Busy minds need a place to rest. Whether you find yourself struggling to sleep, awake in the middle of the night, or even just anxious as you move through the day, in Nothing Much Happens, Kathryn Nicolai offers a healthy way to ease the mind before bed: through the timeless appeal of classic bedtime stories.
Already beloved by millions of podcast listeners, the stories in Nothing Much Happens explore and expose small sweet moments of joy and relaxation: Sneaking lilacs from an abandoned farm in the spring. Watching fireflies from the deck in the summer. Visiting the local cider mill in the autumn. Watching the tree lighting in the park with friends in the winter.
You'll also find sixteen new stories never before featured on the podcast, along with whimsical illustrations, recipes, and meditations. Using her decades of experience as a meditation and yoga teacher, Kathryn Nicolai creates a world for you to slip into, one rich in sensory experience that quietly teaches mindfulness and self-compassion, soothes frayed nerves, and builds solid habits for nurturing sleep.
A PENGUIN LIFE TITLE
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Deep snow had fallen overnight and the morning broke clear and cold.
I lingered at the kitchen table with an extra cup of coffee as I watched the light shift and the sun come up. Sunrise in deep winter, with its bright pinks and streaks of yellow, feels like an affirmation from Mother Nature herself. Yes, the days are short and the landscape coated in shades of white and gray, but the skies are vibrant. There is bright life in the thickest days of winter.
With the sun up, I opened all the curtains and let it slant into the rooms of my house. We hadn't seen much sun in a while, and as I began my morning chores, I found myself stopping to look out and taking a few deep breaths.
Someone told me years ago that you get a better night's sleep in a bed that's been made-something about the feeling of tidiness and order helps you to drift off-so I'd made a habit of it, and it had become a kind of morning meditation. I did it the same way each time and took care with the process. I stacked the pillows on the armchair with a little ottoman in front of my bedroom window, where I sometimes sit and read, and I pulled back the duvet and sheet. I smoothed out the sheet underneath and pulled the blankets back up, walking around the bed and refolding and tucking the edges, then shaking out the pillows and plumping them back into place. I took a soft plaid throw that my kitty liked and swirled it into a nest and placed it at the foot of the bed for her. With curtains open and the morning light coming in, the room looked neat and inviting. I had a morning and an afternoon to enjoy but I was already looking forward to going to bed tonight.
With my chores done and the day becoming as warm and bright as it would likely get, I decided to bundle up and take a long walk in the fresh snow. I layered on a sweater and coat, thick socks and boots, a hat and scarf and gloves, and closed the back door behind me. As I began to walk, I looked out at the unbroken drifts of snow, at the peaks of old evergreens and the bare branches of maples stacked with a foot of snow. Winter walks are slow walks; you make your way carefully and a bit ploddingly, but they give you time for lots of thinking and noticing. Past the edge of the yard, I stepped onto a well-worn path and into thickening woods. I had a few acres, and this portion of my land backed up to more woods that were public lands, so I could walk for a long time and not run out of trees and wilderness. I remembered the winter walks I took with my family as a child. There was an empty lot at the end of the street and beyond it fields and clusters of trees, and while the whole thing was probably no bigger than a city block it felt like a secret land, a place where there was no end of exploring to be done. Children have this power, to look at something simple and everyday and imagine the wondrous.
I felt a growing warmth in my belly and chest from the exercise, and I inhaled deep breaths of the fresh air, letting it fill my lungs. The familiar paths looked new in the thick snow and I took a few turns, intentionally leading myself away from my usual route, knowing I could follow my boot prints back if I got turned around. I followed a frozen creek with just a trickle of moving water, and I walked past a thick grove of birch trees, their rippled white bark at home in the white winter, to an open meadow.
I had a sudden feeling that there was something there to see, so I stood still. She stepped out slowly from the trees across the field. A doe, tall and elegant. I guessed she'd seen me long before I was aware of her, but she'd trusted me and let me see her anyway. I was caught by her beauty and stood still and forgot to breathe for a moment. Then I called out, low and calm, "Nice day for a walk," and she wagged her white tail and bent her head to nose through the snow for a bit of winter browse. I supposed she was as glad to see the sun as I had been this morning, and I reminded myself that we all have the earth in common.
I left her to her meal and followed my tracks back through the woods and eventually into my own garden. The long walk had made me hungry and I was already thinking my way through my fridge and pantry and mentally setting the table. I kicked the snow from my boots and stood in the back hall, reversing the process that had started this morning's adventure. I went to my room to change snowy layers for warm fresh ones and found kitty curled into her spot on the bed. She turned her chin up in an impossible angle, wriggled lazily on her spine and let out a soft meow. I curled up around her and told her about the deer I'd seen in the open field. I told her she was probably back in her den by now, nestled down with her friends, and kitty purred. It was good to go out in the woods and walk and remember the fresh air, and then it was good to retrace my steps and tuck back into the warmth and comfort of home. The winter wasn't over yet but the sun was out, and there was much to enjoy while we waited for spring.
Children have this power,
to look at something simple
and everyday and imagine
A Walking Meditation
There are lots of ways to meditate. You can practice in a traditional way, seated on a cushion on the floor. Or you can sit in a chair or lie down anywhere that you're comfortable. But some days you might feel like adding movement to your meditation, especially when your mind feels very busy. On those days, try this walking meditation. You can do it inside or out.
Find some clear space, say, 10 to 15 feet. Since this exercise can look peculiar, you might want to pick a spot with some privacy. If you need some assistance with balance, find a space where you can walk with a wall at your side.
Begin standing with your feet situated under your hips, about 8 inches apart. Lift your toes, spread them out and set them back down. Feel your weight shift slightly forward so that your pelvis is balanced over the arches of your feet. If you are barefoot, notice the texture and temperature of the surface you are standing on. If you are wearing shoes, feel the weight of them on the tops of your feet. It might be very subtle. Lift your shoulders up to your ears and take a deep breath in. As you sigh the breath out of your mouth, roll your shoulders down your back and be still. Gently focus your eyes on a spot a few feet in front of you. Before you take your first step, spend a minute here just to feel the sensations in your body. When we spend a lot of time in our heads, we can get numb to what we feel in our bodies. When we meditate with movement we relearn to feel and be present with our own physicality.
Breathe naturally and keep your eyes open but relaxed.
We'll now break up the next step into three parts. You may never have walked as slowly or deliberately as you are about to, but that will allow you to really feel the movement of each step, and feeling is meditating.
Shift your weight into your left foot and raise your right heel from the floor.
Slowly raise your right foot a few inches from the surface you're standing on and feel the weight in your left foot. Walking this slowly requires more balance, so notice the muscles in your ankle and knee responding and supporting you.
Extend your right leg in front of you and touch the right heel to the floor, a pace in front of your left foot.
Shift the weight into your right foot. As you do, your left heel will lift. You are back at the beginning of the process.
In this way, continue to slowly work through each step: shifting, lifting, stepping, repeating.
As you walk keep drawing your attention back to what you physically feel in your body. If you find yourself making judgments about the sensations you experience, take a moment to simply label that as "thinking," then go back to feeling. If you reach a point where you need to turn around, do it with the same slow mindfulness you've applied to each step so far.
You may want to set an alarm for ten or fifteen minutes (or as long as you'd like to practice-on a beautiful sunny day I sometimes do this practice for an hour, feeling the grass under my soles and the breeze on my skin). An alarm will prevent you from having to monitor how much time is passing.
When your alarm goes off take one more step and return to the position you started in, feet side by side under your hips. Again, roll your shoulders up to your ears and take a deep breath in. Sigh out through your mouth as you relax your shoulders down onto your back.
Take this mindfulness with you into the rest of your day.
A New Leaf
I'm not one for New Year's resolutions.
After all, why wait for a specific day on the calendar to start something new? All the same, I like reflecting. I like having time to parse a thought or a feeling; to create, sketch, and write; to wander and explore. And the start of a new year is always ripe for that. So when I turn over a new leaf, it's more literal than figurative: I turn the leaf of a new book, or a path on the trail, or a song on a record.
This time around, my fresh start was all to do with a new planner. I still like a physical paper planner, a pretty book in which to write my plans. I enjoy looking at a whole month or week at a time and setting down the dates I'll do the things I mean to do. Last year's was out of pages, and after a year of being carried in my bag and brought out and put away so many times, the hardbound edges were scuffed and the ribbon for finding the day had been pulled out and lost.
So a few days after the busyness of Christmas, I'd found myself on the street in front of one of my favorite shops, looking at the planners in the store window. This little shop has some of the best things: shelves full of blank journals and notebooks just waiting for you to write your great novel in; stationery in a hundred patterns with envelopes to match; sealing wax in a hundred colors and stamps with every letter. They have calendars, some silly with cats doing yoga, and some with the loveliest illustrations of tiny sweet worlds that you can get lost in. And they have planners.
When I stepped in out of the cold, I immediately noticed the smell of the shop, a bit like a library and a bit like a craft room. Actually, it smelled exactly like the library in my elementary school. Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a smell that took you so powerfully back in time that you had to shake your head to clear it? I remembered the worn blue carpeting of my school, the tall stacks of books, and the excitement of wondering what was in all of them. I remembered pulling an old book off a shelf in a back corner and sliding the card out of the paper pocket inside the front cover to see when it had last been checked out and by whom. I went to a tiny school, which happened to be the same one my father had gone to as a child, and there on the card a few rows from the top, in a child's handwriting, was his name. I guess in a small school it wasn't such a coincidence that we should pick up the same book, but at the time, I remember standing stock-still on that blue carpet, looking around with wide eyes and wondering if the universe had just winked at me. I smiled at the memory and decided that along with my planner I would buy a card to send to Dad.
I started browsing, and before I knew it, I had a little pile of goodies: Dad's card, a calendar to hang in the kitchen, a fresh pack of pencils (I could hardly wait to sharpen them), a packet of origami papers, and my new planner, which had all the features I liked plus a built-in pocket to store some notes and a few pages of stickers in the back. (Was I too old for stickers? I asked myself. Never.) Last in the pile was a new journal. I had so many, and I'd made myself a promise that I wouldn't buy any more till I'd filled up the old ones, so I got only one.
A friendly face at the register rang me up and slipped all my purchases into a bag. As I stepped back out onto the winter street, I thought of the projects I could try out in the New Year, and I walked a few blocks making plans in my head. I noticed a diner with booths lining the window and saw an empty one away from the door. Perfect. I slipped in, pointed to the booth, and a waitress waved me to it. I ordered a cup of coffee and laid my new planner on the Formica table. Then I took out my old planner, along with a new pencil and my sharpener. I'd had a moment just like this a year ago, the changing of the guard. I wrote my name and phone number in the new book, slid my flat palm over the fresh pages, and spun through them, filling in birthdays and appointments and ideas.
The waitress came back to warm up my coffee and she smiled down at my scattered books and pages. "Oh, I love a new planner at New Year's!" she said. I agreed. She went back to her work and I sipped coffee and wrote out Dad's card. I looked through the pages of the wall calendar, marveling at the illustrations. I scanned ahead to next year's Thanksgiving and Christmas, checking where they would land as if I were really planning that far ahead. I guess I was just looking for reasons to daydream about the year to come.