About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Month: September, 2013

A nap on my own personal sabbath

Obviously, it is in many people’s best interest for you not to find yourself … –Anne Lamott

Today, as I read a book on the sofa, I found that the words began to flow together. I hadn’t realized I was tired (I slept in this morning, after all, though the dogs were unwilling I should do so), but clearly I was.

So I leaned over and took a nap. For about four hours. I guess I had some sleep debt.

Of course, today is Sunday. Most afternoons I’m working, Saturday afternoons I’m generally out running errands, and the answer then to this type of problem would be a cup of coffee and some sticktoitiveness.

But today is Sunday, and so I have the luxury and the possibility of taking a nap on the sofa.

When I ordered my sofa, I test-drove those in the showroom to determine the exact length I needed to be able to stretch out and nap comfortably, and then I ordered it (about 7 feet as I recall, including pillows and arms). I feel it is essential for a sofa to be nappable.

The dogs feel an afternoon nap (unlike sleeping in once or twice on the weekends, thus totally interfering with their plans to eat breakfast as soon as possible) is utterly reasonable. It is, in fact, what they like and prefer to do themselves in the afternoon. So I was blissfully undisturbed for four hours of Sunday afternoon naptime.

When I was growing up, both Sunday naptime and keeping the Sabbath were strictly enforced. I remember being ratted out once for reading a non-religious themed Reader’s Digest condensed book (desperate times …) during a wakeful Sunday ‘nap’ with most unpleasant consequences.

Of course I recognize the survival value of learning to follow rules that seem arbitrary and nonsensical. I’ll never forget what a friend told her son, who complained bitterly of the dumb people in charge at school, who were making all kinds of stupid rules.

That’s excellent, she told him … excellent preparation for the real world. You won’t believe the number of dumb people making stupid rules that you’ll run into there!

Lately I have returned to keeping my own kind of sabbath. But this time, with the delicious privilege of adulthood, in my world, on this day, I make all the rules.

There are only three.

  1. I have to do nothing I don’t want to; I must deal with basic necessities only, like food. This means there is no to-do list for a Sunday, unless I’ve planned so many fun things that I think I might not remember them all–then I can write them down.
  2. Otherwise, the agenda is to do what I would most like to do, given other constraints (i.e., the budget may not, in fact definitely won’t, allow for an emergency trip to Paris).
  3. At some point, I write on Sundays. I write on other days as well, but I definitely and always write on Sunday.

Recently my sabbath rules helped me decide whether I should accept a volunteer position that would have been a considerable expansion of what I was already doing.

When my current assignment required me to say yes to a completely unnecessary Sunday meeting that epitomized everything I didn’t want to be doing, I realized that saying yes to the further assignment could and very likely would lead to many more like it. So I said no to the flattering offer. It wasn’t important work, and it wasn’t consistent with how I want to spend my free time.

I quite like having my own personal sabbath, and recommend it to anyone. And if it seems like a big step, you could always start with just a nap.

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In which the grasshopper has a death wish

Today I walked blithely out my front door, and was arrested by the sight of the grasshopper–back on my rose. It has sheared off, with its little grasshopper mandibles, an entire side of the rose. It has given the rose Grace Jones’s haircut.

Whether it was a good look for Grace I cannot say, but it is most certainly not a good look for a rose.

This time I knocked the grasshopper into the succulent groundcover. I peered down at his yellow ugliness … “You clearly have a death wish.”

I thought fleetingly of how useful my trowel could be at that moment, neatly dividing the grasshopper in two–if I were swift, and lucky, and especially if I had the trowel outside with me at all, which I did not.

The grasshopper will live another day.

The grasshopper and the rose

The roses are blooming their lush fall bloom. My favorite is David Austin’s English rose The Prince. Velvety deep red, yellow-centered, many-petalled. The scent–rich, spicy, deeply satisfying.

Yesterday I found an ugly yellow grasshopper snacking on one of The Prince’s largest blooms. I was not best pleased.

There was a time when I had a bloodlust for grasshoppers, but now I live and let live. They are not, however, welcome to eat my roses. So I looked around for a weapon, then carefully knocked the grasshopper into the boxwood hedge with the watering pitcher I found nearby.

Carefully because experience has taught that grasshoppers often like to leap upon their attacker, and I am not one who relishes being leapt upon by the larger insects.

I inhaled deeply the intoxicating scent of one of the unassaulted roses, and satisfied with a job well done, went back into the house.

Being impeccable

When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion. –Abraham Lincoln

A few years ago, I realized I often felt crummy at the end of the day. Finally it occurred to me to imagine that perhaps this wasn’t necessary, and to wonder why I felt this way. By the time I put two and two together, it had been going on practically my whole life.

Crummy is a technical term of course … I suppose malaise is the sophisticated French word for it, but of course there’s nothing sophisticated about feeling crummy.

What I finally realized was that anytime I knew I wasn’t living up to my values, whenever I crossed my conscience with my actions, I created a bit of ‘yuck’ that stuck with me. By the end of the day, I’d often created a whole pile of yuck that I was dragging around with me. And that felt crummy.

I think perhaps it took me awhile to figure it out because I typically wasn’t breaking any of the major old-school commandments–no killing, lying, stealing, nothing that could get me put away. I was just doing things that ‘everyone’ does. But let’s face it, a lot of those commandments–on their face anyway–set the bar fairly low. Of course, there is that other standard …

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. –Jesus (John 15:12)

So after a few decades of low-grade yuck, I decided a change was in order. I realized I had the option, whenever a choice between right and wrong presented itself, to simply decide ahead of time that in those circumstances I would automatically, without question, thought, or debate, take the choice I already knew to be right. I realized I could just make it a habit. I think of this practice as ‘being impeccable.’

What this means, to me, is not getting the dig in (no matter how well-deserved), not taking that obvious opportunity for revenge, choosing not to feel resentful when I have every ‘right’ to. It’s not that I don’t remember who has failed me, who’s been hateful, and who’s thrown me under the bus. I remember, and I take measures to protect myself in the future. But I believe there’s the universal law of karma to take care of all of that, and I know that resentment is like drinking poison.

Sarcasm? It happens to be one of my gifts, but unless it will amuse everyone and involves no unkindness, perhaps not. Kicking someone who’s down? I’ve been there, and I haven’t forgotten how much I hate it. A small meanness? There is no meanness small enough. Meanness is am absolutely direct path (do not pass go, do not collect $200) to yuck.

When I feel my ego rearing its head (not a pretty head, by the way), I recognize what’s happening and don’t allow it to take over. (The ego is not exactly impeccable.)

I’m by no means perfect, and on no one’s shortlist for sainthood. I certainly still make mistakes. But in choosing to do better when I know better, I feel like I’m onto something pretty good. At the end of the day, I tend to have peace of mind about the choices I’ve made. And that self-created pile of yuck? History.

All is well

Self-realization means that we have been consciously connected with our source of being. Once we have made this connection, then nothing can go wrong. –Swami Paramananda

“All is well.”

These are the first words I hear in my mind’s ear when I settle into meditation, or check in with my inner guidance as I go about my day.

“Thank you,” I often respond. It’s good to be reminded, to remember, to know for sure, that indeed and no matter what, all is well.

Too often I spend time worrying, if only at the edge of my consciousness, about things that will never happen–or that already have. The fact remains: All is well.

I’m reminded of Eckhart Tolle’s question–In this moment, do you have a problem? As many times as I’ve asked the question, I never have. The answer is always no. Right now, nothing is really wrong.

The same thing is true if I’m physically in pain. If I allow myself to enter into the pain, to become fully aware of it, my experience is that immediately the pain alters for the better. Awareness, all by itself, is healing.

In the midst of stress, busyness, a to-do list longer than my arm, all is well. In the midst of joy and grief and the eternal cycle of living and dying, all is well. In the midst of shift, turmoil, and change, all is well. Whether I’m flying high or in crisis–all is well.

Here at the center of my existence, all is well. It truly is.

After the rain

The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life. –William Morris

Finally, after the drought, the rains came–and today it is cool. I have the window in my bedroom open for the first time in many months, since the springtime. It feels like a miracle, the cool air as I walk outside–and of course it is. I appreciate my air conditioner, but how lovely it is to experience air cooled by Mother Nature.

The plants are content. They know the difference between the water I give them, and the rain. They can survive on city water, but lately some of them have been looking peaked. There’s nothing like the real thing, the gift from the heavens. They turn their faces upward, stretch toward the sun, and smile their leafy little smiles. I smile back.

Unplugged

The collective disease of humanity is that people are so engrossed in what happens, so hypnotized by the world of fluctuating forms, so absorbed in the content of their lives, they have forgotten the essence, that which is beyond content, beyond form, beyond thought. –Eckhart Tolle, in Oneness with all Life

I haven’t watched TV at home since the Clinton administration. And really, I have Bill to thank for the whole thing.

I remember well what was being featured on the news when I last watched it. The existence of Monica’s blue dress, purportedly complete with DNA, was making headlines and being discussed at the top of the hour, every hour.

A news junkie at the time, I was thoroughly disgusted with just about everything I was hearing, so when my cable went out (I needed it to get decent reception of even basic channels), I took it as a sign. I decided to cancel my cable service and swear off TV till the next inauguration. And by the time the next President was sworn in, I felt no need to watch news of his administration either.

It’s not just television news I don’t watch … at this point, I have a news blackout. I don’t read the newspaper, listen to news on the radio, or read news online (except during major election cycles). I’ve learned that when something important happens, people will tell you. One of my former coworkers actually delighted in telling me what everyone else already knew.

But even with my all-but-permanent news fast, I still manage to score quite well on current events quizzes–far better than most people who are actually keeping up with the news. The people who e-mail me the quizzes seem quite disgusted to hear my scores.

I don’t know how to explain this. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps our national politics are like a soap opera–even if you watch only every four years, you can still keep up with the plot.

I find that it’s nice to take a step back from the world, and it’s really nice to have a peaceful, quiet home that’s a true haven.

On 9/11, I heard the shocking news on NPR after the second plane hit. I watched TV pretty much all day at work that day, but afterwards I saw no more coverage of the attack. It’s been documented that how traumatized we were was directly proportional to the number of replays we watched. I found myself far less affected than most other Americans. Maybe it’s because I’d had a wake-up call in my life less than a year prior that caused me to re-evaluate my priorities and choices, and make time and resources available for what was truly important to me. Or maybe it’s that I wasn’t watching TV at the time.

When I tell people I don’t watch TV, they often ask what I do with myself instead–and isn’t that revealing? When I watched TV, I planned my life around it (think back to when you had to program a VCR if you couldn’t be there to watch a show), like it was a living being I needed to consider. I got home, turned it on, and watched unpleasant news up until the moment I turned everything off to (try to) go to sleep.

Now I have time to read, meditate, do needlework if I’m in the mood, cook for both people and dogs, write, spend time with friends, garden, shop, try new restaurants, sleep well … many of which lots of people say they don’t have time to do. Yet virtually everyone has time for TV.

Now I find that I have fewer thoughts and worries running through my mind. It’s not that I don’t have them, but the ones I do have are actually mine, not the whole world’s. I also have far less to feel angry about. This extra mind space allows me the inner quiet to hear my own guidance and higher wisdom, which I need to hear on a daily (hourly) basis.

Back in my storage room, I still have the first, and only, TV I ever bought. I remember what a necessity it seemed like at the time. I suppose it’s clutter, but when people say, “Heather doesn’t have a TV,” it amuses me to say that in fact I do have one–but it’s unplugged.

I gather analog TVs no longer work without an adapter. I’m cool with that. Unplugged is exactly how I like my TV–and my life.

A senior member of the human race

A few years ago, I was working as a contractor at a company that had everyone from non-union warehouse workers who were probably making minimum wage to the executives and CEO, all under one roof. Since office space and light industrial are zoned differently, this is an unusual arrangement I’ve only seen a couple times in my career.

I quickly noticed a spot at the end of a row of cubes I passed on my way out of my area where there was always a joke of some kind posted. Sometimes something genuinely funny, other times just odd, and once truly offensive.

This time the joke du jour consisted of a Photoshopped picture of a young black man, his hair cut like topiary into a trendy hat, with a caption indicating that if you couldn’t afford the hat you wanted, you could simply grow your own.

From all I could observe, this company seemed to have a good track record of hiring and promoting minorities, so seeing this tasteless joke hanging on the wall for days was puzzling. I felt it was in particularly poor taste considering the large number of people who worked there who weren’t making much money, many of whom could have been the Photoshopped person.

There were very few actual company employees in my area, but I asked one whom one could speak to about something offensive in the workplace and she said she had no idea. Clearly Human Resources did not have a high profile at this company. I was on my own.

I was totally clear on the fact that I was at the very bottom of the totem pole at this company, quite possibly on the portion of the totem pole that’s underground. As I thought about what I could do, it occurred to me that I didn’t need authority at this company to take action–all I needed was moral authority. Reminding myself that I’m a senior member of the human race, on my way out that night, I removed the graphic, took it home, and fed it to my shredder.

Who are you to stick up for the underdog, speak truth to power, fight injustice and prejudice? A senior member of the human race, that’s who.

A prayer before work

Today I found this prayer in an old issue of Spirituality & Health (May/June 2008), accompanying an article by Susan Baller-Shepard, “Blessing Your Workspace.”

Holy One, I come to work today, and this is what I offer: Me. Here. In this place.

Use this life of mine for a higher cause, a greater good. If this is not a place that is good for me or for the world, then help me to move on from this work.

May this be a place of transformation. May I learn the lessons here that I am to learn. May I convey hope or healing to those I encounter today in person, on the phone, or via e-mail.

If there is chaos or a problem here today, may I listen deeply, beyond the din of that noise.

If there are politics played out, please help me to act wisely. May I keep my ego in check. May I be generous and compassionate.

Amen.

I will definitely be using this …

Sayonara to stress

Some days are more stressful than others. And then there are those days when stress reaches epic proportions–you just can’t believe so many things have come down on you at once, a perfect storm of stress. Last Friday was that kind of day for me. As the day ended, I felt sorely in need of a treat, not to mention a way to cope.

For the treat, I considered food … I’m a foodie, so good food is always a treat, plus it’s awfully nice to have someone else do the cooking at the end of a horrid day. But I quickly realized that going to a restaurant would involve extensive interaction with people–the very same species, as it happens, that had been doing its utmost (or so it seemed) to drive me out of my ever-loving mind since the very beginning of the day.

Plus I had perfectly nice homemade spaghetti sauce in the fridge.

So I began to consider Barnes & Noble … books are a great treat too, not to mention a great source of coping mechanisms … and, Barnes & Noble is a leading provider of emergency chocolate. Sold. Let it not be said I don’t know how to create a mini perfect storm of my own.

So having eaten my spaghetti, I headed to the bookstore and checked out the spirituality section. I don’t actually remember what they call it at Barnes & Noble, but it’s a weird mishmash of books I might be interested in, plus books about real werewolves (hey, I guess anything’s possible), Wicca, and other topics I feel no immediate need to read about. I picked out a couple books my inner voice indicated would be helpful, as well as a Godiva dark chocolate and raspberry bar, and beat a hasty retreat home.

One of the books had a guided meditation CD in the back, including morning and evening meditations. I popped it into my laptop and did the evening one, and wow! Even though the title didn’t lead me to believe it was directly relevant, it turned out to have an incredibly helpful emphasis on releasing all the negativity of a difficult day. Perfect!

After completing the guided meditation, I felt much better, but could still feel a bit of a knot in my stomach. A hot bath seemed like it would hit the spot, so I ran one with a generous amount of relaxing aromatherapy bath oil, and lit a candle against the darkness.

I like a bath to be sauna-hot, and so I lowered myself into it strategically … feet first, then knees, and so on. Ahhh.

Afterwards I felt like a new woman, or at least a very sleepy rag doll. I meditated, sprayed my sheets with more lavender, and slept the sleep of the just.

*****

Here’s what I used …

  • Doreen Virtue’s Chakra Clearing CD
  • Dermalogica’s Stress Relief Treatment Oil
  • Aveda’s Pure-fume Spirit custom-made with 100% French lavender essential oil (used as linen spray).
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