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Entries in self care (4)

Thursday
Sep132012

A Truce

At some point, you just get tired of being your own worst enemy and you lay down your arms.

I wonder why so much of my territory is preoccupied with guilt or shame.  Envy.  Fear.  Internal insurgents lob highly sophisticated rockets of self-criticism, as though let-me-think-of-all-my-shortcomings-before-you-do creates a kind of missile defense against the outside world.  It shields me every night while I lay down with the enemy.

It's time to surrender.

Not the white-flag, but the olive branch.  A treaty of delirious possibility.  The conditions of the agreement are non-technical and involve things like vegetables, sleep, blank paper, yellow running shoes, tenderness.  In order to embrace an imperfect union I will stop building settlements in unfriendly outposts.  I will start again, with friendship, acceptance, and love.

Let no one think that the birth of man is to be felt without terror.  The transformations that await us cost everything in the way of courage and sacrifice.  Let no one be deluded that knowledge of the path can substitute for putting one foot in front of the other. Centering is a severe and thrilling discipline, often acutely unpleasant. In my own efforts, I become weak, discouraged, exhausted, angry, frustrated, unhappy, and confused.  But someone within me is resolute, and I try again.  Within us lives a merciful being who helps us to our feet however many times we fail.

- M.C. Richards

Wednesday
Jan252012

What I Learned From Sitting Around

In December I was increasingly frantic and disconnected from any sense of well-being when a friend challenged me to meditate.  30 minutes for 30 days.  I was sort of desperate for any way to stem the feeling of walls closing in around me so I took her up on it.  I wrote here about the immediate experience I had of holding space for myself in a life that often feels like it's about doing my duty towards my child, my marriage, my family, and my job first. 

It's been about 45 days now and the strangling claustrophobia has largely lifted.  I'm not sure if this is due entirely to the practice of sitting in the mornings, but I think it's a positive element in a regime of self-care I'm trying to faithfully implement.  Some things I've noticed:

  • I'm not really good at meditation, at least what I imagine capital-M Meditation is like.  In a single sit I consider it a win if I have a couple of breaths where my mind is focused only on that moment.
  • My mind is like an unruly toddler, constantly flitting from one trivial thing to the next.  I don't tend to notice that in my daily life so much, since I'm constantly being bombarded by stimuli and expected to get things done.  But when I'm sitting silently in the dark, the speed with which my mind alights from one thing to the next is staggering.  I write whole blog posts in a single exhale.  And forget them on the inhale while I imagine something else.  It can be exhausting.  And sometimes, when I'm in the mood to judge myself, disheartening.
  • The Present must be just awful.  I mean I know with certainty, now that I've tried for a month-and-a-half to be in it, that it's not really awful.  But somehow my mind (all our minds, I think) does not want to be there.  Wants to avoid it like the plague.  I wonder what that's about.
  • Breathing is hard.  Maybe it's because I fell off the yoga-wagon shortly after Ezra was born, and so haven't had any kind of pranayama practice in three years, but damn if I can sustain any kind of deep, intentional breathing.  Even after 6 weeks.  
  • Thirty minutes is a long time.  Well, not really.  But it is when you need to do it - and your morning pages and your run - before your child wakes up.  I did 30 minutes every morning for the first 30 days, but in an effort to make the practice sustainable and in a belief that even a little bit of meditation is better than none, I've scaled it back to 15 minutes every morning.
  • Even if I'm doing it wrong, it's the right thing to do.  Mostly I just give myself permission to be a bad meditator.  Some mornings I beat myself up about it, and then I try to remind myself that it's okay if I'm not really in whatever peaceful state I imagine meditation is supposed to bring.  In a life chock full of somuchtodorightnowrightnowrightnownomakethatyesterday I am pretty sure there's medicine in forcing myself to sit alone and do nothing for a few minutes, while the sun comes up.
Wednesday
Dec142011

Breathing Practice

Sometimes it's embarrassing how long it takes me to notice the obvious. Even after I admitted in public that I skipped out on shooting a rare-ish celestial event (that happened right in front of me, when I was sitting there with all the appropriate gear) it didn't really occur to me that I should do something about this hunger for solitude.

You know, since I'm so busy and engaged with people in Very Important Ways all the time.

I was explaining all this to a friend Monday, and she challenged me invited me to commit to meditate for thirty minutes every day for thirty days. Just to see what happens. I recognize that a meditation challenge sounds like something of an oxymoron, but it had the ring of a good idea. As I thought about it I noticed, right, I need alone time.  I can make that happen.  I just have to decide to create the space for it.

I tested the hypothesis that this would be worth trading a half-hour of sleep for, and crept out of bed at 5:00am yesterday. It was nice, sitting there alone in the dark, even if the thing I noticed most of all is that my breath was shallow and uneven and I couldn't really moderate it the way I wanted. 

Inhale.

Exhale.

It's not as easy as it sounds.

I used to be very good at breathing, and I never realized it was the sort of thing you have to practice. But it was obvious as I sat there that I have forgotten how to breathe. That seems like a good thing to notice.

---

I'm going to try not to be too hard on myself.  I'm going to try to just show up for myself every day for a month, the way I show up for work, or for Ezra, or for meetings at school.  I'm going to try to remember how to breathe.  We'll see what comes.

Wednesday
Mar092011

Self Care

148.365 50mm f1.4 1/40 ISO 1600Life lessons confirmed for me last night, during my massage:

• Perhaps counterintuitively, a 90-minute massage is actually twice as good as a 60-minute massage.

• Long a devotee of Swedish- take-me-apart-and-put-me-back-together technical massage, I have been converted.  There is nothing like the moment of near-sizzle of a hot stone hitting your skin, and then the purposeful strokes of a devoted therapist raking the hot stone along your prone body.  I feel like someone took a searing meat tenderizer to me, and I mean that in the best possible way.

• The iPod mini may have been piping some kind of relaxing Braveheart-esque flute into the room the whole time, but anything that makes as beautiful a sound as these Tibetan cymbals deserves to be photographed.

The Endless Knot here, one of Tibetan Buddhism's Eight Auspicious Symbols, symbolizes (among other things) the union of compassion and wisdom.  I'm pretty sure I'd have more of both if I could have a massage like that every week.