Two nights ago, I was reminded about one of the fruits that has unfolded as a result of my practice of cultivating mindfulness and joy: the ability and capacity to remain mentally at ease, upright, and stable in the midst of challenging circumstances.
Despite feeling a bit overloaded with organizational and schedule related tasks of late, I agreed to volunteer for an evening school-related function at a local art gallery, as part of my stepson’s involvement in the literary magazine program at his high school. On Monday night his literary mag teacher sent out a long and heartfelt email, sharing about her recent health struggles that will soon send her to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota, along with her first and sole ask for parent support to help pull off their largest fundraiser of the year, which would be happening in 3 nights time. After learning about her health struggles, and other personal challenges she shared about in the email, and considering the late notice that would likely render many parents unable to help out, I decided to pitch in to help a little more than I usually would.
I volunteered to make and bring both an appetizer and dessert item, enough to feed 20 people (as requested), and I also offered to help set up at the event beforehand. This resulted in prepping and baking for 5-hours, until 9:30 at night, after working a full day at my nanny job on Wednesday, followed by going directly to the event for set up the next day, after another full day of work. Since we were rather short-handed, I stepped in to help manage and maintain the food tables throughout the event, as well, and stayed until the end to help with clean up. So, for a second day in a row, I immediately followed my 7-hour work day with another 5-hour set of active tasks. This would be a lot for many people, regardless of health status. However, with the added element of living with chronic pain, due to a nerve condition, 12-hour days for me are most often out of the question – my schedule of 7-hour work days twice a week are enough to put me in bed as soon as I get home at 4:00pm. I do have the capability, however, to pull it off when I need to, once in a while, knowing that my pain levels will be elevated for a few days afterwards in response and I’ll need to adjust my activities and schedule accordingly, in order to rest and recuperate my energy.
When I arrived at the gallery on Thursday afternoon to help with prep work and set up, after a full and active day at work caring for two boys under age 5, I was already feeling worse for wear. Based on the strength of my practice, however, I was able to rally myself and mentally gear up for action. I soon learned about how much time, work, and effort the lead volunteer organizer had put into the event, by way of gathering food donations from local businesses, prepping food and beverages ahead of time, and collecting everything necessary in order to pull off the food element of the fundraiser (which was a large and highlighted part of it). Since the event was being held at an art gallery, we needed to bring everything with us pertaining to the food aspect of things – from enough tableware for 100 people to serving platters and from cutting boards to dish towels. I was then even more inspired to find out that the lead organizer and the two other women, along with their husbands, who had invested the most time into food prep, and stayed to help from start to finish, weren’t related to any of the students for whom the fundraiser was benefiting! Two of the women were “retired” parents of students who’d been in the literary magazine program years ago, and the other woman was an engaged community member who enjoys volunteering her time, in a variety of different ways, to help benefit students and teachers. I was nourished deeply by their generosity, kindness, and support towards this high school arts/writing program.
All of the students in the writing program were there helping with set up and prep work. They were in charge of chair placement and raffle items and the sound system. They were dressed up and looking their best. They were invested in thanking all of us adult volunteers working behind the scenes. And they were the last to leave: washing dishes, loading up chairs and tables to take back to school, and making sure every detail was tended to. And, thankfully, the event had great attendance and was a fundraising success!
Near the end of the evening my pain levels were spiking, my exhaustion was peaking, and my internal landscape was deflating. I wanted so much to leave and go home, but I was committed to seeing the event through and helping to support these three other women who had poured so much of their time and energy into the event. They, too, were experiencing utter exhaustion and a strong desire for the fundraiser to end, so they could pack up everything they had brought and go home.
With the aid of my practice, I was able to buoy myself once again, for the final push of the evening. I invested my energy into smiling, interacting with my newfound kinship with the organizers with a sense of lightness and humor, and singing softly to myself as I went back and forth from the prep area in the back of the gallery to the main room (music is a great support and salvation for me). And it took some work for me to do these things, as everything inside of me just wanted to crawl into bed and relinquish myself to slumber. It took effort, it took relying on the strength of my practice that I cultivate diligently every day, to stay joyful and positive. Every time I verged on wanting to mentally throw in the towel, I practiced coming back home to my in-breath and out-breath, I connected with the sensations of my footsteps, and I alighted my face in a gentle smile – over and over and over again.
The transformational elements of this practice are plentiful. And as my practice continues, I grow even more intrigued, delighted, and surprised by the power it holds – especially in the midst of challenging situations.