comments below …
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