Relaxing Rhythms (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I am grateful that I have nothing to do and nowhere to be. Days like this can sometimes depress me, but today I’m feeling cozy and calm as I relax. The shift in everyday life in the pandemic has strongly impressed on me how much internal variation I have in mood, desire for socialization, body rhythms and pace. I am most stressed when there is a mismatch between what my body and mind need and what life requires of me. Everything is lining up for a day of lounging around and I am here for it. What’s your setting today? How well are your internal and external worlds lining up?

A Pup in a Basket (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After finishing my work this morning, which went well but felt chaotic, I needed to stretch my legs. I went outside with my dog at apparently the same moment everyone else in the neighborhood decided to do the same thing, which results in him barking left and right as there was nowhere we tried to walk that didn’t have another pup present. It was not relaxing!

I came home and regrouped. I decided to put him in the basket of my bicycle and go for a short ride. I’ve purchased a trailer for him but am not convinced I can attach it to my bike without breaking the entire wheel system; luckily for me, he only weighs 10 pounds and fits easily into my basket. We biked past another dog and he ignored it! It felt so good to have the warmth of the sun hitting my skin and the cool breeze blowing on me as I navigated the streets in my subdivision. I came home feeling refreshed and my dog has been napping ever since!

Attuning to Nature Sounds as a Slow Living Practice

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?

Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?

A Softening Warmth (Today’s Daily Presence)

The weather the last few hours where I live has undergone a dramatic shift, with a cold breeze relaxing into warmer skies. I am always surprised and delighted at the breaks of pleasant weather that happen when winter begins to yield to spring; it’s as though warm weather was a myth I’d heard about as a child, stored deep in my unconscious, but inaccessible until the next season arrives. Walking outside without the immediate contraction of my limbs together to fight off the chill not only loosens my muscles but also perks up my spirits.

I decided to spend a few moments meditating in the sunshine on my porch. My dog is on a chipmunk-hunting kick so I had to leave him inside as his response to sitting next to me on the porch is hysterical barking and pulling. I have no doubt he WILL end the chipmunk if he gets it! Anyways, after shutting my eyes, my first sense that responded was that of hearing, in that I immediately realized how many birds were in song. I felt the softness of the breeze against my skin, coupled with the warmth of the sunlight. There was an indistinguishable earthy smell, as though my surroundings had been pulled out from a damp closet and were being aired out. As I opened my eyes, all I could absorb was heightened activity: my neighbor carrying groceries and robins hopping about my yard. The aliveness of it all sat well with me.

What do you like most about the promise and the arrival of warm weather? How does the shift of seasons sit with you? Are things coming alive or going to sleep where you live?

Canceled Plans (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I am enjoying a lazy afternoon, due in part because an appointment I had got canceled with little notice. I am someone who loves to plan ahead, so I sometimes get frustrated when things don’t go as expected. This week, however, I haven’t been feeling very well physically because of a chronic health condition, so being able to lounge around when I’d expected to be driving for hours feels like I am pampering myself. I sometimes think I have more fun making plans than I do carrying them out!

Have you had plans canceled recently? If so, did you fill the time with more “chores” or did you let yourself take a break? What would it feel like to cancel a plan you don’t want to follow through on, and take time for yourself?

When Tears Fall (Today’s Daily Presence)

This week has been super unpleasant and triggering. My PTSD is dramatically escalating in response to people acting unprofessionally towards me and I’ve cried more in the last 24 hours than I have in several weeks. It feels appropriate, then, to focus on my eyes for my body scan today.

My eyes swell to an embarrassing degree after I cry. Apparently tears associated with crying come from a certain gland in the eye and are both more abundant and less salty than other eye secretions, which leads to eye tissues (given that they are saltier) pulling them in and puffing one’s eyes! Knowing that my swollen eyes are filled with my absorbed tears definitely makes the entire experience even weirder.

For my meditation today, I decided to close my eyes and to imagine myself floating in a warm sea. I drifted aimlessly through the water as I felt all my tension flowing out of my body into the sparkling deep. I felt the sun warming me and, with my eyes closed, allowed the feeling of nowhere to be and nothing to do to envelop me. All I have to do today is stay afloat. Some days that’s all I can do, and it’s enough to be in the here and now, resting my weary eyes. What comes to mind when you think of your eyes? What self-care do you provide them? How does the idea of floating sit with you?

Carrying It All (Today’s Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I selected a card that focuses on meditation and relaxation for my feet. When I spent a few minutes thinking about this area of my body, the first word that came to mind was “work.” My feet are responsible for bearing much of the weight of my entire body as I walk. Their burden is heavy and I pay them far too little attention as a reward.

I’ve never tried a self-massage for my feet, so I found a massage resource and engaged in the techniques listed. I found the “sole rub” and “thumb circles” to be the ones that woke up my feet the most and made me feel as though they had been stretched and soothed. I was surprised to find that my ankles seemed to be carrying more tension than my feet.

I’ve sustained ankle and foot injuries over the years, and sometimes have aching in them, especially if they are in an awkward position when I sleep. I’m too quick at times to take an anti-inflammatory medication, rather than to slow down and check in with them with touch. I am grateful that I’ve been able to afford sturdy and high-quality footwear as I think that, as someone who is on my feet for my job, it makes a huge difference. What is your relationship like with your feet? What is your favorite way to pamper them?

A Little Song and Dance (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’m not feeling well today (again!), so I decided to play soft music and move my body gently to the rhythm. I’ve found a lot of comfort in recent months with having meditation music playing in the background, especially when I am engaged in creative activity. My dog instantly settles himself as well!

I incorporated physical movement into my relaxation today and found that my physical pain diminished as a result. Simply focusing on my body itself instead of getting lost in the stressors in my mind has a healing effect. I notice my muscle tension often lessens as well. How have you connected with your body today? Which music, if any, appeals to you when you are stressed or feeling ill?

Shrugging My Shoulders (Today’s Daily Presence)

Every card I’ve pulled from my Daily Presence deck, which centers on meditation and relaxation related to a particular area of the body, has felt serendipitous in its connection to what I needed that day. It was no surprise, then, that today’s card focused on the shoulders, an area of my body that holds much of my anxiety. I chose to focus on a progressive muscle relaxation to ease my tension.

Whenever I’ve participated in progressive muscle relaxation, the area of my body I cannot wait to get to is my shoulders. Drawing them up to my ears and then releasing them provides more stress relief than the practice does for most parts of my body. The muscles in my shoulders are extremely taut and inflexible, so I often repeat the practice several times. When I tried it today, part of my upper spine cracked and shifted, indicating to me that attention to this area was sorely needed. What area(s) of your body might benefit from progressive muscle relaxation? How does your body respond to the practice?