Mornin’ Joe

My morning cup of joe is what compels me to get out of bed. Sipping on my first cup of coffee is admittedly one of my favorite moments of the day, and I savor it. I’ve turned it into a whole ritual and while it’s brewing, I typically do some minor chores like make the bed, or empty the dishwasher, while anticipating my first cup. This morning, I change my routine up just a bit, and I like the change. So instead of doing my chores while the coffee is brewing, I practice yoga for 15 minutes doing a series of asanas in Sun Salutation.  And then, instead of getting on the Internet with that first cup, I grab my blanket, my steaming cup of coffee, and I head outside to enjoy this beautiful fall morning.

The air is crisp and cold. I settle in and take my time to be present with what is. I take a moment to focus on my breath as it enters and exits my nose. So cool going in, so warm, almost imperceptible as it leaves. Breathing, just breathing, in and out. I notice the warmth of my coffee mug as I cup it in my hands, and it’s steam rising in the air and mingling with my breath. I feel grateful for its warmth and the warmth of the handmade blanket I’m wrapped in, smiling at the memory that it was a gift from my grandsons. I notice my sense of gratitude for this perfect moment and a sense of longing for Chris, wishing he could be here with me. I’m reminded of this quote by Rick Hanson:

“By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.”-from Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

I notice the trees and the rooftops glowing in the morning sunlight. I notice the powerful singing of the birds chorus with the noise of the distant highway traffic serving as a kind of harmony. It sounds like thousands of birds and sometimes more like a cacophony than a choir. I notice how it suddenly becomes quiet for just a few seconds, and then the singing starts again, first with just one solo voice, and then the entire chorus. I notice my curious thoughts. Why so many birds? Do they sing at this time of day every morning? What time is it? I glance at the time, 8am. I know this singing happens in the spring, yet here it is, late October in Western PA. Is this typical for this time of year? I notice the squirrels scampering in the trees. I watch them climb and stop as if navigating their next step and evaluating exactly how to make the leap to the next branch. Do they have fear of falling? I wonder if all of this Life is preparing for the coming winter months. I settle and practice half-smile. I sit up straighter, I reach the crown of my head for the sky. I relax my face. I turn my lips up gently into a half smile. I take a minute to smile with my eyes and observe the feeling of serenity that fills my being. A feeling of contentment and acceptance washes over me. Sitting. Breathing. Worry thoughts arise. Almost a dread of being robbed of these leisurely moments of contemplation when I get a job. I notice the thought and how this worry thought of the future is itself robbing me of this precious moment of the here and now. I focus again on my breath. In and out. In and out. I notice my breath. I notice this moment. I notice a sense of oneness and belonging, of simply being.

As I sit here and mindfully write of my morning practice, it seems to deepen my experience. It is a good feeling. It furthers my resolve to keep journaling, to keep blogging, to keep practicing mindfulness.

A Walk in the Park Brings Joyful Awareness

I’m resistant. I don’t want to move. I’m spiraling down. I just want to stay put. I notice my lethargy and a dipping of my mood, for no apparent reason. A caving in sort of feeling. I know I ‘should’ move, but I don’t want to. I notice the ‘should’ and I notice it is justified. The tiny feeling of guilt I have of just sitting here and looking at social media is not healthy. I know to get rid of my guilt I can do one of 2 things. Ignore it, and it will eventually go away, or I can do what the guilt is telling me to do, in this case take a walk. I should walk, I want to sit. A balance of shoulds and wants. Past experience tells me I’ll get a boost if I walk and it also tells me I’ll regret this at days end if I don’t walk on this beautiful fall day in my favorite park. Wisdom speaks. Short term gratification vs long-term satisfaction. Yes, staying put will feel so good in the short term, and sometimes, that’s exactly what I need to do. But taking a walk will serve me well in the long-run, and being a couch potato won’t. Wisdom typically takes the long view.

I glance out the window. I notice the shining sun and some autumn leaves dancing in the wind. I say yes. I move. I step outside on this sunny, unusually warm and humid fall day. I begin my steep ascent to the top of the hill. It’s about a 3 minute climb. Heart rate speeds up, my breathing is more labored. In another 5 minutes I’m at the park. Another short but steep climb and I reach my favorite trail. I notice that I’m smiling and walking fast. Feeling joyful. I always do. I feel it in my heart space, this joy. It feels like a welling inside of me, like a flower blooming, and if I pay attention, it fills my being and I notice I am smiling.

I’m  an introvert. I can so easily get lost in thought and not even notice the surrounding beauty. If I’m not mindful, I’d never experience this joyous moment. I can get so caught up in my own story, in my own ruminating thoughts of past events or future scenarios or whatever drama is going on in my world at the time. So in my attempt to cultivate mindfulness on my walks, I’ve gotten into the habit of stopping now and then to savor what is before me. To notice what is – the smells, the feel of the air, the sounds, the scenery-and my internal response. This habit was further ingrained in me almost out of necessity when I hiked the John Muir Trail and had to stop just so I could catch my breath. Sometimes I take a picture, and later I move it to my folder labeled “walks”. Always there for me to look at again and ‘mindfully’ savor the memory. All we have is the moment we live in right now and it takes practice to cultivate living more mindfully. One of my favorite definitions of mindfulness is from Jon Kabit-Zinn. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Now is as good as time as any to practice being present.

Coming out of the Shadows

I fell asleep last night with views through my window of the star filled night and a bright crescent moon on the Western Horizon. I wake to the orange glow of the mountains as they are set on fire by the rising sun. It’s cool, almost cold. I hurry to make my coffee and wrap myself in a blanket and make my way outside of our cabin here in the ‘Back of Beyond’. I’m mesmerized by the quiet that envelopes this town as the sun begins to warm the earth. The silence is broken by the cooing doves, cawing ravens, and clucking quails. I savor these moments to be alone in this stillness. I mindfully observe the dove on the wire. She does not move, and at first I cannot tell she’s a dove, for she’s in shadow. She is still. She begins to glow golden as the morning sun finds her. She seems to soak it up. She’s watching me. I wonder what she’s thinking. I watch the jack rabbits make their entrance to my domain, their long twitching ears glowing in the sun, looking for some greenery they can devour. The quail family scurries down the road. The wildlife owns this sleepy little ghost town in the ‘Back of Beyond’. Life is indeed precious and I notice my deep sense of contentment as I watch the morning sun bring light to all that is in shadow.

I take time to reflect on the fight that Chris and I had yesterday and I realize I am in the wrong, for I uncovered him. I revealed something about him that I had no business revealing. Furthermore, I painted a picture of him that was far from accurate. I violated his trust. Yes, it was unintentional, but still it hurt him. We talked about it, and made our peace, but it makes me think of this ‘uncovering’ that people do to each other.

I think we know innately to ‘cover’ the nakedness of our spouse, literally and figuratively. And even for those we are not in intimate relationship with, common decency prevents us from revealing things about others we think may embarrass them. My grandsons of course think nothing is embarrassing and are quick to point out things like my soft upper arms that can serve as wings so I can fly when we play make believe. Oh, out of the mouth of babes. Good thing I can laugh about my wings. Ha!

But seriously, when someone does reveal their nakedness to us, are we inclined to keep it to ourselves, recognizing the gift that has been entrusted to us, or do we yell it from the rooftops perhaps to get a good laugh? Or maybe we just ‘share’ another person’s story to make ourselves look better or sound interesting not realizing we may be uncovering the other person? I hope it’s not the latter. Have we lost the sense of common decency in this age of reality tv and doing all that we can to catch someone with their pants down? I sometimes wonder. I often feel embarrassed for the individuals who reveal their most outrageous and embarrassing behaviors for millions of viewers to see. Do we encourage this by our voyeurism? As a psychiatric nurse I worked with individuals who often lacked insight into how much or how little they should reveal about themselves and to whom. I saw both ends of the spectrum. Some were so guarded they wouldn’t even tell you their name. Others were so open, they told anybody and everybody every intimate detail of their lives. I believe both extremes are desperate attempts of broken people trying to affirm themselves when no one else will. Are we exploiting people like this for our own amusement with some of the reality tv? Are we complicit in a further unraveling of their already fragile sense of self? “Until we learn to love others as ourselves, it’s difficult to blame broken people who desperately try to affirm themselves when no one else will.” ― Richard Rohr,  Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

But am I not doing the same thing? As I write my blog, I’m revealing parts of my most intimate self. But here’s the big difference. I am doing it with compassionate awareness. This inner journey of self exploration provides me an avenue to discover and let go of my false self, my shadow self, so that I can live a more authentic life.  It’s scary to put myself out there. I’m by nature more of a closed book. Fear of criticism, judgment, and ultimately rejection are legitimate fears, and my ego, my shadow self as described by Richard Rohr, simply wants to protect me, but it keeps me down. It keeps me from growing. It keeps me from experienceing the joy that can only be found by going deep. So it’s a fear I’m willing to confront because I believe by revealing my shadow self to the light the chains of bondage to my ego are broken. My ego does not like it. I can feel it kicking and screaming. I reassure it and say “it’ll be okay”. My ego is not evil, but it likes the status quo and resists diving deeper. I am learning to treat this ego self with compassion, for it is part of me. I am learning that the most important gift I can give myself is to be my own best friend which was one of the profound lessons I learned with this free online MBSR course. So when I look deeply into the mirror and see things I do not like, I am learning to be compassionate and nonjudgmental with myself. Blogging for me is very much part of the process of my growth and maturation, it is part of my intentional uncovering. I may only have one follower, me, but I’m putting it out there. This uncovering is humbling and hard to do but it is part of my journey to “know thyself”. I know how important it is for me to practice gentleness and compassion. Each of us has our own life’s journey. Some may choose to live an examined life, some may not. But life itself has a way of teaching us humility and sometimes when we see the truth of ourselves, it hurts.

I found it hard to acknowledge that I hurt Chris, and I initially denied it, and instead blamed him. I did not want to see myself as a hurtful person. I felt vulnerable and fearful of abandonment and my ego defenses were simply trying to protect me from further pain. Things like denial and anger and blaming feel so much better than vulnerability and abandonment. But when I owned it and humbly acknowledged my hurtful behavior, it allowed for healing and growth for both of us.

So yes, it is true that when my nakedness is revealed, I feel vulnerable and alone, and my ego defenses go up, but when enveloped with love and compassion and acceptance, my defenses dissolve and I feel free and authentic and relieved. And if I really pay attention, I notice an expansion of my heart space. Until next time – Diane

 

Sweet Reunion

I let out a small shriek when someone grabs me from behind at the Las Vegas baggage claim. Imagine my delight at seeing my sweetie after a whole month. He goes the extra mile for me by coming in to see me when it would have been so much easier for him to wait in his car at the curb. We hug, it’s hot, but bearable. I’m really happy to see him. We see a rainbow from the Santa Fe Station hotel window. A sign of good times ahead. I feel joy, genuine joy. I’m glad. I missed him more than I knew. Being back in PIttsburgh with my family, especially my kids and grandkids was better than I expected. I feel blessed. I already miss Pittsburgh and it’s green lush beauty, and parks, and eateries. But I especially miss my family. I am glad I got to spend good quality time with all of them and to have them all together in Pittsburgh was such a joy. I have polar opposite home sites, that have both grabbed my heart. The land, the people, the beauty! So yes, there will be turmoil as I leave one to join the other. I fall in love with both places even more as I see it through the eyes of others….Darwin through the townspeople that have made it home, and this last visit to Pittsburgh even more so as I viewed it through the newcomers, my daughter and her husband.

Now I’m back in Darwin, the place that is the ‘Back of Beyond’. Flew from Pittsburgh on Wed via SW, with a brief layover in Chicago. We are greeted by burro’s as we arrive in Darwin and make our way to Patti and Michael’s to let them know we are home. They invite us in for a glass of wine or 2, and even offer us dinner, which we accept. We’re tired after a long drive through the sweltering heat of Death Valley. It’s cooler here in Darwin, and Chris says it’s cooler than it had been. Chris has done some work and cleaned the place. The windowsills are stained. The washer is hooked up. The petunias are still alive. The windows and floors have been washed….better than I ever did. I am happy to be home. We wake early this morning, I reorganize a few cupboards to make room for our groceries. We enjoy our coffee in the cool shade outside in front of the house. We watch the jackrabbits. We talk. We sit in quiet comfort. We take a hike out to meditation hill and the burro’s watch us carefully, pawing at the earth, and braying on occasion. They quiet and stand like sentry watching us as we do our mindful moving meditations.

I face them as I stand in mountain pose and allow myself to take them in and all that surrounds me. I notice the dry air as it fills my nostrils and sinks into my lungs. We are happy and content. We’ve already easily fallen back into our routine.