Leaves in the Stream…
Most modern humans see things from a self-centric viewpoint. It’s what we’re taught from birth. When things go wrong, we’re supposed to look for a lesson or reason. Most of the time, though, there isnt one. Life is just happening, and we’re there.
I believe that we move as participants in the flow of Life, rather than the focus — proverbial leaves in a stream. Floating downstream, the leaf is not the point. Nothing the stream does is for or about the leaf. Flowing over stones, between the roots of trees, plunging over waterfalls, these would all happen just the same if the leaf werent there. Life is like that. By accepting that this flow is neither for us, nor about us, we can let go of the guilt and responsibility of “doing it right“. By simply taking an objective viewpoint and moving in harmony, we are free to enjoy each moment for its own wonder.
However, if we perceive that everything happens with us in mind, life can be overwhelming. We begin to ask, Why me? Am I supposed to learn something from this? Should I have done something differently? Then guilt climbs in, and regret, and depression. While I believe that God exists, and is involved in our lives, I dont think that all of reality is customized for each individual. In most cases, something simply happened and you were there when it did. Most of the time, things arent about us. They’re just part of the flow.
Understanding this has freed me from the guilt and regret that I used to experience. It leaves me free to float, accepting what is, and to respond in whatever way seems best. I’m grateful for that.
It’s early October and the trees are decked out in fall colors. Night air is cool. Where I live, some mornings begin with frost. Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. As it passes, though, a tiny voice in the back of my awareness says, “The Holidays are coming”. That, of course, triggers different emotions for different people. Some are excited, but increasing numbers of Americans arent.
More and more, we hear people say things like, “I cant wait for the holidays to be over”. Some people seem to thrive on the scurry and hurry, but many feel overwhelmed. In fact, a Forbes article from November 2017 reported that a third of Americans would rather skip the holidays altogether. An article from the New York Post, December 21, 2017, tells us that 41% work too hard to achieve perfection, while 54% struggle to slow down and enjoy it. The time of year that’s supposed to be about peace, goodwill, family and friends, can often seem like a giant ball (think Indiana Jones) of holiday stress.
So, what’s going on? Where’s all this stress coming from and what can we do about it?
While there have been lots of studies on the subject, the simple answer seems to be that we expect too much. Think about that 41% who are trying to build the perfect holiday experience. In 2018, if you want to replicate that Waltons feel, you’re probably going to be disappointed. What about struggling to slow down? We rush to get kids to school and ourselves to work, then back to school for holiday programs. Between, office potlucks, cocktail parties, gift exchanges, church functions, and family gatherings, it’s easy to get to the “When is it going to end?” place.
In the midst of it all, there are some things we can do to take the edge off and get back in flow. As a long time mindfulness practitioner, here are some things that I’ve found very helpful.
You are the boss of you
You can say no.
Control your own schedule
During the holidays, our calendars fill up quickly. It can be difficult to make time for all of the activities. So, dont. Choose a few activities that you really want to participate in, and politely decline the rest. Leave yourself lots of breathing room.
Only buy gifts for the important people in your life
Parents and kids, of course, fall into this category. Pretty much everyone else is peripheral. You dont have to participate in every gift exchange that comes along. There are alternatives. If your leads group or book club wants to exchange gifts, you can suggest a group donation to charity. This will save you money, and shopping time.
If you find yourself in a moment of panic, freeze for ten seconds. Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Focus on the breath as it moves in and out. Allow your shoulders and face to relax. Feel that calm relaxation move through your body Take one last breath, hold it for two seconds, aaaaaannnnd….you’re good.
In every day, leave at least half an hour for stillness. A time of quiet mindfulness can be a marvelous therapy for stress. Ideally, a time of mindful meditation each week is excellent. Apart from that, you may want to vary your experience. If you like music, listen to something soothing. Shine your shoes. Take a bubble bath. One woman I know likes to iron. The soft sounds, fragrances, and easy rhythm of it are soothing to her.
As the holidays approach, you can use these simple strategies to keep stress to a minimum. Also, if you’re in the Denver area for the holidays, Selah Mindfulness is offering a limited time series of sessions called Holiday Hideaways. They’re designed specifically to address the stress that comes at this time of year. Click the link to find out more.
Lego. The magnificent, multi-purpose toy that enchants and infuriates us. Infuriates? Well, only when you step on one. Enchants? Absolutely.
You know the deal. You get this box with a picture of a castle or a helicopter on it. You’re excited, but there’s a catch. When you open the box and tip it up, your cool new toy is all in pieces. It may be the world’s most versatile metaphor: You can’t play until you do the work. Today, though, we won’t be exploring any of those applications. Instead, I want to tell you a story.
Recently, I met an incredible woman who shared with me some of the struggles of her life, and how she has weathered them. Then she told me about her autistic son. His story was not presented as a struggle, but a blessing. One of the things that she related was how the activity of assembling Lego toys was soothing to him. It was a thing that helped him to get calm, when things began to get out of control. Without diminishing the import of her narrative, I want to apply this principle in the context of mindfulness. Can such a mundane thing be thought of as Mindful? Of course.
In the modern world, the practice of mindfulness most commonly has two basic interpretations. One is to be aware of what’s happening around us at this moment. Hear the breeze moving through leaves. Feel it brushing your skin. See the grasshopper resting on a blade of grass. Notice the ripple of water, or the sound of a distant siren. The other is to focus on one thing. In meditation, most choose breathing, or a visual object. Some use mantras or a mala.
Legos can be used in a couple of ways. As you work to build the toy, attention can be on the actual activity, or on the texture, color, and other attributes of individual pieces. You can also observe the sound and feel as they click together. This is a great mindfulness exercise for kids, but adults can enjoy it, too.
One thing that I want to emphasize, before closing, is that everyone has something to teach us. This woman that I met out of the blue, had a marvelous story. As a guitar player, I used to get together with others to jam. It was always a fun time, and a thing that I realized very early on was that everybody knew something I didn’t. There was never a time that I didn’t learn a new lick or song. It was the same with artists. That’s how all of life is. We can learn from every single person we meet, if we’re willing to take the time.
No one knows the actual meaning of this ancient Hebrew word. Most translators interpret it to mean something like “stop and think about this”, or in musical terms “to rest (pause)”, which I think fits the concept of Mindfulness very well.
Another reason that I chose this word is because of a common idea that people have about mindful meditation. People tend to believe that Mindfulness is a Buddhist thing, and since it’s practiced by Buddhists, I suppose that’s true, but it didn’t begin there. The idea of thoughtful meditation predates Buddhism by many thousands of years. It was practiced by the Biblical psalmists and kings, and before that, Babylonian, Median and Persian magi. To be truthful, it’s difficult for me to imagine that anyone living in those times could not practice it. Without our modern modes of entertainment, there was either human performance or observance of nature to keep us occupied. Have you ever sat quietly on a mountain or beach, or in a deep forest and attended to the happenings there? Do you ever take time to notice what’s going on in your body? The beating of your heart? The touch of air on your skin? That’s mindfulness.