Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sanctuary



After all these years I still take comfort in the trees.

It might look a bit bleak in the winter, but I step into the woods and I enter a different world. The pace is slower. I feel surrounded by the warmth of good company, even when no other person is there.

I just disturbed a bunny that was resting beneath a fallen tree. "Sorry bunny." If I sit long enough, and still enough, I may see another, or a porcupine, or a deer. Whatever birds are local in that season will come along to see what I'm up to and gossip the news to their friends.

It's the kind of place I can give myself over to. It's safe enough for a good cry. The peacefulness reaches into my heart, particularly on days when life is turbulent.

Years ago I would come down here and meditate in the crook of one of these trees. It's too cold today but the tree still seems welcoming. In the summer it's particularly welcoming. One step into the forest and the temperature drops 10°. In the spring and fall, I feast on the scents and colours. They don't all vanish in the winter, though. In the cold and wind today I caught the scent of vanilla and I stopped to enjoy it. I noticed it yesterday in the same spot, yet when I retraced my steps today to see if I could still smell it, it was gone.

In the past, when I went for weeks or months without dropping in here to say hello, I'd take one step into the cedars and wonder why it had taken me so long to come back.

Perhaps you have a place like this, maybe one long forgotten. A place where you can recapture your heart, be at ease and remember why it was so special.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Energy and Depletion


I can tell I'm depleted when: 
  • I have a hard time reading more than magazine level stuff.
  • I can't find much interest in starting new projects or updating old ones.
  • Multitasking becomes hard/impossible.
  • The idea of going out to lunch with a friend seems like work.
  • I feel like I can't handle one more responsibility, or even the ones I have.
  • Planning supper is hard even though I have a freezer full of food. 
  • I have no tolerance for others breaching my boundaries or bullying.

Some things provide a false lift. They don't feel like they deplete me when I'm doing them.  Like social media. It may juice me up to wade into battle, but it's mostly just emotional and mental energy that can't sustain itself. A true lift happens without effort from deep within, from the heart and spirit. This kind of lift sustains itself and builds me up.

So when I feel depleted, I dial things back right to the bottom:
  • I spend lots of alone time so I don't have to interact with others. 
  • I spend time in nature: birds, trees, whatever is nearby. They make no demands. 
  • I walk for pleasure. If it's fun, the exercise I get is a happy side effect.
  • I cook when I have the kitchen to myself and can putter at my own pace. I find it nourishing.
  • I listen to music or radio, watch TV or read books that soothe the heart or make me laugh.
  • I take one thing at a time.
  • If anything seems even remotely stressful, I back out if possible. If I can't back out, I ask for help.
  • I connect with people who make no demands of me.
  • I rethink my responsibilities. Responsibility = Response Ability. I say "no" a lot and worry less about what others are doing.
  • I lay off the self-judgement. It just adds stress when I try to maintain the illusion that I should be managing life differently. 

And I let this restorative phase take however many months or years it needs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

One Less Stress


Our grocery stores open an hour early for seniors (like me). I enjoy the quieter pace and the fewer people around. People are wearing masks now for the most part and learning how to safe distance.

But there is still a heightened sense of tension in the air. 

My cart today had a flat. Ka-blump, Ka-blump, Ka-blump. A substantial Ka-blump, one that made all the metal in the cart rattle at the same time. I looked back at the entrance, but I knew there was no turning back. To keep things flowing safely for us all, they made the store one-way. I sighed and continued on. 

"This is the fancy tile floor," I thought. "Maybe when I get onto the smooth floor the cart will smooth out too." Nope. Ka-blump, Ka-blump, down the produce aisle. And then the next aisle. 

I stopped by the shampoo to see which wheel was the culprit. Maybe a wheel picked up something I could remove. Nope. It had an actual flat - a flat, even concave, spot on one wheel. I sighed and carried on. Ka-blump, Ka-blump. 

You'd think someone like me who's been practicing mindfulness for well, ever, would have stopped early on, taken a refreshing-cleansing breath and then glided blissfully through the rest of the store.

Yeah, no. That's not the way it went.

It took a few aisles more before it dawned on me that I was letting this little thing demand too much of my attention. And, as soon as I recognized it and called it out, it stopped being a problem.

Tensions are already high. Many of us are triggered, and jumpy. We forget how much these changes are sapping our resources. We have to learn new rules for shopping, for getting around, for everything. We are trying to figure out what people are saying and feeling behind their masks. We have no idea how this will play out. This depletes us. 

And then there's the little things on top of that. Like flickering fluorescent lights. They drive me mad. Or the barking dog next door. Or the jackhammers across the street. We often don't know how much stress they add until they stop. My sister texted me, "I think the break in jackhammers is lunch." I could almost feel her relief. 

I may have no power over the pandemic, the fluorescent lights, or the barking dog, but I have some power over my reactions to these things. 

First I have to notice what's sapping the energy. Sometimes, that can be enough itself. It's as though my subconscious has been alerting me to the fluorescent flicker. As soon as I acknowledge the alert, my subconscious can relax as its job is done. Oh right, flickering lights. That's not a problem. Not all are alerts though; some are irritations like the faulty shopping cart. Once I notice, I can make a choice: Do I want to continue to be irritated by it, or not. If not, stop giving it my attention.

The trick is to notice. 

It may have taken me a while, but by the time I reached the checkouts, I barely even heard the Ka-blump any more. Yet to be honest, I was relieved to leave the cart behind after the car was loaded. Like the jackhammers stopping for lunch it was one less stress.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Snobs


We used to call some people snobs, people who think they are better than others. Because they live fairly comfortable lives, many think their status is a product of their merit or virtue or good character. These people, when their comfort or sense of entitlement is threatened, often double down on the belief that they earned their position. So taking it away is not seen as the demotion it is, but seen as theft.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Right Speech



In Buddhism, there is a thing called 'Right Speech.' It's not 'right' as in correct, but 'right' as in skilful. And it's not a commandment but a suggested course of action. Since one of my greatest talents is my ability to put my foot in my mouth, I find it a useful skill to practice.

So here are some guidelines:
Refrain from lying 
Refrain from slandering
Refrain from gross, cruel, vulgar or rude speech
And refrain from speaking just to pass time - idle speech.

There are masses of teachings about this, but they all pretty much boil down to this:
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Is it true?
Will it improve on the silence?

I love the last one. It forces us to change perspective from speaker to listener.

Yet, it's a good thing they are guidelines. I still listen to gossip at times, I still speak impatiently, I still use hyperbole when I want to get a point across, I certainly say swear words. I will never be perfect, so I focus on awareness instead. 

When I catch myself speaking in a way that goes against these guidelines, I can work with it. I can see my motivations, mental habits, the emotions I'm trying to avoid. It's useful, and since I'm curious by nature, fun, to unearth new insights. And I can laugh at myself when I put my foot in my mouth again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Respite


How's your anxiety?

I was reflecting on the idea of 'being like water,' when Bruce Lee's quote came across my desk. 'You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.'

This made it more tangible. I imagined that the borders of my body, the edges between me and the world, wherever they are, softened and I became like liquid. It triggered an automatic relax. Respite.

I used this often while walking around the trails this month. I would stop and stand for a second to let the image settle me. Granted the setting is spectacular: trees and hills and streams and lakes, and the birdsong fills the air at that time of day. But I've done the same practice in the local grocery store during senior's shopping hours when everyone seems to be on edge. I stopped and stood still for a second to let the image of 'being like water' settle me. 

As I settled, it became more clear where I was holding physical tension: That day while shopping it was neck/shoulder, lower back. But even more interesting (and sometimes more challenging), it also became clear where I was holding mental and emotional tension. And I could see how quickly my mind wanted to jump back into battle. And if I engaged, I could see how quickly my body lost that relaxed 'being like water' state.

It's a practice. 

Even better, it's a fun practice. Stuff like this works best when playful and undemanding, not attached to any idea of success or achievement. Just having fun. So when I forget what I was doing and remember a bit later, it's like, "Oh right. I was having fun. So I'll do that more."

What feels fun can work for a while or it can change day to day. A few days later when I found myself needing to relax and breathe, I tried the water thing and, meh, it was ok, but not really doing it. So, ok. I relaxed and tried something different. I took the resting, open stance I take when 'listening" to the trees - not looking for anything, just enjoying the presence of the trees. I felt immediately more relaxed. It felt fun. 

It's not just fun because it's playful. It's fun because it's a respite. 

I think we need respite. 

If like me, you have a toolbox full of ideas or things that have worked for you in the past, scan through and see which seem the most fun for today, or for the next few hours. When we live through times of high anxiety, anything that brings us back to our centre is useful. 

I have a few more ideas here on the How-To page and the Meditations page.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bug Net Appreciated


Early walk this morning by the lakes and the mozzies were hungry. Bug net appreciated.