For those of you who follow along with my blog here, you may recall that I sometimes use this platform to work on upcoming practice related talks I’ll soon be giving, usually at my local sangha Be Here Now, as it helps me to plan out and organize my thoughts about what I want to share. This time, however, I’ll be offering a talk to a group of volunteers with a local nonprofit called CASA, which stands for: court appointed special advocates. (From their website: CASA of Missoula provides independent, trained advocates for the best interests of children within the judicial system who are at substantial risk or have experienced abuse or neglect. We provide consistent, long-term advocacy until every child resides in a safe, permanent home.)
As I was asked to talk about the relationship between our energy output and our energy input, I’ve titled this talk Nourish to Flourish.
I’ve often thought about offering these kind of support sessions to volunteer organizations or in work-place settings, as both non-profits and many professions require annual trainings, continuing education credits or have wellness programs built-in. So, this is my first step in that direction.
I’d like us to start by having us all count how many breaths we take in the span of 1-minute. And we’ll try our best not to alter our natural breathing rate as much as possible. (Bring a timer and set for 1-minute – instruct folks to remember their number.)
Now, I’d like us to do 5-minutes of quiet sitting together, to settle into the room and this time here together, as simply a way to help us bring our attention and presence into this space and transition from wherever it is we just came from. So I’ll invite us to gently close our eyes and softly focus our attention on the sensations of our breathing in and breathing out…feeling as our chest expands and contracts….feeling as our stomach rises and falls…and noticing how we’re feeling, tuning into our body and our mind…(monitor time for 5-minutes, sound bell to start and end) (NOTE: I find that using the pronoun ‘our’ when doing guided meditations, deep relaxations, or in practice talks in general has a more communal and relational feel to it, verses the more common ‘you’ or ‘your.’ It is also has a less “preachy” or “instructional” air to it when I include myself in the mix by using the word ‘our.’ I mean, we’re all in this together, right? I’m practicing, too!)
So, let’s re-test our breathing rate. Again, for the span of 1-minute we’ll count how many breaths we take, without trying to alter our breathing. (Time for 1-minute.) Ask: How many people found that your number went down after the 5-minutes of sitting? How many people found that it stayed about the same? And did anyone find that it increased? It might interest you to know that the optimal breathing rate for highest functioning and good health is around 6 breaths per minute, with the medical norm around 12 breaths per minute, and the average adult is now breathing even faster, at about 15-20 breaths per minute. And severely ill patients have an even higher rate.
Research shows that fast breathers suffer from much higher levels of anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and high blood pressure than slow breathers. So one of the most beneficial things we can do for ourselves to promote better health, a higher quality of well-being, more resiliency, and more ease in our daily lives is to learn how to breathe deeply and slowly. Deep breathing also improves our mental processing abilities and helps with clarity, focus, alertness, and even bolsters our immune system and digestion. And deep breathing results when we bring our breath deeper into our body from our diaphragm, verses how we often breathe, which is primarily from our upper register, the lungs. So deep breathing involves our stomach rising when we inhale and falling when we exhale – and if you’re a woodwind player or a singer you’re probably very familiar with this type of breathing. I know for myself, when I started learning how to play the flute in 5th grade, my first private teacher taught me this way of breathing and it felt very foreign and awkward at first until I practiced with it for a little while, and then it became second nature. So if it feels strange at first, try to stick with it and keep practicing – it will get easier and more fluid and you’ll start to experience the benefits of this way of breathing.
In our daily lives in general we all expend a lot of energy, both physically and mentally/emotionally. And we all have a limited supply of energy in which to work with, which varies from person-to-person. So if we think of our own reserve of energy in terms of a fuel tank on a car, we know that wherever we drive and wherever we go, we’re using fuel to get there. And eventually the car WILL run out of gas if we don’t refill the tank – it’s just a point of fact. Without fuel we will break down on the side of the road. Well, the same is true for ourselves. If we don’t find ways to refill our own energy tanks, physical and mental/emotional, eventually we will burn ourselves out – we’ll become exhausted, stressed-out, short-tempered, ill-mannered, overwhelmed, and simply worn out.
When we have the added component of engaging in social work or caretaking for others who are in a marginalized capacity or we’re being surrounded by high-stress or traumatic situations, our energy output tends to increase dramatically, especially in regards to our mental/emotional tank. And it’s important to know that these two tanks I’m referring to are not separate – they very much interact and influence one another. So, while I think it’s crucial for all of us to find ways to refill our tanks, regardless of the jobs we have or what our daily roles are, it becomes more a matter of staying-power in terms of our ability to do social-based work or involve ourselves in areas of activism or advocacy. There is a higher propensity for burn-out in these roles. AND there’s a high need for people who are able to do this kind of work so it’s important that we are able to generate the capacity for staying well-grounded, balanced, and happy so that we can keep committing our time and energy to the things we want to do and to the people we want to be of help and support to.
The foundation of being of service to others is knowing how to care well for ourselves. We need to fill our own tanks in order to be present and helpful for others. And we can do both simultaneously. So, what does it mean to fill our tanks? What does that look like? For our physical energy tanks it’s pretty simple: we need to get proper rest, eat healthfully, and get some movement/exercise in. For our mental/emotional tanks: we need to make time to do the things that we like to do that will nourish us, we need to be connected with people that are supportive and uplifting, and we also need to cultivate a deeper relationship with ourselves. Getting to know ourselves better will enable us to determine which, if any, of our current habits and patterns might be detrimental to our overall well-being and help us to work towards transforming our habits that aren’t very nourishing into ones that are, which will also aid us in this refueling process – because our less skillful habits tend to drain us further of our vital energies. There are many other ways to refuel, too, such as meditation, having a religious/spiritual practice, being in nature, and so on. We also have the practice of slowing down our breathing, too, which helps us to fill both of our tanks.
And while these may be simple activities to participate in, it does not mean they are easy to do. If they were easy, we’d all be doing them already! Typically what happens when we feel stressed out or weighed down by difficult emotions, our sleeping and eating patterns get knocked off kilter – they are often the first things to be negatively affected, and they also happen to be the two most foundational elements for our ability to function well. So getting and maintaining proper sleep and a proper diet go a very long way towards refilling our energy tanks back up.
I’d like for us all to work together, now, in creating a list of other things we ourselves do for fun/enjoyment/pleasure that are nourishing for our well-being – or maybe things we’d like to be doing more of in this regard (bring white board and create a collective list).
(Share my own personal story with cultivating joy and how it arose during a time of experiencing an acute depression.)
(Share Cheri Maples quote, which helped to guide me along the path of cultivating joy: “May the things that matter the most not be at the mercy of the things that matter the least.”)
Maybe also share:
Rewiring Resilience (from Dr. Christopher Willard)
Each time you…
– Keep your mind still – SUSTAINED ATTENTION
– Notice mind wandering – MINDFULNESS/INSIGHT
– Detach from thoughts – LETTING GO/ACCEPTANCE
– Bring mind back – SELECTIVE ATTENTION
– Each time you do that gently – SELF-COMPASSION
(End with group sharing, offering the prompt to share about why they were motivated to volunteer with CASA and what they do currently to recharge their energy tanks and/or what they might like to start doing in order to ensure they stay well-balanced and grounded.)