If you have access to a sense of hearing, what sounds come to mind when you think of busyness? What do words like hectic, stressful and crowded bring to mind? I hear cars engines running, a cacophony of harried voices, the smell (wrong sense, I know) of pollution and footsteps stomping down the sidewalk or hallway in a clipped pace.
What do phrases like slowing down, living the simple life, relaxing and spacious stir up? My mind conjures notes of grass blowing in the wind, birds chirping, a stream softly flowing and insects at play on a summer night. I continue to watch live streams of nature scenes from around the world, and, more than the peaceful visuals, I’ve become accustomed to the instant feeling of calm that permeates my body as soon as I hear the accompanying sounds. In particular, the night-time noises from various animal parks in African countries and the rush of waves coming in on Hawaii’s beaches are the most soothing I’ve found.
It is a privilege to be able to enjoy slow living. What we often conceptualize as a simple lifestyle depends on pre-existing wealth or access to funds. I detest tourism to poor areas of the world that revels in the condition of life there as the “cure” to busyness, when, in fact, abject poverty brings its own forms of (often physical) suffering. To be able to be still and to be able to relax into the sounds of that stillness are gifts for which I hope I can be grateful and moments I desire not to squander.
There is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished with the quietness of the natural world. It is ephemeral, broken most often where I live by the machines humans have made. It cannot be stored in quantities and does not hold over from one day to the next. All we can do with it is attend it, open to it, and be in it as fully as the presence it offers us. The pandemic is stripping from me any vestiges of a belief in raw capitalism as a way of life; today I find myself pondering how many billions of dollars humans have spent on products designed to mimic, at maximum expense and minimum function, the enormous wealth that can be found in acts as simple as pacing my breath to the contour of the ocean’s rhythm?
My dog is much less anxious than I am, and his willingness to barge into situations head-on can get him into trouble. This past week was no exception as he managed to eat a few foreign objects and I was highly concerned he was going to have an intestinal blockage. Today, I got the best Valentine’s present ever when he passed the item about which I was most concerned through. I never expected to celebrate poop, but here we are!
The relief I felt as a potentially life-threatening situation coupled with thousands of dollars in costs faded from view was overwhelming bliss. It got me thinking, though, about how my mind works. I was left wondering whether part of the reason I am extremely anxious and frequently feel like I’m on the edge of disaster is because, when the storm clouds clear and the sun comes out, the physical response I feel negatively reinforces me to respond to the next threat in an equally overwhelmed manner.
I am much more punishment-averse than I am reinforcement-seeking, and this experience has given me possible insight into my internal experiences that might be maintaining that discrepancy. I’m curious what it would be like, the next time I am catastrophizing, to ask myself “how good will it feel when this situation is resolved and I don’t have to worry anymore?” I have no idea what I will actually be like when my own mortality comes to call, but I think it strikes me as the resolution of everything and I anticipate relief rather than anxiety might overtake me.
Perhaps my gratitude isn’t all feelings of joy because something good has occurred, but also the feeling of my body stepping out of fight and flight into a more peaceful state. I am so, so appreciative that my weekend might not be spent in the fullness of anxiety I had anticipated it being. What’s something you’ve felt relieved about lately? What is the balance for you of seeking rewards and trying to avert danger?
I reflected yesterday on the topics of abundance, gratitude and contentment. A manifestation of gratitude on which I wanted to act was to create a new category of “Writing Everyday” which focuses exclusively on building my capacity for thankfulness. My task was made easier when a neighbor went out of their way to do something nice for me.
My day started off chaotically as the roads were covered in icy snow and I made it to work with literally a minute to spare (I am the sort of person who is fifteen minutes early to everything, so being on time stresses me out!). On top of that, I had to juggle managing multiple situations in the moment while being internally distracted by upcoming events. By the time I got home, physical labor like shoveling snow felt like it was only adding to my burden.
I shoveled a path for my dog and to the mailbox, and turned to the sidewalk, which I try to keep open. It was then that I noticed it was already neatly cleared, much more expertly than the job I normally do. I felt relief and gratitude sink into me, not only because I could spare my shoulder and back potential injury, but also because it meant that someone thought well of me and wanted to help me out.
I decided I don’t have to try to extrapolate lessons or think about ways in which I should have been kinder in the past. For today, I can simply rest in appreciation that a simple physical action by another lightened my load and made it easier for the good in me to shine. Thanks, anonymous stranger! What’s was the last unexpected kindness you received?