About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: Wellness

Feeding myself

Self care

 

This is the SoulCollage® card I made today. I often have an idea of what I want to make, but this card was purely intuitive. The dancer is an image I’ve been saving for quite awhile; the hummingbird is from a magazine I bought at Half-Price Books on Friday night. (I like to browse in shops near work while I wait for the Friday night traffic to die down. I’m realizing as I think about it that I also spent far less than I would have at Barnes & Noble–my total purchase was about what I would have saved with my member discount at the bookstore!)

This is part of my reading of the card …

I am one who hides my face. I am one who is graceful and beautiful, who dances.

I am one who feeds myself from the most beautiful, delectable flowers.

This is a moment when you need to feed yourself …

I anticipate taking a break from blogging in the near future. So if you wonder where I am … I am feeding myself, from the most beautiful, delectable flowers!

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

A bit of natural magic

Retreat 2

I’ve just returned from several days at a SoulCollage retreat, and I’m feeling relaxed and mellow. There’s no telling what kind of outrageous thing you could say to me right now, and still get a very mild response.

We each had our own cabins, and mine was a little extra hike away on an adjacent property. The first night I walked back at dusk, about 9 pm, and was surrounded by flashing fireflies–a bit of natural magic, and something I never see at home.

There were lots of beautiful wildflowers, fresh air, a bit of rain, grasshoppers that rose up on black wings as I walked down the path to the road, invisible as rolled leaves when they settled again.

It’s good to get away.

This post is illustrated by one of the SoulCollage® cards I made this past week, Retreat.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Six reasons to meditate

Meditation

Every so often, I’ll be listening to a recitation of problems and I’ll say, “You know, I think meditation could really help with that.” And then I’ll get a list of reasons why the person I’m talking to can’t possibly meditate. (These are all real reasons.)

  • Their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes. (A five-minute meditation practice is perfectly valid.)
  • The apartment’s too noisy–someone’s car alarm is always going off. (It’s completely possible to meditate no matter the background noise–leaf blowers, fireworks, a thunderstorm. I do try to choose a quieter time if I can. No doubt every apartment complex, dorm, or other communal living space has its quieter times.)
  • Physical issues make sitting in the ‘proper’ position too painful. (My view is that the proper position is the one that allows you to meditate comfortably for the amount of time that yields the benefit you’re looking for. Insight meditation also recommends being comfortable. I once attended a day-long meditation retreat, and found that the grouchy monk running the retreat and I had different views on this. As I made myself comfortable, he shot me looks, and finally explained how wrong it was to do so–that if a fly, for example, lands on your nose while you’re meditating, you should simply allow it to sit there for as long as it likes. I was very comfortable with never returning to that meditation center. I believe a real spiritual leader won’t judge you, and neither should you judge yourself, if you decide that being comfortable while you meditate is right for you.)
  • They’ve tried it, but clearly have no talent for meditation, as they just can’t stop thinking no matter how hard they try. (There are a lucky few who have a natural talent for meditation–the rest of us get to get good at it the hard way, which starts off in exactly this way. As someone to whom a few things have come easily, I think it’s a salutary experience to keep working at something worthwhile despite no immediate signs of genius. I have read–and I believe this–that meditating with your mind running 100 miles an hour is still practice.)

So there are the excuses. If you haven’t yet committed to a meditation practice, here are a few reasons to meditate based on my own experience, that I hope will speak to you.

  1. Meditation is great for releasing what’s bothering you. When I’m feeling upset, I often try to make time to meditate ahead of schedule (typically after breakfast and before my shower in the morning, and before bed at night). Inevitably anything I’m upset or excited about will cross my mind as I meditate. When it does, I visualize packing several symbols of whatever it is into a helium balloon, and cutting the string.
  2. Meditation is also great practice for releasing judgment of yourself and the need to be perfect. It soon becomes apparent that thoughts enter your mind, that’s what they do, and it’s OK. Perfection, whatever that might be, isn’t possible, but awareness and recognition of what’s happening is. You simply recognize the thoughts, release them, and move on–nothing else is necessary. This works in real life, too–you notice something has gone off the rails a bit, take corrective action, and just keep moving.
  3. Once you’ve meditated for awhile, not only does ‘monkey mind’ rarely happen during meditation, but my experience has been that it fades considerably all the rest of the time too. I used to actually try to drum up thoughts in quiet moments, asking myself, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I don’t do that anymore, and there are nice quiet spaces in my mind pretty much all the time. Peace, in other words. Calm. Serenity.
  4. I find that meditating before bed generally puts me in the perfect frame of mind for sleep. Good sleep is pretty much impossible to overvalue.
  5. When I meditate, I’ve found that I’m much more patient and tolerant. It’s not unusual now for people to thank me for my patience. I’m not sure that happened even once in all the years I didn’t meditate.
  6. Studies have shown that violent crime decreases in the surrounding area when people meditate regularly. I love that a practice intended to benefit me and my own life, in combination with the practice of others I both know and don’t know, raises the vibration of our neighborhoods and cities such that harmful violence is prevented, and lives that could have been painfully disrupted or even ended, never are. Together, we can bring that about.

If you meditate, what benefits have you experienced?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Meditation.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Bath nirvana

I just took this bath last night after a stressful week at work, and–combined with a repeat session of the grounding exercise I do in the mornings–it really did the trick! My current formula is 6 small scoops of Epsom salts, and 18 drops of Aveda Lavender Fleurs Oil. Guaranteed relaxation.

In the past, I’ve never reblogged my own posts, but I’ve decided to begin doing this sometimes in order to free up some blocks of time to work on a goal that’s both important and urgent. As soon as it’s accomplished, I’ll be back to all new content. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy a relaxing bath on me!

About what matters

Lavender fields

Recently I put together a few simple elements that I thought resulted in the most relaxing bath ever–so of course I wanted to share!

It all started when I came across a magazine article about magnesium, “the relaxation mineral.” Magnesium fights stress, improves sleep, and not having a magnesium deficiency makes you only half as likely to die as other people. Sounds good to me! If you’ve noticed twitching around one or both of your eyes when you get stressed, that’s a symptom of magnesium deficiency, as are insomnia, high blood pressure, sensitivity to loud noises, and–you may have noticed others suffering from this!–irritability.

I have some magnesium malate tablets (horse pills if I’m honest) that I take occasionally. (It’s difficult to get the timing right for optimal absorption, I find.) But then the article I was reading mentioned that I could simply take a bath with epsom…

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On the seventh day, she rested

sweet dreams

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. –Genesis 2:1-3, KJV

This is my goal today, to rest, and not do any work. It’s a bit late for no work, though, as I have already done laundry, run the dishwasher, picked up after the dogs outside, and sorted some paperwork. I’m pretty sure all of that was work.

Now, though, I plan to rest.

Yesterday my Amazon order arrived, with a lovely new book (new to me, anyway) from an author I like. I started reading it in the late evening last night, but was too tired to focus properly. Today, I’ll be able to take it all in.

I also picked up a couple of magazines at the bookstore yesterday, chosen for the images as well as the content. I may take a look at those.

I am appropriately attired for a day of rest–still wearing my cherry-print flannel pajamas. I have no plans to change!

Medicinal chocolate? It’s on the menu. And I’ve already taken a short nap.

I’m wishing for both of us–you and I–a lovely day of rest.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Sweet dreams.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

Communing with nature

Japanese garden

I’m writing from the Japanese Garden today, and I’ve just seen the smallest possum ever, apart from rescued babies. Since it’s shortly after 4 pm and possums are nocturnal, I guess I’ve just seen the Benjamin Franklin of the possum kingdom.

Multicolored koi swim gently beneath the platform where I’m sitting on a bench.

For years a possum family lived in one of my pecan trees, but you couldn’t have proved it by me–I never saw them once. I only received reports from my next-door neighbors, who smoked outside, giving them opportunity to observe all the nocturnal wildlife.

A mosquito just bit me–clearly there’s plenty of food here for the possum family. I’ve been told that each can eat up to 10,000 insects a day, so they’re highly beneficial. I thought about wearing mosquito repellent today, but didn’t. The scent is repellent even to me!

As is usually the case, I suppose, the people are making far more noise than the animals, though birds call, squirrels scamper, koi tussle over fish food, and ducks bathe noisily. Only the humans hoot and holler; only the human babies wail. Many, but not all, are the quiet types you’d expect to see in a Japanese garden. Most look as though they’d just as soon not see any other people.

More ducks swim by, almost silently, leaving chevron-patterned ripples in their wake.

My brochure says this garden was once a gravel pit–an immense improvement, no doubt. This is not wild–in fact, it’s less wild and more groomed than my own backyard, the dogs’ domain–but it’s nature, and I’m grateful to be here. I’d love to be somewhere truly wild, but I’d have to go much further than 5 minutes from home to get there. I’m lucky to have such beautiful gardens so close to home.

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Following my visit to the garden, I felt a tremendous sense of peace and groundedness, making me think that I need to make it a priority to spend time here more often. Several times since I starting writing this, I’ve come across the term “communing with nature” or “communion with nature” in various contexts. How interesting that the term we naturally reach for when speaking of nature references a sacrament. We were made to be in nature, not in fluorescent-lit, indoor-outdoor carpeted cubicles, and really not in houses either. We’re meant to see the sun and sky, trees and rain, leaves and flowers, other creatures … not just occasionally, but every day.

My experience of peace and groundedness after visiting the garden also made me want to create a garden of my own. I have flower beds and potted plants, I grow herbs to cook with, I’ve had trees and shrubs planted (I don’t have the muscle or fortitude to dig into solid clay sufficiently deep to plant something large), but I haven’t done anything that’s fundamentally changed the nature of my urban lot. I understand now why my aunt restocked her koi pond over and over, despite repeated incursions by local raccoons with a taste for expensive seafood. (I don’t understand, though, why it wasn’t possible to devise some sort of pond cage that would have defeated the raccoons!) I’m thinking now about how I might be able to create a secret garden, a place that would be an escape, a place where I could commune with nature. It would be a challenge, but I’m sure it’s possible …

A day of rest

sweet dreams

Today I feel called to a day of rest.

Yesterday was go go go–lunch plans, dinner plans, a glass show, errands, a to-do list on the home front, cooking for the dogs, and a chai tea latte to keep me going through it all.

As of last week, I’m all but finished with a large and hairy project at work that I first started working on last year. It’s been in high gear for more than a month now, and I’m very happy to send it on its way.

What about you, dear reader? How long has it been since you’ve had a real day of rest? What about today? If today is for some reason impossible, could you schedule a day for yourself in the coming week? Something tells me you deserve a day all to yourself, doing exactly what you want to do–no more, and no less.

I’m off to do just that.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Sweet dreams.

How to deal with anger

Anger

Buddhism also teaches helpful meditation techniques so we are not swept away by the force of conflicting emotions like anger. These techniques allow us to take advantage of the brief gap in the mind between impulse and action. Through the practice of mindfulness, we become aware of impulses arising and allow a space in which we can consider whether and how we want to act. We, not our emotions, are in control. –Melvin McLeod

For me, anger and a sense of injustice are a motivating force. –Chelsea Clinton, the Clinton Foundation

I believe that anger can be sacred. Anger is meant to lead us to protect ourselves by saying a clear and decisive No to those who would otherwise use or abuse us. Anger is meant to help us create clear and helpful boundaries. Anger is meant to lead us to defend the weak and helpless, and to seek justice and truth-telling. These are all very good things.

I want to mention the upside of anger right up front, because anger is often perceived and talked about negatively–no doubt due to its profane side, which is itself abusive. Learning the difference between sacred and profane anger can be quite difficult for anyone who, like me, has had extensive exposure to inappropriate anger.

I’ve written before about the moment I decided I was tired of being as angry as I was, and that something needed to change. With the work I’ve been doing on grounding over the past month or so, all these many years later I feel like I have finally gathered a complete set of tools to transform my relationship with anger, and so I wanted to write about the topic again.

This past week I read the Readers Write section of the July issue of The Sun magazine. The theme is Never Again. Many of the entries are heartbreaking–particularly one written by a mother who is the child of an angry parent, has now become one herself, and doesn’t know how to change. This, for me, has been the path to that change I decided absolutely had to happen. For me it has been the work of many years, but I don’t see any reason why the process couldn’t move along a bit faster! If you experience anger as a force that seems like it’s controlling you rather than the other way around, I recommend the following …

  1. Cultivate a sense of humor. I wouldn’t say I’ve had every advantage in life, but I have had some important ones. I consider having a strong sense of humor to be at least one of my top five, if not higher. There are definitely things worth getting angry about, but there are a lot more that are well worth laughing about. There’s nothing like a sense of the ridiculous to help you keep your perspective, and appreciate life here on Earth.
  2. Let go of the past. If you’re getting disproportionately angry about little things all the time, in my experience it’s because you’re actually angry about something quite large that you haven’t dealt with. First you have to deal with the elephant in the room. For me, this step was about releasing bitterness about the big things that were bothering me. Once I did this, it became unusual for me to blow up over nothing.
  3. Years later, I started to meditate. If you don’t already meditate, I hope you’ll begin today. People have given me lots of “reasons” why they don’t meditate–but they sounded an awful lot like excuses. If you’ve been making excuses–I can’t meditate because my apartment complex is too noisy; my dog won’t let me meditate; I have no talent for meditation (all actual “reasons” I’ve heard)–I hope you’ll recognize them for what they are, take a page out of the Nike handbook, and Just do it. What’s so important about meditation, you may be asking? Why do people talk about what is, after all, doing nothing like it’s the second coming? I’ve always known I became calmer as a result of meditating, but I’m not sure I could have explained why as well the quote above from the Shambhala Sun, which really illuminated for me the value of meditation as it relates to anger. The much-talked-about “gap” really does make a huge difference in everyday life.
  4. Recognize the ego for what it is. When you recognize your own ego–as well as others’, they’re all pretty much alike, after all–and you no longer have to be right all the time, you suddenly have a lot less to be angry about. You really get it that there’s so much that happens that you no longer “need” to respond to.
  5. The last step (so far!) has been the work I’ve recently been doing on grounding. My (Donna Eden) energy medicine practitioner realized that a) relatively slight stress, like recalling an unpleasant meeting, could cause me to become ungrounded, and b) even when I was grounded, it wasn’t a stable state. When I asked what could cause these issues, she mentioned trauma, and reminded me, “You didn’t have the best childhood, you know.” Well yes–there was that. Using the same meridians as Traditional Chinese Medicine, she determined where my trigger points were, and devised an exercise for me to do three times a day. (It took a bit more than 10 minutes at first, and now it takes a bit less.) As I understand it, this exercise allowed me to ground myself, break up unhelpful patterns, challenge my grounding, and then immediately re-ground myself. She suggested doing it for two weeks, and ideally 21 days. I scheduled an appointment after about a month, doing the exercise faithfully during the past month. My colleagues were so good as to challenge my grounding quite thoroughly just before my appointment. Whereas before I’d likely have responded appropriately, but felt (and probably also looked and sounded) rattled, after doing this work I was able to be calm both inside and out. My breathing changed, I was definitely irritated, but I stayed grounded throughout. I was able to express my viewpoint calmly and logically, and when I came in the next day, I found the person who’d been trying to weasel out of work in the meeting was actually doing some of it. I considered it a victory all the way around.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I started making in January and finished today called, So you think I have an anger problem. In January, my mood shifted before I could figure out how to make the card successful, and I ended up making a card for Courage instead.

If you’re interested in seeing a Donna Eden energy medicine practitioner yourself, here’s a directory.

Rising above the ego

Rising

When the September issue of The Shambhala Sun arrived and I saw its theme–the Wisdom of Anger–I immediately put it into my current magazine rotation. As I was reading the magazine this past week, I came across this timely passage:

The basic act of aggression is ego. It is what distorts the energy of anger into a cause of suffering. When we define ourselves as separate and truly existing beings, we automatically set ourselves against others. –Melvin McLeod

I found this equating of ego with aggression extremely interesting and thought-provoking. This would certainly help explain why ego flare-ups and fighting often occur simultaneously. It also helps explain why some else’s ego flaring can feel so upsetting, if indeed it is an act of aggression.

A couple of egos belonging to coworkers working on the same project as I am were flaring pretty strongly last week at work. I’m sure you’ve heard “What you resist, persists,” and it’s certainly true in this context.

When I say ego, by the way, I’m referring to that part of us that loves nothing better than to make others wrong. That says, “I am right, and therefore you are wrong–which is, of course, the natural order of things. I will defend my rightness and attack your wrongness without counting the cost.”

That cost, by my reckoning, is substantial. I’ve seen it cost people their health. I’ve seen it cost people pretty much their entire support system. Perhaps it goes without saying that much if not all the time, the ego’s interests are at odds with our own. The ego has no problem, for example, with alienating helpful people. It’s happy to do so until no one is left. I’ve concluded that trying to make sense of the actions and decisions of a rampaging ego is like trying to make sense of a wildfire. I suspect the ego is like a disease that stops at nothing, not even at killing its own host.

Thus it is in our own best interests to learn to recognize the ego when it appears on the scene. I have found that my own ego always gives itself away by insisting, “I’m right!” And perhaps it’s true that I’m right much of the time … but that doesn’t mean anyone else is wrong. There are many ways to be right, many right ways to do things. Many paths lead to the same destination. No one has a monopoly on right–or wrong.

Recognizing one’s ego the moment it appears is, I believe, the key to getting it under control. Once you recognize it for what it is, its lies are no longer believable, and you are no longer at its mercy.

So as I was preparing to go to work this past Tuesday, the still, small voice within offered this advice: “Rise above.” Immediately the image I’ve created a SoulCollage card for here came into my mind … an eagle soaring in the sky, far above the treacherous, rocky ground below.

I found taking this advice to ‘rise above’ to be far more effective than engaging with others’ egos. The ego is always spoiling for a fight. But graciousness refuses the insult and disarms the ego, leaving it with nothing to fight, nothing to feel threatened or thwarted by. When someone else is pointing out how wrong I am, or how utterly I failed to notice or predict something, it takes just a grain of humility to say, “Good catch!” or “You know, I misunderstood,” or “I forgot to fix that,” or “I got that wrong, I’m sorry.” Takes the wind right out of the ego’s sails. That’s what I observed this week.

How to demonstrate grace under fire

Grace

Last weekend, as I prepared to write this post, I had a couple of ideas in mind. Although this is my 100th post, and also my birthday post, my ideas weren’t ambitious. I knew I’d be out celebrating my birthday most of the weekend, and wouldn’t have much time to write or collage.

But when I sat down to meditate and ask for inspiration (as I almost always do before writing), the Muse clearly had other ideas.

The topic had something to do with my birthday–but what? “What you’ve learned, what you’ve accomplished.”

I wasn’t sure what that might be … but looking back at the year, it did seem the most significant event was that whole mess that started in January …

Great difficulty–handled with grace, the most ever. Outclassed [those who created the difficulty and the others involved].

So, it seemed I had a topic–one I wasn’t terribly sure how to start writing about. I decided to start by making a SoulCollage card on the topic, to help focus my thoughts–and here you see the results. This took me a few days. When I completed the card and read it, this is what it said …

 I am the one who is under pressure–and yet I am calm. Joyful, even. I am vulnerable, and yet I am very, very strong.

In the eye of the storm, I am calm. Why not?

Should you find yourself in great difficulty–and unfortunately I suppose it does come to us all eventually–here are a few ideas that I hope will help you handle it with grace and dignity …

  1. Remaining calm is a truly excellent idea. It allows you to process what’s happening and perceive it clearly without a bunch of upset getting in the way. And it feels (and looks) much better than wigging out. “Keep calm and carry on,” says the mug on my desk. (It’s an unused piece of British WWII propaganda–held in reserve for a serious emergency, and then never used.)
  2. Never let ’em see you sweat. You will no doubt need to vent in private, but remaining calm has the additional benefit of giving less than no satisfaction to anyone who may be attempting to create difficulty for you.
  3. When people come out of the shadows and attack you, they’re giving you a lot of information about who they are. This gives you a kind of power. And you should never forget what you’ve learned.
  4. Don’t allow the noxious weed of resentment to take root in your garden. Justified? Perhaps. But this is your health and wellbeing we’re talking about, not anyone else’s. So the resentment absolutely has to go.
  5. I find it helpful to remember that there are no exceptions to karma. It comes to everyone, no matter how apparently powerful or well-positioned. If someone is treating you unfairly or unjustly, it will most certainly come back to them. I’ve read that this cycle typically occurs in a 5-year timeframe, and my own experience bears that out.
  6. If you’re being wronged, don’t hesitate to defend yourself. Calmly, professionally, inexorably.
  7. When doing so, bear your audience in mind. Some may respond more to a reasoned argument, others more to an honest expression of your feelings.
  8. Be honest, and at the same time, hold something in reserve. You don’t need to tell everything you know or feel. Communicate enough to make your point; what you’ve reserved may come in handy for a rebuttal.
  9. It’s very reasonable to be angry when you’re being treated unfairly. But do yourself the honor of channeling your anger into effective action that furthers your cause, rather than allowing your anger to ineffectively blow up, thus setting you back.
  10. No one else gets to dictate how you feel and what you’re stressed about. That choice is yours.
  11. While you are vulnerable in this world, it’s good to remember when under attack or duress that there are many things you possess that are inalienable and cannot be touched, no matter how dismal another person’s intentions may be. Your eternal soul, and its purpose and accomplishments. All the love you’ve given and received. All the joy you’ve experienced and have yet to experience. The truth of the situation. All of your many choices. All these things are yours.
  12. Take good care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting sleep, good, healthy food, physical activity–all that your body needs. Feed your mind and spirit too. Keep all aspects of your strength up–this is key.
  13. Don’t forget to have fun and do all the things you enjoy.
  14. Take advantage of all of your support systems–your partner if you have one, friends, family, supportive coworkers. And don’t forget your ancestors and all the angels standing by, just waiting to be asked to help.
  15. Strike an effective balance between being high-profile (making your voice heard) and low-profile (flying under the radar).
  16. If you already have your ego in check, you’re at a tremendous advantage in almost any situation over those who don’t–and that’s especially true now.
  17. Every person, and every difficult situation, is different. Please consider these elements potential ingredients in your personal recipe for grace and calm.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made this past week, Grace under pressure.

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