Archives for posts with tag: practice

It’s here. The longest day. The shortest night. A dim-not-dark pre-dawn sky. A sunset will follow later, so much later, and then a lingering twilight late into the night – then, Summer, Fall, Winter… the wheel keeps turning.

Summer Solstice, 2018, before dawn

Yesterday ended on a bizarrely anxious note. It’s really super uncomfortable having to recognize that the United States is squirming as the government leads in the direction of fascism, while the population struggles to resist. Uncomfortable barely describes it. I was able to sleep, which brought relief, and I am exceedingly fortunate, individually. That’s something. Yesterday was hot. I took cases of bottled water to protesters downtown on my way home from work. I thanked them for being there. The traffic home was pretty terrible, but I didn’t feel it so much as I felt I’d done something to help.

…Of course, halfway home, I found myself facing a critical inner voice reminding me that plastic water bottles are an ecological nightmare… and companies that bottle water are draining life-force (and life-giving water) from communities all over the globe for profit. Shit. This is harder than it looks.

The anxiety had me in its grip well before I got home. Every conversation I’d had at work resurfaced to be re-evaluated through a lens of insecurity, panic, and fear. Every decision got questioned. Every moment reviewed, critiqued, and used to build further fear-driven anxious narrative in my head. I got home, heart pounding, breathless, and on the edge of a panic attack, doing battle with myself. I fluttered around the apartment distracted and wretched for a few minutes – the air conditioning was a relief, and in that moment of appreciation, I found a hint of relief, something to hold onto for just a moment.

I took a deep breath, and felt myself relax as the coolness in the house wrapped me, and soothed me (it was a really hot day here). I stood looking out at the container garden, still feeling anxious, and aware of the hot day on the other side of the glass. “Right, well, I can at least water the garden, even if everything feels crazy right now – no reason to punish flowers…” Out into the heat I went, but the awareness of the waiting air conditioning was working on my mind in a nice way; I knew I would be comfortable again, soon. I slowed down. Took my time to really water everything thoroughly. I filled feeders. I rinsed and re-filled bird-baths. I tidied and swept. I weeded some pots, removing still more peanuts that had sprouted, thanks to busy squirrels.

I returned to the coolness indoors considerably calmed. The anxiety came and went a bit all evening. More like a nuisance neighbor I’m on good terms with, but would rather not see all the time, than like an attacker that has overpowered me. I felt content with the improvement, and sleep came easily when time came to sleep. I woke feeling rested, and ready to start a new day…

It is the Solstice, today. Hell of a good day to begin again. America is still full of Nazis – we ought to do something about that. We can. We have choices. 🙂

I have choices. So many choices – in life, in work, in relationships. There are so many verbs involved. Keeping up takes effort, practice, commitment… omg, just spelling it out, it all seems so daunting! One thing at a time, though? Not so bad. I don’t need to “fix” an entire broken world – or even this one entire broken human being staring back at me in the mirror. That’s no longer my approach at all – I just need to water my garden. Maybe tidy up a bit. Do a little weeding. Meditate for a few minutes. Get some dishes done. It’s just one thing, not everything, right now, all the time. “Everything“is super hard – I mean, have you seen all the shit that needs something done about it?? Too much. All that’s needed, really, is “enough”. 😉

I think I’m ready to begin again. 🙂

This may be a tough week for a fair few humans. (Realistically, that may be a generically true statement…) I have a wee personal practice that I use to “lighten the load” on very busy or emotionally challenging weeks. It’s not something I thought up. You can read about it here, too. Rick Hanson, PhD, knows a thing or two about practicing practices. 🙂  Simply this, in as few words as I can manage, savor the good moments. Wait, don’t blow me off on this, don’t shrug and say you already do… pause a moment, and really think this over.

Do you spend as much time immersing yourself in the joyful, sweet, moments and simple pleasures that life affords you, as you do moments of stress, frustration, or outrage? Is every moment of irritation over some article in the news balanced by really sinking into the good feelings in other moments? You can give your soul a chance at wearing a merry grin all day, just because the weather is nice, or because someone held a door for you when your hands were full, or because you really enjoy the way the light strikes that one spot just so right after lunch. It has mattered so much for me, personally, to have made this particular practice a way of living my life. No promises, your results may vary (my often do), and a practice does imply with frankness that there are verbs involved… but this one is so… rewarding. So enriching. So quietly powerful. This one builds over time, though, so it’s helpful if you don’t go into it thinking that 10 minutes from now you’ll radiate pure love and compassion. It is, after all, a practice. So… um… practice it. lol

I keep practicing.

I keep practicing.

I thought about this one as I sank into sleep last night. It felt so incredibly good to lay down, to feel my entire body relax and settle into comfort. To feel wrapped in warm blankets. To take those deep relaxing end of day breaths. To feel utterly at ease for some moments before sleep caught up with me. It felt “better than it should” I thought at the time, and realized in that instant how much I have invested in being able to really feel that moment in such a visceral way that I can recall it easily later. Progress. I woke still smiling, figured I’d share. I’ve probably shared this one before. It’s that big of a deal, honestly. One of the two or three “major changes” I’ve made over the past 4 years, that have had the most lasting positive impact in my everyday experience. 🙂 Definitely share-worthy.

Some practices have clear names that tell what they are about. Meditation. Exercise. Self-care. This one is called “Taking in the Good” by Rick Hanson. Simply that. Today is a good day to try it out if you haven’t already. It’s a good day to begin again, if you’ve taken it up before and let it go. This one? It’s a practice that could change the world – or at least, your world. ❤

I woke early this morning. I considered going back to bed. I didn’t end up making that choice; I made coffee, instead. Yoga. Meditation. Then I took my coffee into the studio with the intention of writing. I found myself staring out the window, watching the sun rise. As the morning turns to day, I see cats, here and there, in the tall meadow grass, watching and waiting. Crows walk awkwardly about in the playground on the meadow hilltop. It’s an ordinary sort of morning, preceding what is likely to be a very hot day. All the windows and doors are open to morning breezes.

A sunny summer day.

A day ahead, ready to enjoy.

I sip my coffee, and think over a conversation with a dear friend, last night. Anxiety is a major demon for both of us. I understand how bad it can get [for me] and he has my sympathy, my compassion, my affection… and my frustration. How do I effectively communicate that some things have really helped reduce my anxiety, generally, and also resulted in the bad moments I still have being notably less horrible? Is that truly possible, or are we such that we must truly walk our paths utterly alone? Do I have any cause to expect that what works for me will work for anyone else? How do I force the understanding into his brain, give him hope, encouragement, shake him free of his suffering? I can’t, actually, can I? We can share our ideas… but the verbs involved are our own. When it comes to growth, it’s not possible to “grab the mouse” and say “look, move over, I’ll just do that…” – and it wouldn’t work, if we did.

This one’s for you. Yes, you. Here are some things that help with my anxiety, and they might help you, if you practice them. (It does take practice.) (No, seriously, you have to actually do them.) (More than once.) (Maybe a lot.)

  1. Breathe! No kidding. I can’t tell you how often my anxiety affects my breathing, which stokes my anxiety, with causes my chest to feel tight, which affects my breathing, which… yeah. Stop. Just stop. Breathe deeply. Feel your breath.
  2. Anxiety is a liar, and thoughts have only as much substance as we give them. Stop “thinking it over”, get out of your head and into your body – walk, dance, run, bicycle, lift weights – whatever physical activity you can connect with, really get into, and just be in that moment, doing.
  3. Meditation – we become what we practice. When I practice calm, I am calmer. Not only that – a regular meditation practice has, over time, become lasting calm, generally, and lasting contentment. I have bad days, bad moments, sure – they are days. Only moments. Weather, rather than climate.
  4. Connect with someone, talk, share an experience, or have a profound conversation with a friend – or a stranger.
  5. Allow yourself – or even reach for – an engaging intellectual distraction. Learn something new. Read something that takes your thoughts a different direction entirely.

I’m not a neuroscientist, or a doctor, or a therapist – just a person. A person who has struggled – does struggle – with anxiety. I don’t tend to have to struggle so much, or with such painful intensity, or as often these days… something is working. I’m pretty sure it’s a verb. 🙂

As for that other matter… the issue of self-loathing, feeling unworthy… you are loved. I know some of the people who love you (specifically you… and maybe also you, over there…), and they’re awesome. Why do you doubt? I mean… besides being human, and the anxiety and whatnot. 🙂 No, we haven’t overlooked some invisible flaw only you can see; we love you as you are. You are uniquely you, and as far as I know, each of us who love you earnestly desire to be in your good company. I don’t know better words to say you matter to me, that you are loved… Maybe you haven’t been there for  yourself as often as you’ve been there for those of us who love you so? It’s okay to change that. It’s okay to look yourself right in the face, just you and the mirror, and see some of what we see in you, and share that joy. It’s a new day. You can begin again. You can join us – and love you.

I sip my coffee, and think of my friends… each so valued. Each so human. I have friends who struggle with depression. Friends who struggle with anger. Friends who struggle with jealousy. Friends who struggle with ennui. Friends who struggle with anxiety. Friends who struggle with feeling unworthy. Friends who struggle with feeling a fraud. Friends who struggle to be their authentic selves. I also have friends who don’t struggle so much, at all. We are each having our own experience. Growth requires a hearty helping of verbs, of practice, and the patience to observe incremental changes over time.

Today is a good day to ask a friend if they are okay. Today is a good day to be there for someone. Today is a good day to change the world. ❤

…isn’t what I thought I said. I woke up with those words in my head, and the soundtrack to my dreams still playing in my head. My impression was that I was the source of the music, myself. Funny how the bits and pieces of my days fills my dreams – or at least fills in the details, and provides a bit of familiarity to the strangeness.

I spent Sunday practicing on my bass guitar, taking breaks each time my forearms began to ache again. I’d watch an episode of Cowboy Bebop, which has theme music in a genre I really enjoy, musically. Sometimes I’d fill a break with live performance videos of bands with great bass players. Saffron Monkey. The Brothers Johnson. Stanley Clarke. There are a lot of amazing bassists. It’s sometimes hard to get a good look at them; most of the focus is on the lead singer, lead guitar player, or other ‘showy’ elements of a planned performance. I enjoyed the day filled with music. I kept coming back to the Seatbelts, the source of the day’s inspiration.

I found myself generally disinclined to be part of the everyday fuss and bother of the media outrage machinery, and although I quickly skimmed the headlines for the day, early on, I quickly lost interest and set it aside. It was enough to sass the headlines to myself, for amusement. I mean, seriously? It’s not likely there is going to be ‘real’ actually new information in most articles headlining today’s news, either… shall we take a look together?

I choose a mainstream retailer of information and head to the home page. “Baton Rouge Bloodbath!” – nope, yesterday’s news right there. Moving along… “7 Things You Need to Know”… about the Republican convention? I think not. That’s not news, it’s click bait. lol If I’m Republican, I already have whatever information is presented, probably days ago. If I’m a Democrat, Independent, or other sort of voter, well, I don’t actually care about the Republican convention at all. It’s a performance piece. “Obama Pleads for Unity” – with a very sorrowful, somber picture. Well, that’s part of his job. Done. Next? “Turkey Detains 6000 People” Yeah… messy when a coup attempt fails. Things are hard over there. Will I get the best perspective from a news retailer seeking ad revenue, clicks, and viewers with their highest priority on gross margin? Probably not. Might have to wait for the history books before a broad global perspective is really available… or wait for Noam Chomsky to write about it. Civil war is ugly stuff. I know that, and for now that’s enough. “Donald Trump Floats Grotesque New Conspiracy Theory About Barack Obama” Huh. They almost got me with this one – maybe because they used more words, giving the impression this really matters, but truthfully? Does it? I mean… do I even care what some rich nut bag makes up on the fly to smear peers or competitors? Don’t I just play the game by even taking time to read the story? I move on, with a hint of a smug smile; I beat the game on this one. I go down the list of headlines, finding nothing of real substance worth my attention [at least not in the presented format, by the providing news source]. Why should I get all churned up over bullshit first thing in the morning? Seems silly.

I watch the neighborhood cats prowl the edge of the meadow. After weeks of laughing at their efforts, I saw one catch some small mammal down in the grass the other day. I stopped laughing at them. Pampered predators, surely, but quite lethal. Cats, I mean, not people. (Well… yeah. People, too. We’ve a way to go before we’re really any more civilized than our less talkative cousins.) Now I watch the cats prowling their wilderness for exotic treats with greater appreciation; they just keep at it. Most days, no cats [visible to me] catch anything at all [that I see]. That doesn’t ever seem to stop them. I smile. I have time for some bass guitar practice before I head out for the day. I think I’ll do that.

Is it ever really “too late” to begin again? If we become what we practice (and experience suggests we do), isn’t the choice to practice something that makes us somehow ‘more who we are’ a good step on the journey, regardless what other direction we may head in life?

Choose. Begin again.

Choose. Begin again.

 

I could so easily mess with today by getting myself invested in expectations of misery, frustration, and boredom… I caught myself on the first attempt, and gave myself a chance to reconsider. I’m going down to the VA today, to wait on a cancellation or other opportunity to get my imaging done sooner than the [only available] scheduled appointment more than three weeks away. I’m hopeful I’ll be fortunate, and that my patience will pay off today. If it doesn’t – there’s tomorrow, and I’d likely commit 2-3 days a week to this, to get the images done sooner than later.

It's a journey, there is no map. Sometimes, there is no trail.

It’s a journey, there is no map. Sometimes, there is no trail.

This is where things start getting trickier for me; my perspective, my experience, my emotions… those are just me. What about ‘everyone else’? It’s a matter of balance, and sure, perspective, too. It matters that “we are each having our own experience”, because “we’re all in it together”.  Today I will do my best to be approachable, to-the-point, and calm. I’ll listen deeply, and do my best to avoid interrupting. I’ll ask clarifying questions. I’ll be patient with others and respect their humanity. I will remind myself regularly that at the VA almost everyone hurts in some way, and be considerate and compassionate – with myself, too. It’s a lot to practice…

A deep breathe. A lovely flower.

A deep breathe. A lovely flower.

We become what we practice. I’ll have to face the woman in the mirror at the end of the day. I hope to choose my practices wisely.

Practices… perspective… mindfulness… balance… It’s a lot to keep up on, if I take them one by one. Thankfully, they’re sort of ‘bundled’ together in one practice-filled mindfulness package. 🙂

I balance my bee sting allergy with my fascination for bees by keeping my bee sting kit handy, and using great care.

I balance my bee sting allergy with my fascination for bees by keeping my bee sting kit handy, and using great care.

Balance is important enough to practice. I thought about it, metaphorically, while I worked on balancing literally during my workout, this morning. One portion of my workout is entirely about balance, and when I began it, some of it seemed pretty silly… “stand on one leg”. Huh. Okay, sure. Easy! Oh… not so easy these days. Hmm. I begin again. Again. And again. I wobble. I sway. I keep at it. I practice. Seems easy. I guess, in most practical regards, it actually is quite easy. It’s the doing it well reliably bit that complicates things… and then… well… I’ve been on this new workout routine for…a week? About a week. A bit more maybe. It’s feeling really good, in the sense that my muscles tell me each day that there is change. Then, yesterday, I was able to put some real miles on my boots with much more comfort. Bad posture and pain had begun really holding me back… By the time I got home, feeling refreshed, strong, and exhilarated, I was also feeling my left knee ache. (Damn it!) This morning, I got up and felt it as soon as I took a step. I reached for my hiking staff before I even made coffee – looks like I’ll be walking with support for a few days. Balance… definitely not ‘easy’. Definitely takes practice.

perspective

Perspective matters, too; it’s easy to focus on how much my knee aches… or how unpleasant I find dealing with the VA…

 

There's more to it than this moment.

There’s more to it than this moment! I consider my needs over time; how do I best take care of myself long-term?

We become what we practice. Incremental change takes time. Building new skills – or restoring old ones – requires both. A good measure of patience with myself, and some perspective on the challenges, will probably be useful, too. 🙂

Practicing patience, self-soothing, and learning balance has unexpected delights.

Practicing patience, self-soothing, and learning balance has unexpected delights.