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.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Unfamiliar Terrain


I took a long walk through the trees in the middle of the night last night. My headlamp lit up the drizzly mist but I could only see three or four steps ahead. A part of me wanted to cast a wider awareness to get a better idea of where I needed to go, but I couldn't. And underfoot, now that the snow has melted, the terrain has become unfamiliar. 

Unfamiliar terrain. Unable to see where the path leads. Sound familiar? 

Maybe my best bet is just to watch where I'm putting my feet, backtrack without blame or shame when I discover I've gone the wrong way, and then move on ahead as best I can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Pandemic Patience



What do you write about during a pandemic? 

With everyone piling on the internet, there's not much left to say about self-care, routines, being careful on Zoom, getting fresh air, or helping your neighbour. 

I have no specific advice. Except maybe trust your instincts and intuitions. 

If the day feels a bit "wonky" maybe it's not the right time to hit the grocery store. Try another day when it feels smoother. This thing is so big and so different and so scary it can be easy to let logic over-ride intuition. Last Tuesday was the sensible day to go for groceries. But it was mayhem. Yesterday went smoothly and safely. We let logic over-ride intuition when we strive for some kind of grip, or control. 

For me lately, all my daily readings have emphasized loosening my grip and having faith that all is as it should be. It's a hard sell. I'm wired to plan and look for patterns, yet it's only by loosening my grip that I can get access to enough calm to be open to intuition. 

So my intentions over the next while:
  • Keep my routine of walking in the woods and meditating.
  • Double down on my patience practice. I've always been a bit too quick to react. I don't need to add to the drama when everyone is stressed out.
  • Find other resources online that build joy. Symphonies are streaming free. https://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/home/ The Archbishop of Canterbury streamed a Mothering service last Sunday. https://www.churchofengland.org Beautiful. And the Barred Owls are nesting again in Indiana. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/barred-owls/ (This is where I would normally complain about my slow and expensive rural internet, but I'm trying to double down on my patience.)
  • Stay home unless I need to make another supply run. And when I do, trust my instincts and intuitions.
May we be safe,
May we be well,
May we be at peace,
May we be happy.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Uncertainty



I had a great chat with a local Pastor the other day. His church is very different from the one I am familiar with - the hymns, the liturgy, and even the way of faith. Yet he is a terrific person, eager to share his faith with more in the community.

I was mulling over my conversation with him when I came across an old article I bookmarked years ago written by a former priest turned atheist and then agnostic. About his change to agnosticism, Mark Vernon says, "How else to deal with something that lies at the heart of the human condition: uncertainty. Thus, a corresponding 'lust for certainty' characterises many of the debates currently doing the rounds." 

We humans turn to opinion and belief because we want the sense that we have things in control. In our hearts, we know we don't but we are scared, so we look for answers in science, in medicine, in cosmology, and in spirituality.

The author's agnosticism was not the "I don't know and I don't care" agnostic approach to spiritual life. He was still a spiritual person. Faith for him is about letting it be ok not to have all the answers.

I feel the same. I would rather lean into this energy of uncertainty than grasp a belief or opinion that may not feel authentic. Faith for Saint Augustine of Hippo was about "deepening the capacity to enter this cloud of unknowing, rather than opting for the shallow certainties that religion can deliver." Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." 

Life is uncertain. The more I live my life with that in mind, the more relaxed, patient, and accepting I become. I don't call myself agnostic; my spiritual life includes different things. Yet the author has a point when he suggests that without a worldview that accepts uncertainty, "religion will become more extreme; science will become more triumphalist; and our politics increasingly based on fear."

The article is archived here.

If you read the article, have a look at some of the comments. This was written in 2006; there's nothing as horrible in the the comments as we'd see in 2020. I found it fascinating, though, to see how many used the comment section as a platform for their own opinions - the very thing he was addressing in the article. 

We really do "lust for certainty."

Monday, February 24, 2020

5 Tips for Making Ourselves Happier


These tips that have all worked for me. They aren't hard, and we can usually manage at least one each day.

• Connect each morning with the natural world. This can be done on the way to the car or to the bus or on the way to work. Quiet your mind just a little and let yourself notice that tree in the next yard, or the lake as you drive by it on the way into town. Let yourself feel a sense of wonder that we live in a world that includes such amazing things. This is easily done with delicious food, too. A moment to marvel that we live in a world that includes chocolate, well...

• Surround yourself with happy people. When we surround ourselves with complainers and worriers, we learn how to complain and worry. When we surround ourselves with happy people we learn how to be happy. Watch what they do, how they live and what they say. 

• Do a Metta (Lovingkindness) meditation every day. If you have trouble finding time, do a short version in the shower. Offering a genuine wish for all beings to be happy raises the "happy" factor in your own life. You'll find an example here.

• Practice saying something kind to somebody every day. Keep track that you do this every day. Do it especially with people you don't like. Just be sure it's authentic. It gets easier, and gives amazing results. 

• Say a Gratitude meditation at bedtime every night when you say your prayers. To fall asleep with a positive thought makes for sweet dreams and a happier awakening. You can find one on this page.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Quiet Time


When I was a little kid, I liked to sit under a willow tree in the back yard, the leaves surrounding me like the walls of a green, sunlit cave. I also liked draping blankets over the furniture in a corner of the house to make a quiet hidey-hole. I wasn't a loner, but I always needed to carve out time and space just for me. 

In the green willow world or the quiet hidey-hole world it was just me in the universe. Me in the context of something other than all the stuff of the world. To dream. To reflect. To read. To get perspective. To get a rest from myself. To be myself. 

As a young mother I found it harder to find time for myself but even just a couple of minutes in the shower was important. 

In times of big change, I need it even more. I don't isolate myself, but I spend less time with others, even dropping activities I usually enjoy with others so that I can nourish myself more deeply. 

This quiet time isn't about accomplishing anything, bettering myself, learning something. It is more about 'being' than 'doing'.

In her book, "The Hermit of Eyton Forest," Ellis Peters said it much better than I can. In this story, Cadfael, a monk from mediaeval times, was lingering in church after a service.

"The office had its beauty and its consolation, but the solitude afterwards was also salutary in its silence, after the echoes of the music had all died away, and to be here alone in this evening hour had a special beneficence, whether because of the soft, dove-coloured light or the sense of enlargement that seemed to swell the soul to inhabit and fill the vast arches of the vault, as a single drop of water becomes the ocean into which it falls. There was no better time for profound prayer."

I love that "... a single drop of water becomes the ocean into which it falls." 

When I look around and see how terribly busy people have become and how many more demands are being made on their time, it seems especially important to make time for ourselves. 

To do this, we have to quiet the inner voice that says taking this time is a selfish action. We have to learn to say 'no' to those who want us to do more for them and stand firm when we must do less. We have to give ourselves that bit of space to take a breath and see what the Universe wants of us right now, not the person in the next room. When in our own version of the green willow world, we need to remember this isn't about 'doing,' it's about 'being.' 

John Daido Loori, in 'The Still Point' says, "Every other creature on the face of the earth knows how to be quiet and still. A butterfly on a leaf, a cat in front of a fireplace; even a hummingbird comes to rest sometime. But humans are constantly on the go. We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness, we never fully experience our lives."