Mindfulness

07/22/17 inspiration , Life , Meditation , Mindfulness , positivity , quotes , self-inquiry , Swami Satchidananda , yoga # , , , , , , ,

Digging One Well

I have always been a well-digger, by which I mean I have always had a lot of interests. I’m a naturally curious person, and at various times in my life I’ve immersed myself in everything from writing to business to marketing to politics to cooking and baking to homemaking to antiques and antique selling to Buddhism to yoga to meditation to fitness…

You get the idea.

It took me awhile to realize there is a difference – a big one – between an interest and a passion.

There are a lot of great things about being curious, but one of the downsides is that it’s easy to get distracted. The sad truth of it is that there are only so many hours in the day. There is only so much available psychic space in a day too.

The last fifteen years or so I’ve gotten better about sensing when I’m off track, when I’ve let my interests monopolize my time instead of treating them like a condiment to the meal of my passions. There are so many fascinating things in the world and they have never been more accessible to us than they are right now. What can I say? It’s easy to get sidetracked.

The Indian proverb above is expanded upon by Swami Satchidananda who explains it this way:

“There’s no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down. If you leave that to dig another well, all the first effort is wasted and there is no proof you won’t hit rock again.”

Sometimes we dig deep and actually hit water. In that case, we should sit awhile and enjoy the fruits of our labor, taste the water and see if it’s to our liking. Even if it is, there is no guarantee it will always be that way (and no guarantee the well will always have water – wells do run dry). And for the record, it’s okay if you hit water and decide to move on anyway. I’m a big believer in the idea that sometimes you have to get what you think you want to know you don’t actually want it.

Either way, it’s natural and healthy that we should re-evaluate our priorities from time to time. We are always changing. Every second of every day cells are dying and being born in our bodies, perceptions are shifting, we are accounting for new information by discarding that which is no longer true or useful and making room for that which is.

Well, I hope we’re all doing that. Jesus… I’m freaking glad I’m not the same person now I was when I was twenty, and I pray to the Universe I am not the same person when I’m seventy that I am now. That’s part of the magic, isn’t it? The knowledge that there’s a vast repository of experience and knowledge out there? That we are free to draw on it at any time?

I’ve dug a lot of wells, but the through-lines of my life have been reading, writing, and learning. I have never lost my desire for any of these things. Lately I’ve been sensing myself at a crossroads. Some of it is probably that Caroline, my youngest, will be leaving for college next month, and while I still have two young people at home (one getting his Masters and one commuting while he gets his undergrad degree), knowing the kids are all officially adults is a huge change that’s bound to bring some introspection.

But the truth is, I’ve never really lamented my impending empty nest. My children and I are incredibly tight (as those of you who have seen us en masse at book events can attest!). I miss them when they go. But there are so many things I’ve been waiting to do and experience and it really does feel like time.

So the big question for me is which well will I dig next? Specifically, how will I use my words to honor the things that have moved to the forefront of my consciousness?

Because I’ve always been committed to a joyful life. I’ve done some intense things to achieve joy and harmony (quitting a lucrative career with nothing else in the works, moving 3,000 miles to a place where I knew no one, getting a divorce), and one thing I can say with certainty is that I have never regretted a single one.

I’m incredibly fortunate to live in such harmony. I acknowledge this with gratitude while also saying for anyone else out there who feels the need for change that I have made conscious choices to live this way, and in case you should think I live a trouble-free existence (no perfect-life filter here!), there are sacrifices (I have no health insurance, as the sole breadwinner for my family, my income is sporadic, which can be terrifying, etc.).

All of which is to say you have the power to radically alter your life if you feel the need – and so do I.

In fact, I’ll let you in on one of my favorite secrets: THERE IS NO LIMIT TO THE NUMBER OF TIMES AND WAYS IN WHICH YOU CAN REINVENT YOURSELF.

Say that again for yourself. Believe it. I do.

I’ve always found it most helpful to work backward from what I want. Working forward from where I am now can be too intimidating. I’m not sure I would have known what to do with the advice to move 3,000 miles with four kids or get a book deal. But knowing I wanted a book deal meant knowing that I had to have a book to sell which meant knowing I actually had to learn more about craft and finish a book, possibly several.

So that was my first real writing goal: finish one book, even if it sucked (it did).

But I dug that well through five books to sell Prophecy of the Sisters. I did not allow myself to be distracted by other interests or by doubt or by anything but the shovel in my hand, the dirt I was throwing over my shoulder, the possibility of water.

So what do I want now? I want to travel freely and expand my writing to the areas that have been speaking to me lately. I want to continue living joyously and help others to do the same. I want to keep learning and being open to all the possibilities.

With  that in mind, I’m doing a lot of centering work right now to determine the best road to take for the next phase of my journey. I know which direction I’m heading, but I’m still charting the course.

I hope you’ll join me on the path. There is room for all.

<3

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02/01/17 Life , Meditation , Mindfulness , Politics

Coping Mechanisms for the Resistance

I was supposed to write this post at the beginning of the year. It was meant to be a kind of New Year’s post about moving forward in the post-election world. But the truth is, it’s taken me this long to get my head around what’s happened and where we are, and the hits come on an almost daily basis.

This isn’t a political post. But for those who are saying, “Give Trump a chance,” I can only say; have you been watching the news? The night he was elected I knew I’d have to give him a chance. Then he started appointing anti-Semites and racists and mysogynists and homophobes and even people who just don’t know shit about the job for which they’re applying. He’s got so many conflicts of interest it makes the allegations against Hillary (all unproven) seem like a kid stealing a candy bar. He has ties to Russia that could amount to treason. He is looking to roll back discrimination protections for the LGBT community and to appoint a Supreme Court judge who will vote to reverse Roe V. Wade, putting millions of women at risk for dangerous pregnancies and illegal abortions. He has alienated our allies to such a degree that they are scrambling to form new alliances with other countries and he has instituted an unconstitutional ban on immigrants based on religion – but not from any of the Middle Eastern countries that actually have a history of importing terror to the U.S., or (not coincidentally) from any of the Middle Eastern countries where he has business interests. Through all of this he has not issued one unifying, reassuring statement to the people of this country.

This man has already been given far more chances than President Obama was given by the GOP.

The time for chances is over. Now it’s time to fight.

But fighting takes a lot of mental energy. It’s emotionally draining and even depressing. In the real world (as opposed to Trump’s world where, when it gets to cold, he can simply decamp to the “Winter White House”, which is apparently the new name for his estate, Mar-a-Lago) we have to work. We have to buy groceries and take care of children. We have to socialize without giving the impression that we are a hair’s breadth away from screaming out loud.

And that all means we have to cope. We have to balance. We have to practice radical self-care while continuing to fight in whatever capacitywe can manage, because not fighting just isn’t an option right now.

hey girl coping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With that in mind, I’m going to share some of the things that have helped me over the past couple of months as I’ve sought some equilibrium. They’re strategies I’m going to focus on this year in my quest to remain sane – and dare I say it? – even happy while this shit show runs its course.

Meditation

I’ve written here about it before so I’ll keep this short, but it is unrivaled in its ability to open up some blank, white space in an overcrowded mind. It can be difficult at first (which I always see as a testament to how badly it’s needed, because if we can’t sit quietly with ourselves for ten minutes a day, we’re in trouble), but it’s so worth the small amount of time it requires. It gets easier over time, so stick with it. No special equipment is needed, you can do it anywhere, and many Buddhist monasteries offer free meditation instruction. In lieu of that, you can search this blog for my previous posts about it or contact me with any questions.

Compartmentalization

I used to pride myself on my ability to compartmentalize – focus on the task at hand to the exclusion of all else – when I was juggling work in an office with four small children at home. Now I realize that it’s just another word for mindfulness, which has been a cornerstone of my spiritual practice for the past couple of years. One of my favorite sayings is “The lesson will be repeated until it is learned.” And boy is it true.

In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes;

“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly — you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.”

Compulsive thinking is a disease, and it’s frighteningly easy to fall into it at a time like this. Learning to breathe into the moment, to truly be wherever you are, is a tremendous gift. It means that when you are using your mind (which we all must do right now), you are fully engaged in that activity – not preoccupied with fear of the future and all its possibilities, but focused on the action you are taking that moment. When you aren’t using your mind to take political action, be in the moment then too. Fully engage with your family and friends without looking at your phone. Really watch a movie without letting your mind wander. Spend a whole afternoon drinking tea and reading a book. Whatever you’re doing, be there doing that. When you notice your mind wandering to anxiety-producing topics, gently let those thoughts go and bring yourself back to the moment at hand. Sometimes it helps to really notice the feel of a chair under your body, the color of your child’s eyes, the feel of a soft blanket against your cheek – whatever you are experiencing in that moment. I’m nowhere near where I need to be, but remembering to be fully present and limiting the times when I’m in anxiety-producing situation has helped a lot.

PemaChodron sky-weather

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media

Listen, we need it. It’s part of life now, and if you’re a writer or another public figure, it can actually be a detriment not to have it.

But with all the political activism going on right now, social media can be a quick road to burnout. I’ve found that limiting my time there helps. I’ll sign on for about a half hour in the morning, a half hour in the afternoon, and a half hour at night to catch up. Then I really try to stay off and to be fully present in the rest of my life. Some days I’m more successful than others, but generally speaking it allows me to be politically active while maintaining a sense of sanity. Being fully present in the rest of my life is a reminder that I DO have a life beyond what’s happening in the larger world. And I think we need that now more than ever.

Physical activity

This has been a huge coping mechanism for me. I started going back to the gym again about a year and half ago, and although I feel much better physically, it’s also helped my mental state tremendously. I’m able to burn off some of the manic energy that I have in times of high-stress, and it leaves me relaxed and also helps me sleep well at night. Sometimes on a Sunday I just get outside and go for a walk. Being in nature helps. I’m lucky to live in the country, but going to a park is just as lovely and good for the soul.

Breathing

This might sound like a silly thing to add, but in times of stress we actually forget how to breath properly. Instead of oxygenating our body with full deep breaths from the diaphragm, we tend to breathe shallowly. The feeling that comes with shallow breathing goes hand in hand with anxiety and panic attacks. I use Darth Vader breathing when I feel this way. A yoga teacher taught me this technique; breath in deeply through the nose until your belly inflates, then exhale forcefully (mouth still closed) up through the chest and throat and out through the nose. It will sound a little bit like Darth Vader and you should immediately feel more clear-headed. You can do this anywhere! Just take three deep breaths like that whenever you feel anxious. All that oxygen will help take your anxiety down a notch.

Lastly, I would say to remember that everything is temporary. Everything. We have been through dark times before, but I fully believe the light is always there too. It’s there in the love of family and friends, in the common purpose we find with others, in the rising and setting of the sun and the ever-changing and unchanging ways of nature. We will fight the injustices that have been perpetrated and those that will come. But we must continue to live – and love – as well.

Isn’t that what we’re fighting for?
<3

M

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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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