Filling the tank

In the wake of an especially difficult past two weeks, I’ve been upping my self-care practices and allowing myself to take some necessary time and space by pulling back from a few things.

Here are a few of my main go-to’s for self-care when I start getting depleted:

  1.  Sleep & rest. I allow myself to sleep more at night and rest more via naps during the day.
  2. Music. From listening to what I most enjoy to dancing it out in my living room to playing guitar and singing, my day is guided by music, and even moreso when I am physically taxed or emotionally challenged.
  3. Delicious & nutritious food. While I am closely tuned into what I consume and keep up a steady dose of wholesome, nourishing foods, I also allow myself to partake in comfort foods. Life is about balance and I practice to not to be too strict OR too lenient in my food choices when I’m struggling.
  4. Tuning out. When my cup is empty and I’ve worn myself out thinking and talking about a challenge, I practice to notice when it’s time to call a time out. Tuning out to a funny show on Netflix is sometimes in order. Again, life is about cultivating and maintaining balance. And in times of struggle, I practice to give myself some slack – but not too much slack – when it comes to watching TV.
  5. Getting outside. Being outside, whether in wild places such as the woods or simply for a walk around the block, helps restore my energy and refill my mental and emotional tank. Even if it’s a bit of a chore, when I push myself a little bit in order to get outside, I’m always glad I did once I get out there.
  6. Self-expression. On a regular and ongoing basis, my medium for self-expression comes through the art of writing. Even if I’m not feeling terribly inspired to write, I need to keep picking up the pen. If I stop writing when I’m struggling, I’m in trouble.
  7. Knowing when to reach out and who to reach out to. This is key. Reaching out for support is not a sign of weakness or defeat. In fact, asking for support is a sign of strength and resiliency. It’s also important to know who I can trust in to hold space for me and who I can really rely on when the going gets tough.
  8. Keeping my practice going. By practice I am referring to my daily sitting meditation practice and my daily mindfulness practices. If I let my daily morning sit slide off, it will effect my foundation for the rest of the day. Even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like doing it – even when the quality of my sit is poor – I keep on sitting. And I keep investing in: my daily gratitude practice; reciting my meal verse; pausing to take a breath when my home mindfulness bell chimes; smiling practice; cultivating joy; and tuning into my breath, body, and feelings throughout the day.
  9. Taking a break. This takes many forms. When my energy is waning and my internal gas tank is low, I often take a break from reading the news, so that I am not further depleting myself. I often take a break from participating in meetings or events that are taxing and/or have an element of difficulty embedded into them. And I will sometimes take a break from social gatherings or other such gatherings where I might be otherwise energetically dispersed.

These are some of the ways I restore harmony within myself. If you feel called to share what you do to help replenish and restore, I’d really enjoy hearing from you in the comments section below.

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Forehead to the Ground

When I bend down
and touch my forehead to the ground
in gratitude,
I am pretty sure the
aging leaves still clinging
to the two elm trees in the backyard
murmur in resonance.

I am pretty sure
it calls birds in closer and
inspires the squirrels
to lean in to listen more intently
and the roots of the front yard
mountain ash to dig down a little deeper.

I am pretty sure
a shifting in the air can be felt
and the moon in her wisdom clad gown
sits a touch more upright
in her royal posture.

A Difficult Week

Last week, I attended our local fall retreat up on the Flathead Lake. (This “peace is every step” pumpkin was a pic I took at said retreat.) Part of me wants to offer my typical post-retreat accounting here on this blog. But a bigger part of me has little interest in doing so. And part of me wants to tell you why I don’t have interest in relaying my retreat field notes and part of me doesn’t.

Instead, I think I’ll say this: it’s been a hard week. The hardest I’ve had in a very long time.

Over the last few days, it’s been interesting relaying this truth to people who have casually asked: how’s it going? I am someone who is interested in not answering on auto pilot with such empty responses such as: fine and good when confronted with that how are you question. However, I’m also interested in being brief. It’s a challenge, to say the least. On the best of weeks I am at a loss for how best to answer this question in such a way that is honest and also quick and to the point.

When I’ve told people: this week has been hard or I am being really challenged this week it solicited a range of responses I did not care for being on the receiving end of. It puts me in touch with how poorly skilled we are as a human collective to listen deeply and to respond in the spirit of interbeing.

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Face to stone, heart to flames

All I said in response was:
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”
And with that, he brandished the sword
of ancient male domination.
He unsheathed it from its hiding place
and held it to my neck and said:
I am the elder. This is what we’re doing.
This is not up for discussion.

His words thundered down from on high.
They were coarse and sterile
and befitting a great tyrant.
His eyes were wide as he spoke
and it was clear that I was not welcome
to proceed.

I’d like to say I defended myself.
That I picked up my own sword and
thrusted back.
But I didn’t.
Instead, my face turned to stone
and my heart turned to flames.
I said: Yep, got it, and walked away,
seething with a rage I didn’t know
I could feel.

I let him win.

I regret my inaction to speak up.

It won’t happen again.

Working Skillfully with Sexual Energy (2 of 2)

This is part 2 of this thread, to read part 1 please see previous post.

Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy.

When I read this part of the Third Mindfulness Training, I think to myself: What does appropriate mean? This is an important inquiry to investigate for our self. There is a good reason both the Five & the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in the Plum Village tradition offer a limited description for each one. As practitioners, our focus is on developing an ever-deepening relationship with our own self. While it’s true that we as humans are interconnected and share many similarities in functioning and feeling, we are also each a little different too. We need to use our own intelligence, our own experiences, and our own levels of discernment in order to discover what works for us, as an individual, and what doesn’t. The reason the trainings don’t go into specific detail in regards to how to act most skillfully in our daily life is because there are a myriad of ways to do life. And in this context it means: there are a myriad of appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and we must discover what works for us – and also those around us – and what doesn’t.

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Working Skillfully with Sexual Energy (1 of 2)

Nocturnal downpour
Wakes the lovers,
Floods the valley.

Making love is natural. Why be ashamed of it?

That seems simple, but it is actually a great challenge in these complex times. Too many other layers of meaning have been imposed upon sex. Religions straitjacket it, ascetics deny it, romantics glorify it, intellectuals theorize about it, obsessives pervert it. These actions have nothing to do with lovemaking. They come from fanaticism and compulsive behavior. Can we actually master the challenge of having lovemaking be open and healthy?

Sex should not be used as leverage, manipulation, selfishness, or abuse. It should not be a ground for our personal compulsions and delusions.

Sexuality is an honest reflection of our innermost personalities, and we should ensure that its expression is healthy. Making love is something mysterious, sacred, and often the most profound interaction between people. Whether what is created is a relationship or pregnancy, the legacy of both partners will be inherent in their creation. What we put into love determines what we get out of it.

– from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, by Ming-Dao Deng

 

Next Monday, I am scheduled to give a teaching style talk on the topic of working skillfully with sexual energy at our local sangha Be Here Now.  My talk is also intentionally paired with our next installment of Mindful Community Conversations on Thursday October 3rd, which is centered on the same topic thread and will feature a 4-person panel.

This topic has been on my mind to delve more into for quite a while now, especially as I continue to hear from young, single sangha members about the trials and tribulations of the dating scene. There is so much to bring into the light of our awareness and out of stigma and shadow when it comes to sexual relationships. And I don’t mind telling you that I’ve not known quite where/how to start until recently. But starting somewhere is better than not starting at all, so this is our sangha giving it a go.

I plan on focusing on these two specific parts of the Third Mindfulness Training in our Plum Village mindfulness tradition:

– Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct…

Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy.

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Morning Fire

6am.

Full moon soaring like a child’s heart that doesn’t yet know to keep it buckled up for safety. I started a fire out back – the best decision I’ve made in a long time – with the rich supply of sticks and thickened branches from our recently fallen elm limb.

When I lift my gaze, I can see both points of light cutting through the slowly lifting darkness. Sticks burn quick, so I’m up resupplying the blaze in frequent intervals.

My long hair will carry the scent of burning wood well into the day, perfuming the air in my wake until I shake it loose when next I shower. A badge of honor to be sure.

7am.

I’ve reinvigorated the fire with more sustainable fuel so that I can draw this grace-filled morning out a little while longer.

A backdrop of crows and the snap, popping of the fire stood in for my morning chant, as I sat in meditation in the glow of the flames and the sinking moon.