Stumbling Grudgingly Into Quiet

Today I’m thankful to be learning basic meditation.

I am keenly aware of stress.  If I let it get a foothold I flare and end up back at the rheumatologist, painfully swollen and only able to function at a basic level.  The last several weeks have been eventful.  In response I manifested several clear physical signs of a flare, though for once they’ve moved slowly.  I felt like my body was warning me what would follow if I didn’t regain control.  I decided to use the grace period.  I’ve been adjusting my daily routine and learning meditation basics.  Please know I’m not proselytising for any cause.  I use this platform to express gratitude in my own somewhat cantankerous way.   These particular changes have helped me.  Live your life as you see fit.

For as long as I can remember I’ve thought “I really should learn to meditate”.  I read Maura O’Halloran’s account of her time training to be a Zen Buddhist monk in Japan.  I found it engrossing, but I’ve never really mastered the feeling of emptiness.  I have an unruly mind.  It’s an asset for my work, but it also means that I notice every itch and feel the need to rein in my thoughts from their continual wanderings.  It’s the antithesis of a meditating brain.

I’m generally wary of alternative therapies.  I am willing to try those with a documented body of evidence in their favor.  Meditation, especially for stress management in autoimmune inflammatory diseases, is one such practice.  The pivot for me was accepting that I can’t expect to start with sitting quietly for 30 minutes in one go.  I am simply not wired for it.  I can, however, manage 3 to 5 minutes before bed, gradually increasing over time.  My runaway thoughts are not a liability.  I acknowledge them and return to the quiet.  I’m in my second week.  My hands are no longer swollen and the raised red spots on my skin have disappeared.  I don’t have an ultimate goal beyond trying to stay healthy, but this works for now.  I’ve used several apps to track my progress.  It helps me to quantify what I do.

Be kind to yourself, and your body.  You get one.  Finally, a well placed heating pad rarely goes awry.  (Blatantly sentimental picture below, because well, why not?)

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One Thing Leads To Another

Today I’m thankful for slight dissatisfaction.

I visited the older lady I help last week.  I think I’m going to call her “Julia” to avoid some of the usual linguistic wrangling I force on myself.  She didn’t need my help with any cleaning so we sat and talked for almost two hours.  She was fairly upbeat.  One of her sons is visiting this week and she is looking forward to seeing him.  She’s lived a full life, has an intriguing perspective, and is happy to help if she can.  I always learn something from her.

My experience is that every so often life can feel stale, and you evolve or flounder.  I’m generally satisfied with my life.  I enjoy my colleagues, my family is healthy and my ridiculous dog makes me laugh – especially when she snores.  My plants are still mostly alive.  All together, it’s a stable place to determine what might come next.  I asked “Julia” her thoughts.  The woman never says the expected.  As a result, I’m going to try completing some courses for a doctorate in forestry.

I say “try” because it depends on flexible I can be at work.  My employer offers very generous tuition reimbursement.  I don’t know that I want to pursue the actual doctoral degree (earning the post-grad degree I do have was a comically horrible experience that may one day earn its own post), but I’ve always been fascinated by the subject, I’m trying to live more consciously, and I’ve got the one life so I might as well try to pursue what I love.  Excelsior.

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A Garden Of One’s Own

I may be driving the subject into the ground.  I feel compelled to express my thoughts comprehensively.  All I can ask is that you bear with me.  Today I’m thankful for space to think.

One of the more useful aspects of retreating into silence is that one is forced to grapple with one’s thoughts.  Distractions are minimised so it really is just you and your brain.  I used what time I had to begin determining what I honestly, truly want, and what is extraneous.  I turn important life pages periodically and I think I’m approaching another.

I want a garden, divided into crops and flowering plants.  I can’t develop one at my apartment as I only have a small cement slab with a balcony overhead.  I need land.  With land would come a detached house, and a vehicle to haul garden “stuff.”  That vehicle would look better with a scruffy canine passenger.  I most want a garden, a house, a hauling vehicle and a dog, in that order.  I’ve figured out the “what.”  Now I need to work on the “how.”  It’s thrilling and scary in equal measure.

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Seeking Stillness

I did it again.  I apologize.  I’m still somewhat discombobulated after cramming so much travel into a short time.

My trip was a short retreat at a monastery.  I am not remotely spiritual.  However, I have yet to find any other places that offer such enveloping calm.  I love my work.  It can also be very stressful.  Occasionally I need to fully withdraw from my usual life and seek the quiet.  I’ve visited several different communities by using their retreat facilities.

This latest community has a moderately large vegetable garden.  I helped gather what was ready for harvest and sowed other crops for later in the year.  I tried to actually be helpful and not create more work for the overseer by my incompetence.  I’m not certain I met that goal but they were kind enough to remain silent.  I knew I’d needed to visit.  It wasn’t until returning home that I realized just how much I had needed to go.

Be kind to yourself.  You have one body and life.  Use them to maximise the good you do.

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The Scent Of Spring

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Today I’m thankful for lilac.

Growing up there was a massive lilac bush next to our house.  It was probably 3 meters (10 feet) tall and 5 meters (roughly 16 feet) in circumference.  The flowers were the classic light purple color.  It was one of the first things to bloom each spring.  There was smaller honeysuckle alongside.  When they bloomed together you could hear the bees from a good distance.  The combined scents were indescribable.  If I ever manage to buy some land and build a house lilac will be one of the first things I plant.

 

Groovin’

Today I’m thankful for dancing.

Growing up I was fortunate to be able to try many different sports.  I was bad at most of them.  My parents encouraged to find one I enjoyed.  They hoped skill might follow with enthusiasm.  It didn’t.

I am very reserved in public situations.  I’ve gotten quieter with age.  With that reserve came a reluctance to do any sort of “dancing” where others could see, as I was likely to not be very good at it, and I would feel self conscious.  It wasn’t until I was cast in a musical several years ago, in a part that required a great deal of dancing, that I finally stopping giving heed to what others thought.  I learned the routines and performed for the sheer joy of the movement.  I will never be a born dancer, but I didn’t stand out as incompetent.  I was satisfied.

I Miss The Mountains

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Today I’m thankful for hiking.

I was able to spend a few days hiking in the mountains several months ago.  I enjoy hiking.  I detest camping.  So when I say “spend a few days hiking in the mountains” it means it was more rambling after lunch and sleeping on comfy beds.  No tents were harmed by use.  We were at least above 2,100 meters (7,000 feet) the entire time.  The picture is what I saw each morning.

It was stunning.  I grew up in a very flat region.  It was heavily glaciated during the last Ice Age.  Flat really is flat.  I love the mountains and am happiest in them.  John Muir got that bit right.  I wish I could claim some ancestral link to mountain dwellers, but that’s nonsense, and my folk mostly came from marshy areas.  We’re people of the flat and wet.

Butterflies At The Window

Today I’m thankful for kindness.

I was visiting family.  I saw a butterfly in one of their windows.  It was caught between the pane and the screen.  My brother-in-law carefully opened the window and then the screen, releasing it instead of letting it die in the window.  Butterflies generally live only for a few weeks so it probably wouldn’t have been a nuisance for very long.  The screen is old and fits the frame badly so getting it up and down again took some effort and an extra pair of hands.  It was a kind gesture by a good man.

Playing In the Dirt

Today I’m thankful for gardening.

I have a bunch of containers on my patio.  They’re all flowers.  I didn’t know if I would be able to eat everything if I grew vegetables.  I might next year.

My grandparents had a huge vegetable garden.  There was an entire row dedicated to strawberries for me.  I’ve never been a fan of weeding but working with the soil and watching something grow is amazing.  At home we’d do yardwork but it always kind of sucked.  I’ve learned, that for me, the spirit I approach the work with is the most important part.  It’s probably grossly oversimplified but that’s all I’ve got.  I do think people should have a better idea where their food comes from, and of the amount of effort that goes into producing it.  Our county extension office offers community plots for a small rental fee.  I’m thinking about getting one for the next growing season and just letting flowers and veg run riot.

Clean Patios and Listening

Today I’m thankful for the old gal I hang out with.

I volunteer with a group that provides respite for caregivers.  I was matched with a widow who needs some help with housekeeping.  It’s really only vacuuming.  She might have me do the bathroom if she’s feeling particularly daring.

Last time I visited I trimmed down her plants for winter and cleaned up her patio.  One of her kids was coming to visit soon.  She told me everything she had planned because she was excited.  All I had to do was listen and nod occasionally.  Don’t ever underestimate the importance of interpersonal contact.  I was probably the only other person she’d seen that day and what she wanted to share was important to her.  Visiting with her is a privilege.