Tag Archives: daily practice

zone of peace

graffiti: lotus blossom silhouetteHappy Friday! Good morning good morning — how were your sleeps?

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This morning, Sophie and I met a man during our walk. She was calm when he first saw her, and then she got more excited as we approached him — she was full of puppy energy, jumping up a little and mouthing his hand.

He asked, They don’t use choke chains on dogs anymore, huh?

What? I thought. Who are you to want to choke-chain my dog?

I said, Oh, they still have them. She wasn’t trained well-enough for him. Then later he said, Your mom, your step-mom, she’s going to teach you how to sit, stay, and come, isn’t she? She’s going to enroll you in obedience school. All while he’s petting her, and even though he’s seen her sit calmly. I both wanted Sophie to be ‘better behaved’ (so that I could look better in this guy’s eyes? Why?) and wanted to tell him to shut the hell up, and felt judged all over the place. We walked away, Sophie practicing her heeling, me practicing my deep breathing. Yes, people have their judgments — yes, I can’t stop them. All we can do is keep practicing.

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Speaking of centering, I read this out loud last night (isn’t it good to read the pup a story at bedtime?) in The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield (thanks to my mom for sharing this book with me):

Even  during the most turbulent years, when he was dismantling the British Empire’s control of India, Gandhi spent one day a week in silence. He meditated so that he could act from the principles of interdependence, not bringing harm to himself nor another. No matter how pressing and urgent the political situation, the day he spent in silence allowed him to quiet his mind and listen to the purest intentions of his heart. (p. 357)

How often does it seem like there’s no time to slow down? Everything is too important, there’s too much to do, I can’t stop. Definitely no time for meditating, yoga, relaxation. (Notice, though, how there’s always time for anxiety and worry.)

I don’t like to set up these kinds of self-judging situations, where I say to myself, “God, Jen, if Ghandhi could do it while he was transforming a country, what excuse do you have, with your little life, for not meditating?” Let’s not go there — more blame, shame and guilt isn’t what I’m going for.

Still, it’s a powerful story, and one to think about. Being centered was a part of his comittment, a part of his practice and process, integrated into how he did his work. What about that as a model — centering, meditation, self-care practice as integral, not outside of or adjunct to, our work?

Take a deep breath and just feel the possibility. I work not to get stressed about ‘finding the time,’ but rather notice what time is already available, could be redirected from anxious spinning, say, or maybe Facebook.

The next section in Wise Heart reads:

If you want to live a life of balance, start now. Turn off the news, meditate, turn on Mozart, walk through the trees or the mountains, and begin to make yourself a zone of peace. When I return from a long retreat or from traveling for months, I’m amazed that the news is pretty much the same as when I left. We already know the plot, we know the problems. Let go of the latest current story. Listen more deeply. (p 357)

A zone of peace. I love that phrase.

What would it look like (maybe let this be your write today) to ‘make yourself a zone of peace’, whether for you or one of the characters you’re working with in your writing? Take 10 minutes this morning, or maybe over your lunch break, open your notebook, and write down that phrase, then dive into what it could feel like, what it could mean.

Thank you for the ways you hold space for others, for the ways you are a safe place for the varying parts within you as well, even the anxious and overwhelmed ones. Thank you for your practice, and for your words.

coming back to center

photo of a crow standing at the edge of a blue/green/white sidewalk-spiralLast night I had a dream that Sophie met another dog, our neighbor dog, and they were fine together — friends. She got some new toys last night, and this morning she’s a little crazy with wanting them. Who can’t understand that?

Happy Thursday morning to you out there. Thanks for being here.

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Yesterday, she talked to me about centeredness — about centering — and about practice. She told/reminded me that centeredness isn’t an always thing. We redirect ourselves, we practice and remind ourselves. We bring ourselves back to center. And with practice, we can do it more easily. From center, we can engage with the world more intentionally, instead of simply reacting — this is what she told me. I need more practice.

This was the exercise we did:

– Stand up, with your feet shoulder-width apart: notice how you’re feeling all throughout your body, where there are aches and where there is comfort, where there is tension or trigger, where there is relaxation, where there is more or less numbness. Just notice. You don’t have to change any of it.

– Notice your length, how your height fills your vertical space. Think about lengthening your spine, think about a line that tethers/roots you into the earth and that stretches you up into the sky. This length, this is your dignity —

– Notice, then, your width, the breadth of you from side to side. Notice how your shoulders, your ribcage and your hips can expand and open, even if they’re more closed right now. Bring some attention to those places. Notice the space between your ears, from one side to the other of you. This dimension of you, this breadth, represents your connectedness to others, how you reach out in relationship —

– Then, from here, notice your depth from front to back. If you want to, you can place one of your hands on your belly, just a couple inches below your belly button, over your center of gravity, and another hand on your back at about the same spot. Just hold your hands and/or your attention/awareness at the place between your hands. Your depth is powerful. Let yourself feel your back, the back of your shoulders, your butt, the backs of your thighs and legs. Your back is connected to history (she says to me), to your ancestors who hold you up here (just imagine this). Consider your organs, notice their presence and work. Then consider the front of you — this place represents your forward motion, your intentions, your desire and what you value and want. While holding your center, physically or in mind, articulate what you want, your commitments, for your relationship with your body, your work in the world or in relationships, or something else. You can say this just for you. Then, as you begin to move, move from your center, from those commitments.

This is a practice. Let’s keep working on it, ok? It’s scary for me, too — I don’t always feel the parts of my body. I like just being able to be aware of that. With practice, that fear transmutes.

Writing helps me center, too, often. How about for you?

Thank you for your words, yesterday, tomorrow, and today.

another chance

graffiti on a concrete, outdoor staircase: at the front of each step is painted the word Try, so it rises up as you climb: Try, Try, Try, Try, Try...This isn’t like that. This might have similar features as that, might look familiar, might hold its head about the same way, but it’s different. It’s right now. It’s new.

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Good morning — this is a new-schedule day. Up for morning pages, then short dog walk, now blog, then feed dog, then get ready for work: all by 7:15 am. I am ready and not ready to go.

This is supposed to be serious blog time: but there’s a puppy at my feet, pulling at a rope bone, cuddling it with both paws, serious, yes. She is learning about the sliding glass door. Sometimes it’s open, sometimes the glass is in her way, sometimes the screen door; she knows this because either she can move right through the doorway or something bonks her head. When you’re teaching a puppy about new things, it’s not good to laugh. Yesterday, when she wanted to go out on the deck with hew new Kong, she approached the door gingerly, stopped, waited, then put one paw out in front of her, scooping at the air, looking to make sure the way was clear. So smart.

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I am thinking a lot about second and third chances, about doing it over and over.

Do you know this book: Another Chance to Get It Right, by Andrew Vachss?

I’ve written a lot, mostly in my journals, and a little bit here on the blog, about my first dog, Katja. I got her as a young teenager, in jr high, I think, a puppy we rescued from outside the pound in Omaha; we were there to find a cat for my sister. The people outside the pound had their puppies in a box, didn’t want to take them inside and release them to the pound, which only gave the animals about a week to be adopted before they were put down. The people wanted their puppies to go home with someone. The dogs were small and black, lab-husky mixes. She lept up to me and I fell desperately in love with her. She was the dog I had hoped for for my whole life. We came home with both a kitten and puppy that day. I can’t write much about Katja right now — I cry too much. She was my closest companion during the years at the house in Omaha, with my mother’s second husband; he had to shut her out of the room a lot, because she was protective of me She died when I was a sophomore in college. I’ll write the story someday.

The second dog I lived with was my ex’s, Tor — he was still young when I moved in with her, just a few years after my own dog had died, and I was still aching and not ready to let a dog back into my heart yet. He and I had a very hard time, maybe a little jealous of each other, maybe a lot. He looked like my first dog, and then didn’t at all, too. But he was generous, like her, and loving, gentle, loud, and kept on wanting to be with me, coming to me, even when I was mean, frustrated, snappish, overwhelmed, impatient, not a good dog mom. We found our way, and loved each other.

That’s the most beautiful and sometimes the hardest thing for me about dogs: how they love me anyway, even when I am most certain that I don’t deserve it. Dogs don’t understand that I don’t deserve it. They understand differently. This is part of what aches about allowing a new pup into my life: she will love me anyway. And I get another chance to show up all the way into that love, to meet it and respect it and be kind and gentle and patient and strong. I am not the same person I was as a teenager, trying to train a dog with no skills or modeling. And yet, I am the same person: terribly in love with dogs, wanting to do right by this one. And maybe I can do right by this one.

And so I’m thinking about regrets, about feeling the guilt and moving forward anyway, about trying again as self care, about moving through the self-recrimination, the self-blame, -shame, and-guilt, and trying again. That’s resilience, I think.

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If you’re working with a character, do they have something that they feel regret about, and want to try and do over? What would that look like? If that’s true for you, and you want to take 10 or 20 minutes today, you might write a little bit of the old story, how it feels in your body now, where you hold it, and what the do-over might look like: not about going back in time, but doing something else now. What about giving yourself, your character giving themselves, that chance?

Thanks thanks thanks.

those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise

graffiti of a cuppa coffee -- contains the spray-painted words: "props to soup + soil"

"props to soup + soil" -- love that!

There’s a mourning dove outside my window; I turn off my quiet morning music to listen. It’s mostly just that harmonious throb — whoo, whoo, whoo, in a breathy thrum.

I am thinking about boundaries, about elasticity, self care, and about perfection.

Last week I had my first cup of “real” coffee, fully caffeinated, that is, since around Nov 2009. There’s been a little voice/message/feeling: What would it be like to get coffee? I sipped at F!’s french roast one morning out at breakfast several weeks ago, I listened to the little question filling inside my arms, and finally I walked into the Peet’s and instead of asking for decaf, I asked just for coffee. There was a short hesitation, I caught myself, the words “decaf” and “coffee” got kind of tangled & trainwrecked in my mouth, and “coffee” was the one that got through. (None of this, I think, was visible to the barista. He’s just waiting to get through one more order — whatever, coffee, that’s easy.) I took the small cup over to the adulteration stand and added some sugar, took a sip, and thought I would burst with joy. One of the other customers took note of this big smile and sigh, said something grand like, “That first sip’s the best, isn’t it?” And I wanted to tell him something about the first sip after many months. I didn’t feel like I was falling off the wagon, and then, a little, I did.

I giggled at myself on the rest of my walk to work: naughty girl, what are you doing? I expected the big rush of euphoria that caffeine can deliver, thought maybe I would start talking like a chipmunk on speed (which I have been known to do when caffeinated), thought everyone would know.

I expected maybe a little downside, too.

There was no real rush of caffeine high, though I did get wired — I felt happier for awhile, lifted, more brave. I accomplished a couple of tasks I’d been putting off, confessed to a couple of friends about the caffeine. My neck and shoulders got sharply tense, the way they’d been when I was drinking caffeinated coffee regularly. And then I barely slept that night — my body was sleepy by 10, but my head was still running the rapids, and my heart pounded loud and heavy right alongside it. I woke up maybe five times that night, every other hour, and was still wired the next morning, did some good, somewhat-frantic writing in my notebook, pen racing, almost unable to keep up with my thoughts — this happens much less frequently now since I stopped taking in so much caffeine, and it was great to feel this writing again. (Also good, though, was recognizing the effects of caffeine. I’d though maybe I was just less passionate about my subjects these days, no longer pouring the words out almost like they were on fire inside me — here, last Wednesday morning, I got some evidence that that writing style is a caffeinated one, and not a measure of my interest, passion, desire to write.)

I went through Wednesday feeling like I was in a caffeine-hangover, all crunchy just beneath my skin, cramped, like I had cramp-ons underneath there, tensing everything. I remembered: Oh, this was why. This was why I stopped.

A quick digression: It appears that maybe I haven’t written here about the transition I made away from drinking caffeinated coffee back at the end of 2009, also in response to a quiet little question that kept repeating itself to me: What if you didn’t have coffee today? We were in Miami on a working-vacation, and I was recuperating after a several-month (year?) stretch of driving myself into the ground. I crashed at the end of October, and that’s about when I went to the Trauma Stewardship workshop, and started thinking differently about self care. The first day I heard the little question, I got a cafe con leche (we were in Miami after all, and I wanted one more good coffee if I was going to quit). I heard the question again the next day, and understood that it wasn’t trying to push me into feeling bad about anything — it was just offering a possibility. I didn’t have coffee that day; I probably took some prophylactic Advil, to ward off the headaches. Over the next several weeks, I sort of weaned myself off caffeinated coffee — I’d get a half-decaf in my cup, or go a day or two between cups, and eventually I wasn’t having any caffeinated coffee. I drank black tea for a little bit, but then it was just green tea sometimes, and more often than not, there were days when I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I learned that Chris Knight wasn’t wrong when he said, “There are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing” and I ate a lot of crow, given how much fun I’d made of the decaf-drinkers in my life over the years. My body felt better, more relaxed. I learned that I could function without coffee, the drug I’d started using in jr high (even on tour!). I learned I could shift my identity as a heavy coffee drinker, and it would be ok.

Back to now.  I didn’t have a headache the morning after re-trying coffee, and, after experiencing the effects, I didn’t have any longing to start drinking caffeine again — except, maybe a little bit, my writing self missed that frenetic energy, the driving urge to get the words out, that barely-satisfiable ache that is writing under the influence of caffeine. Here’s the interesting thing, though: just for right now, I’m choosing the ability to sleep well, body-comfort and function in the rest of my life  over the momentary writing buzz. That feels like a mental health step. (That actually feels massive.)

There’s something enormous about learning to trust one’s intuition — about listening to those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise, that persist. Every time I listen to and take action on my intuition, I am not disappointed — and that quiet place of light in me knows that I am listening.

There’s also something about checking in with our boundaries/decisions, when it feels safe enough to do so: Ok, I made this decision several years ago to start or stop some behavior because it was good for me at the time — is it still working for me? Do I have to stay with this decision into perpetuity? Sometimes the answer is, Yes, let’s stick with this for now — and other times, the answer is, Oh, you know what? Maybe we don’t have to do this anymore. Let’s try it out and see how that feels. No rushing — no blame, shame or guilt. Just trying it out, and noticing how we feel after. No perfection, just practice.

Want to write about that some? Is there a change you’re thinking about making for your own self care, that would be a big shift in your life, that would entail some loss as well as gain? Want to write about both those sides for a while, 10 minutes or so (5 min for each)? Or what about writing about a decision you made to take care of yourself once upon a time that you’re now rethinking — what does that look like?

Thanks for your ongoing elasticity with your stretching, growing, brilliant self. Thanks for your words, your words, your words.

maintaining

stencil graffiti painted on wood, ornate pattern oovering the surface, with a break in the shape of a flying birdGood morning! I don’t hear the foghorns this morning — does that mean things have cleared up a little bit out there? I’m writing from my newly set-up office; yesterday I decided I wanted my desk to be a place where I could actually work, so I spent the morning tucking away the as-yet-unpacked boxes, filing papers and figuring out where books could go, putting up some artwork (thanks especially to Dorian Katz) — I’ve got the candle going, the good tea, I’m at my own desk.

And what’s next? This morning, I set my alarm early, and I don’t even remember the alarm going off the first time, barely the second. I actually woke up, broke open to consciousness, about 15 or 20 minutes later, and then the voice started going in my head. This one: Get up, Jen, get up! You keep saying you want time to write, and then you fritter it away in bed and then you’re miserable all the rest of the day. So get up–god! Just do it!

It may not be all that surprising that that voice doesn’t really inspire me to get out of bed, to stretch out of tired and could-easily-sleep-more (and might-benefit-from-more-sleep) and move into the cold air outside the covers and sit down in front of the blank page.

This morning, in part because of a conversation I had with my sister yesterday, I let the voice shift some — or, I asked myself, just somewhere in the midst of all that racket in my head: What if you talked to yourself differently? I’m sure I’ve wrangled with this in the blog here before — and it’s ongoing practice, isn’t it? So, I thought to myself, to the part that didn’t want to get up, that wanted to (and had good reason to want to) stay in bed: Good morning! Thanks for waking up today — I’m so glad you’re awake! I know you look forward to this time in the dark for your best and favorite writing time, and look! You’ve made that time for yourself today! I’m proud of you.

I felt something soften in me, open; I felt actually glad to be awake. It still took me a few minutes to swing my feet out from beneath the covers and push away from all that warmth, but when I did so, the balance in me was more toward gratitude and looking-forward and desire, and less toward guilt and shame.

Here was the conversation with my sister: self-care is maintenance work, it’s daily work, it’s every day. This isn’t really a revelation, is it? Don’t I write that sort of thing often? Haven’t we been over self-care here? But here’s what she said: It’s important to take care of ourselves even when we’re not in crisis — especially when we’re not in crisis! Once we’re in crisis, it’s “too late,” in that those regular maintenance practices won’t work the same way.

We thought, Oh. Every day? This was what opened for me: The self care isn’t just about fixing myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of control; it’s about creating a whole different sort of steady state.

It’s more simple than that. She said, “We have to brush our teeth every day, right?” And we laughed, but it’s deep — right. These kinds of self care are like that. Like a daily shower, like breakfast. Why can’t some form of exercise be that important, and that routine? Why can’t even just a short meditation fit there?

As I type up that paragraph, I know that there are times when none of those care practices work — days when showering feels like the hardest thing ever, times with no teeth-brushing or breakfast, when all forms of self care feel unavailable because I have felt like there’s nothing in here to care for. So I’m not putting this out there lightly, or with any blame/shame/guilt — but more like, Ok, you’re to the place where some regular, routine self-maintenance feels all right to do. How does it feel to stretch that daily definition to include a couple more pieces, something small, morning breathing, maybe, or 15 minutes of yoga or stretching?

There was something exciting for me, I’ll admit to you, in thinking about emotional/psychic/body self-care work as being as routine (and maybe even sometimes as boring as) brushing my teeth — you mean it doesn’t have to be some big psychological drama anymore, requiring lots of therapy and processing? (Note: Not putting down therapy and processing at all — they got me to this place.)

I’m sure I’m going to have to have this epiphany again, as I move more deeply into this different and new relationship with radical self-care. I’m so grateful to my sister for sharing it with me yesterday, though — and for our work, every minute, to be here.

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The possibility of a prompt: What are some pieces of emotional/psychic/body self-care that you (or one of your characters) want to incorporate into your (their) regular, daily schedule? Let yourself make a short list of small acts: 5 minutes of mindful breathing upon waking up? 7 minutes of stretching before your shower? 2 pages of journaling before bed? Some gentle inside talk-to-self as you wash your face? What other ideas? Just write down a few — then choose one and let yourself write for a few minutes about what your morning, your day, feels like after you’ve (or your character has) been doing that practice most days (doesn’t have to be every single day, perfectly) for a couple weeks?

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Thanks for your steady, flickering resilience. Thanks for the ways you make way to care for you. Thanks for your good words.