When life is out of control, get in flow.

 I installed this dry stream-bed myself! I installed this dry stream-bed myself!

Over the past weekend, I conquered my “Spring Exposure Syndrome” and spent some glorious time in the garden.  I haven’t worn shorts yet, though. They’re in storage in the attic and I’ve been too busy having fun outside to go digging around up there.

One of my projects was to complete a dry stream-bed at the end of our driveway. Last year, I put this in to help redirect the flow of water downhill.  On Sunday, I bought some inexpensive bags of river stones and dumped them into place. The next day, I found myself on my hands and knees, arranging individual stones in the exact spot I wanted them. This is crazy, I thought.  One good storm or sweep of a rake and they’ll be all over.  But I persisted.

It made me think of the aquarium we bought when our sons were little.  My husband and I let the kids pick out the fish and the plastic plants, some rocks and a little castle. When we got home, I let the boys arrange the aquarium scene as they liked. Then after they went to bed, I secretly moved things around – not enough that they would notice, but enough so that the design flowed better.  It calmed me for some reason.  At the time, I remember thinking, Why am I obsessing over this?

During our aquarium years, we were in the thick of family and old-house life.  Our house was always in project limbo.  We weren’t good about finishing one job before starting the next.  I’m not just talking a fresh coat of paint or new throw pillows.  I’m talking tearing out walls, stripping lead paint, patching ceilings, gutting the kitchen, to name a few.  Add to that our full time jobs and all the responsibilities that go along with having school age children. I never felt in control of my life.

Jump to this past weekend, some 20 years later. I’m dealing with health issues that make every day unpredictable.  I never know when I’ll have a few good hours.  I don’t know when, or if, I’ll be able to return to work. “Every day is a crap shoot,” is my favorite saying.  Plus, I’m having surgery in a few weeks and I’ll have to abandon my garden for awhile.

Hmmm. I think I figured out the attraction of the stones and the aquarium.

When big problems have no foreseeable end-date, getting a small task completed is satisfying.  Closure feels good.  If making a mosaic out of a stonehill works for me, no reason to make a mountain out of it.

When life seems out of control, it feels good to be in command of something.  It reminds me that I’m competent, that, “I got this.”  The fish may not have cared where the plastic castle sat, but I knew I could make it look good.  I was the aquarium queen.

Finally, the creative process puts me in a state of flow.  In flow, I lose track of time and forget about duties and obligations and surgery.  Its a relaxing place to be. Perfect stress management.

I guess my stone therapy or aquarium meditation is not so crazy after all.  Maybe I’ll start a movement.

In the meantime, the next day when I’m having a few good hours, and the sun is not too hot, the sky is blue and a slight breeze beckons, I’ll be in my garden. Looking out there now, I think I see a stone out of place.  It could flow much better.

What about you? What do you do when life seems out of control?


  • An emerging writer in upstate, NY, Karen DeBonis tells her story on her website, in publications like the NY Times, (a Tiny Love Story), in her “Become Emboldened” projects, and elsewhere. "Portrait of a People-Pleaser and the Son Who Paid the Price", Karen’s transformational memoir about a woman’s quest for authenticity and the courage to speak her truth, is currently available for representation.

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