I gave a talk at the Open Sky Sangha in Kalispell, Montana last night, Thursday June 14th. (Open Sky is one of the sister groups of my home sangha Be Here Now.) Below is what I wrote out ahead of time, to help me prepare for the talk. If you’d prefer to listen to the audio recording, vs. reading it, you can venture here:
Title: Creating Balance
Subtitle: Cultivating self-care while also staying active and engaged in the world
Last month, for the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, I went on a solo sojourn and stayed in the Mission Lookout Tower, which is just outside of Swan Lake. So, for 5 nights and 6 days, I situated myself 40-feet up off the ground in a 15X15 glass nest perch in the pines, with a 2-3 foot wide wrap-around deck, which afforded me sweeping views of the Swan Range to the east and the Mission mountains to the west.
I reserved this recent solo stay at Mission Lookout back in November, because I knew that come mid-late May, I’d be in need of some time of restoration and refueling of my energy tanks – and boy was I right! Prior to heading to the tower, my energy was sorely waning and I was feeling over-extended and organizationally meetinged-out. I recorded my debut spoken word album and had a release party and performance in March; I was one of the directors of our statewide spring retreat in April; and was in charge of our big annual community yard sale fundraiser at our mindfulness center in Missoula two weeks after the retreat – on top of working part time as a nanny, being a weekly hospice volunteer, taking care of my family household, having a regular writing regiment, and so on. And this isn’t anything special or unique – we all have a myriad of things that we tend to on an ongoing basis.
No matter how glad we may be to invest our energy into all the different things that we do, there comes a time that in order to continue doing those things, we will need to find, create, and make important the art of resting and self-care, lest we become completely and utterly exhausted and kaput. So, developing a relationship with cultivating our own sense of balance between being active in the world and learning how to rest and replenish is not just something nice to do, it’s vitally important to our ability to continue beautifully into the future – to keep actively practicing in our spiritual mindfulness tradition and in all of the endeavors we participate in: work, school, family life, social life, home upkeep, traveling, volunteering, recreation, hobbies/interests, etc. We extend ourselves out and about in so many ways and we can liken ourselves to a car: our gas tank can only take us so far before we need to refuel. If we have more energy going out than that which is coming in, we will find ourselves eventually broken down and stranded on the side of the road. And this is a position that is all too commonplace in our culture. We are a nation of doers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
The hitch in the giddy-up is that we are not well-acquainted with how to ongoingly restore ourselves. We don’t prioritize – alongside of: work, family, friends, and so on – the practices of stopping, resting, nourishing, and healing.
We all have our own individual fulcrum point, in terms of developing balance between activity and rest. So it’s important that you find what works best for you. And once we start angling ourselves in the direction of finding balance, we will likely start uncovering what that looks like.
I started including these solo sojourns into my calendar just last year, in the spring of 2017, and they’ve been a wonderful addition and support to my practice. To my overall mindfulness practice; to my practice of resting; and to my practice of nourishment and self-care. The tower stay was my 3rd solo venture since last spring, and my intention is to continue doing them twice a year: in both the spring and fall.
But these solo sojourns, for me, are only part of the equation, in terms of cultivating the art of resting and healing. They are a heavy, concentrated dose of water to help these elements grow and strengthen in my life, but I also need to tend to these seeds on a regular basis as well. So I’m aware that I need to trickle-water these seeds, too.
For me, this takes the shape of napping on almost a daily basis, having a daily sitting meditation practice every morning, utilizing a mindfulness bell that sounds in our home every 30-minutes, and stopping every time I hear it to take one full breath (no matter what I’m doing), prioritizing attending my weekly home sangha and our bi-annual local retreats, and spending time communing with silence, the outdoors & nature. These are all things for me that help to keep my tank filled up.
I recently came across a post in my twitter feed with a meme stating: If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit. This is really good advice, I think. And it makes for a lovely gatha, or mindfulness verse, that we can scribe down and post somewhere we’re likely to see it, on occasion anyway. Though, I would amend it slightly to say: WHEN we get tired, learn to rest, not quit.
Probably the biggest obstacle on our path of cultivating the art of resting – and really is the biggest obstacle for us when it comes to pretty much anything that we struggle with – is our view, which is likley why in the eightfold path, right view is often listed first, as our view is what sculpts and builds our whole world paradigm. Our thoughts, speech, and actions are all based heavily on the views we hold. As the Buddha said: With our thoughts, we make the world.
When it comes to the art of self-care and resting, many, if not most, if not all, of us have two main faulty views:
1.We think there will come a time in the future that will magically open up, where resting will become possible. The reality, however, is that everything takes practice and resting is no exception. We have to actively engage in cultivating rest, in order for it to happen.
2. We equate resting & self-care with being selfish, unnecessary, unimportant, or even a complete waste of time. In reality, to actively engage ourselves in the practice of self-care and restoration is one of the most altruistic and beneficial acts we can do for our loved ones, the people around us, and the entirety of the world. Truly.
We are all in this together – there is no separation, which means that when we are taking good care of ourselves, we are also taking good care of everyone in our wake. This is right view. And to strengthen this view and to physically practice it – and not just think about how it’s a good idea maybe some time in the future – is one of the very best investments of our time and practice energy. Self-care is not selfish, in the derogatory sense of the word. Self-care means to regard yourself with the same level of love and kindness as you would bestow on a dear friend, your romantic partner, your child, or your beloved pet when they are in need of support and tending to.
We practice for ourselves, and we practice for the world. There is no separation.