Sometimes you just need to stop and breathe…

I will be honest: I’m normally so busy (aren’t we all) that I tend to not take the time to stop, watch, listen, think, reflect. We all know that stress is bad for us — mentally and physiologically. I know it. Yet, I still need to be better about carving out a few moments to alleviate stress. Even when I’m at the gym, I have a hard time letting go (I hate my current swim goggles… it’s always something, right?). Grad school with a toddler alone probably shaved years off my life…

For the first time in a very long time, I actually took an afternoon late last week to visit SAM. Normally when I visit, it’s with a purpose or an agenda, usually a specific show (Picasso! Gauguin!) or some other motivator. Not this time. This time, to help get my mind off some recent stress, I walked in with absolutely no agenda except to turn off my phone and wander the galleries.

It was nice to be able to sit with some of my favorite “old friends” at SAM and know that I could spend as much time as I wanted (or at least until my parking expired). One of my favorite works is Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast (1870).

Mountains that start at the base of the water and reach for the sky. Protected coves that still experience high breaking waves (was there a ferry going by?). Forests that stretch from the mountains to the sea. Overcast or foggy skies with the sun trying to break through… that he actually depicted correctly. I absolutely love this piece because of what it symbolizes — the representation of how a person imagines this mysterious and isolated region of the Pacific Coast to look just by reading and hearing the descriptive tales of others who had traveled to this wilderness (now called Seattle). Bierstadt had never been here before he painted the scene. I often wonder if this is how others who have never been here imagine the Pacific Northwest. And then I think about the places I have never been before, but yet I still have clear scenes in my mind of how those places must appear. And I just now realized that I — WE — may never be able to imagine like Bierstadt did because we have the amazing technology of film and photography. Huh, now I’m feeling a bit sad for us…

Another favorite is Carlevariis, Doge’s Palace and Grand Canal (1710):

And Giordano’s Triumph of Neptune (1634), which is not exactly the best in technique and composition, but I can sit in front of it forever and pretend I’m in the Louvre (SAM just doesn’t have many pieces of this grand size).

What really struck me on this visit was the woman in the center. For the first time, I think I recognize on her face a feeling a weariness, nervousness, a survival instinct. She is in the eye of a storm and a witness to the chaos, but not a participant. She is also looking right at us, as if to say either “I can’t wait to be done with this” or “this chaos is yours, too.” She was a bit unsettling this time. And her little part whale, part fish friend always cracks me up.

It was a fabulous few hours at SAM, and I left feeling re-energized and recharged. It didn’t even bother me when I accidentally fell off my new shoes walking down the sidewalk back to the car on First Avenue (though my scraped up knee begs to differ). All I could do was laugh at myself… which would not have been my reaction a few hours earlier.

What do you do to relieve stress? How do you hit your own reset button when it’s necessary? Plus, are there any activities in which your office/team participates to ease the stress levels? Please share!

And stop to smell the roses. Or pet the dog. Or read a magazine in a coffee shop. Or go play a round of golf on the short course. Or go to a museum or gallery. But take care to choose better shoes.

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