Category Archives: Rest

Take it Easy

ericaspens

image by Eric

I’d planned to write a post today about meeting Cheryl Strayed. I got up early, did my morning pages, took a long walk with Eric and the dogs, and then spent the rest of the morning doing laundry, going through my email inbox, sweeping, putting clean sheets on the bed, and straightening up the house. I am teaching a yoga class this evening, so I also need to prepare just a few quick things for it, then teach it of course. I realized somewhere around lunch time that I only had enough energy to either write a blog post or teach my yoga class.

In the not so recent past, I would have pushed myself to do both. I wouldn’t have listened when my body whispered, “it was a long week, and I sure am tired.” I would have listened instead to the pushy voice that insisted I plan out a whole new class for this evening because a few people coming may have already been there when I practice taught the same series, that I should write a blog post too, go on the afternoon walk with the dogs, do a little bit of CSU work that had come up late in the day Friday instead of waiting until Monday, start tomorrow’s blog post and even Monday’s if I had time — to do all the things.

Instead, I’m doing what is best for me. I’m going to rest this afternoon instead of putting a bunch of energy into writing about Cheryl Strayed, even though it’s something I want to do. I’m going to teach the class I’ve learned and am comfortable with so I can teach this first time with greater ease. I’m going to let Eric walk the dogs in the afternoon heat while I take a nap. It might seem like a small shift, but for me it’s revolutionary.

Wishcasting Wednesday

homeskyFor today’s wishcast, Jamie asks, “What risk do you wish to take?” I am immediately reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from Muriel Rukeyser,

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.

I wish to risk telling the truth. Telling my story even though it’s often embarrassing and messy and hard, leaning in and letting go, loving myself, being my own best friend, “willing to be stone stupid,” showing up not knowing and unprepared, keeping my heart open, raw and tender, being vulnerable, willing to be wounded.

The truth today is that I am taking another sick day, and as soon as I finish this I will lie down and maybe stay like that the rest of the day, still tired and achy, tender and sad, feeling like I am right at my edge but finally willing to stop, be still, take care of myself, no matter what anyone else might think about that, even as I am working with feeling guilty, a sharp shame surrounding my suffering, my need to rest, that even though it’s my 20th wedding anniversary today a part of me still wonders “does he love me?” and needs to be reassured.

Sick Day

darntoughI have so much I want to tell you, kind and gentle reader, but I’ve been fighting with the crud for the past week and today it’s winning. I cancelled working out with my trainer and slept in, emailed work and apologized about the meeting I’m missing. My to-do list looks like this: a dose of Emergen-C with grapefruit juice, hot bath, clean pjs, soup, and back to bed. It’s also Kelly’s birthday, she would have been 41 today, and the sunrise was so amazing I just stood at the window saying “whoa” over and over again, so I’m really sad too. My socks might say “darn tough,” but I’m feeling awful tender.

Day of Rest

cdj03I was on retreat this weekend, an at home virtual retreat with the Open Heart Project that ended this morning. Susan always schedules our time allowing space for creativity and rest, along with dharma talks, meditation, and discussion. Every retreat for me, no matter the type — writing, meditation, creativity, etc. — always brings into stark focus whatever I am currently working with. What I saw on this retreat is that I suck at rest, that I am trying too hard.

How strange that the thing I struggle with the most is ease, that the most difficult part of this retreat was rest, the time we were given to relax. My pattern, my current preference is effort, pushing and striving, when the truth is I need to practice relaxing, sinking, settling, letting go, being rather than doing. And even as I know this, I still strive to get “there.” I think I have to keep moving, that if I stop, even for a second, everything will fall apart.

It’s as if I’m swimming the river, moving as if I’m in a race or being chased by a school of hungry piranhas. I spend so much time and money and effort learning new ways to move through the water. I practice all the different competitive strokes — freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly — read books about swimming technique, buy all the latest performance gear, watch videos of the greats talking about their practice, hire a coach, join a team, take private lessons, dig a pool in my backyard, get up early to swim laps… All to learn the exact wrong way to move. From time to time when I get too exhausted to go any further, I cling to the side to rest, grasping at roots and dirt, gulping air, wondering what I am doing wrong, what trick I’m missing.

I need to learn to float, to lean back, stretch out my arms, relax my legs, sink until the water catches and holds me, my ears just under the surface where it’s quiet, my eyes looking towards the sky, my breath even.

cdj06Instead I continue to struggle, to act out my confusion, my path this particular suffering. I used to be depressed and sad, stuck, paralyzed, and would beat myself up for being lazy, worthless. Then I woke up, started to work, to try, to give, to offer — and here I am still smashing myself to bits for not being enough.

The first thing we often do when we meditate together in the Open Heart Project is to make an offering. This offering can be something literal, like a flower or an orange or incense, anything that would be pleasing to the senses, but the offering can also simply be your current state, like maybe you are confused or tired or hungry or sad, and you offer that. When we meditated together the first time this weekend, my offering was how hard I try. Just thinking about it made me start crying. When I can’t even think about or say something without crying, I know it’s a tender spot, a truth worth being curious about.

Later we practiced loving-kindness, “metta” meditation together. The simplest way to describe the practice is you offer loving-kindness first to yourself, then a loved one, then a neutral person or stranger, then an enemy, and finally all beings. When Susan instructed us to start, to begin to focus on our self, the first thing she said was, “I know how hard you try.” More tears. This is the truth for me right now, I am trying so hard, and I am so tired, and still I am being so hard on myself, and it doesn’t have to be like this.

wherelifehappens“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” I don’t know who to attribute that phrase to, but I’ve heard it applied to each of my practices, (except maybe dog, but it’s true there too). Practice is never just about what’s happening on the mat, the cushion, the page, or the walk, it’s about everything. I am coming out of this retreat carrying a deep knowing, clear about a fundamental truth — I need to balance my effort with ease.

This came to me today during our creativity session,

Rest in your longing, as the mountains do.
Keep your heart open and wait, like the sky does for morning.
Listen to songs that put you in touch with your breathing.
Hold your love in the stillness of your soft animal body.

I don’t really know how to end this post, maybe because I’m in the particular fog that is post retreat, maybe because I am still living it — but maybe I could say that about everything I write, anything I post here. What I am learning is something I’m still working out. So, for now, I’m going to hit publish and go walk my dog. May you have a day filled with rest, kind and gentle reader.

Gratitude Friday

1. A short trip to visit family in Oregon. I only get to see them once a year, and miss them like crazy, so am glad to finally be able to go, even though I’m going to miss my boys.

2. Peach Pie Oatmeal.

3. Sleeping in, the double white noise of the sound machine and the whole house fan, Sam curled up next to me, no where I need to be, nothing I need to do.

4. Places that are old, but still vibrant, that remind me of good memories, places and times that no longer exist.

jbsphone5. Rain on a really muggy, hot day, the way a storm clears the air, waters the garden, and cools everything down.

Bonus Joy: Sweet Sam. I was depressed this week, lonely for Dexter, and Sam is really good at softening that hurt.

sweetsam

Day of Rest

We just got back from spending three nights at a cabin up at Crystal Lakes. After losing Dexter, we needed to get away to the green and the quiet, spend some time just the three of us, hit the reset button.

The cabin is called Lofty Lookout, and it has a gate at the end of a long driveway lush with aspens and wildflowers that hides the house from the main road (when Eric saw that, he said “I approve”), and is four floors high (basement, main floor, sleeping loft, and another sleeping loft). It was way too big for the three of us, but we rented it because of the location and the decks.

The view was amazing, there were hummingbirds at the feeder all day, and we could walk out the front door and land directly on a five mile hiking trail that wound through pine trees, aspen groves, and meadows. At the sight of one spot along the trail, filled with aspens and wildflowers, Eric said “you almost expect a unicorn to come walking out of there.”

We hiked every morning, took naps every afternoon. I watched some HGTV and one day read an entire book, Neil Gaiman’s latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was a wonderful book, but I’m biased because I love everything he writes — graphic novels, adult fiction, children’s books, essays, blog posts. One of my favorite parts of the book was this,

I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I have understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke the language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.

The land, the trails and the trees and the sky here in Colorado are magical. The time spent there was medicine, and yet I wasn’t without suffering, wasn’t beyond generating my own suffering. As a part guard, part herd breed, Sam takes a while to settle in anywhere new, is nervous and worried. I felt bad at first for forcing him along, even though I know that doing new things is good for him, that challenging him a little helps him to become a more confident dog. He panted and whined that first night, checked on every new noise and sound. Then on the second day, just as he was calming down, he got a spider bite on his belly and I worried about that.

The first night, I slept terrible, between Sam’s whining every time we moved and us choosing apparently the most uncomfortable bed in the whole cabin. Then there was the night we were boiling water to cook some corn on the cob and something that had been spilled on the burner drip pan caught on fire. And that night when we moved to a different, more comfortable bed, I had to move the carbon monoxide detector (the little green light would have kept me awake), and unplugging it set it off and I couldn’t figure out right away how to stop it.

Then on our hike the final morning there, our car alarm got triggered while it was parked at the trailhead, and malfunctioned so that it keep going off, stopping and starting for who knows how long, and someone left a nasty note on our car window (saying things like “rude” and “extremely annoying”), as if anyone would do such a thing on purpose. So even as I tried to relax, to heal, I continued to generate my own suffering. I can’t escape myself, no matter where I go, no matter how far I hike.

On our last afternoon, we saw a hummingbird sitting on its nest. When they are making their nest, they gather up anything soft they can find and they bind it all together with spiderwebs. They do this so that the nest will stretch as the babies get bigger. I was comforted seeing this, because earlier in the day, a war had begun around the hummingbird feeder on the cabin’s main deck. We’d been enjoying it so much, how we could sit right next to it but they would come feed anyway, letting us watch. But at some point, things turned sour and they began fighting over it, guarding the feeder by chasing and attacking each other, even though there was so much food available there was no way they could ever eat it all. We are like that too, I thought as I watched them, so convinced that there’s not enough, that the only way to get what we want, what we need is to fight for it.

Every time I feel anxious or sad, irritated or uncomfortable, I try to remember what Pema Chödrön teaches about working with groundlessness,

It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

We cause so much unnecessary suffering for ourselves and each other, can be so confused, allow ourselves to get caught up in the anxiety of “not enough.” I am trying to be gentle, to forgive myself for that. Every moment I try and keep my heart open, to soften and surrender to what is, to notice the magic happening around me, to generate compassion and ease suffering. Some moments I am more successful than others, but I keep showing up, keep trying.