Reducing the stress of “too many things”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, that there are so many calls on our time. It can be stressful to section up the moments into fifteen minute chunks in order to move a whole lot of projects forward one more step, yet that is what is left to us between meetings, at work. It even extends to coffee breaks and those mythical things called lunch time. Increasingly, there is a list, or dare I say a backlog, of tasks that need attention ‘when I get a free minute’. What to do about that? I have a new strategy – think about it as ‘all one thing’.

It is a┬ábit of a mental shift, a bit of jiggery pokery, but instead of breaking everything apart, I’ve been grouping things together. A notion of ‘all one thing’ means I can put it all aside. All of it. The stress seems to come from the volume of stuff, not from the individual tasks. Previously, when I’d sit down to make some use of a bit of unexpected time, the whole list would loom in my head, all clamoring for attention.

“Me!” “No, me!” the voices would shout. “Pick me!” “Move over, it’s my turn.” The litany went on and on.

I am learning to tune the lens to smaller buckets. Work. Not work. Goals for the Day. Non Goals. It makes it much easier to decide which of the many drawers to open, and in which context. My focus is just on the thing in front of me. Yes, I sometimes need to switch to another topic, but again, it is just one thing. All a matter of perspective shifting. Useful nonetheless.

 

Conscious breathing

There is something renewing about being attentive to the breath. It settles the attention, centers it in the present moment. I’ve been noticing the character of different breaths, as if each moment of being aware of breathing has a flavor or a mood. Makes sense to me. Wherever you are matters.

The first breath of cold air in the morning when I walk out onto my porch is invigorating, sharp and bracing. The crispness is like biting into an apple; like the sound of ice tinkling in a glass; like the bright feeling of seeing my love for the first time each day. Sharpness does not need to cut. It can awaken me to possibility. Just this morning I noticed that the moss is growing greener on the stones in the garden. The first shoots of daffodils are starting to show above the ground.

During the day, I take a deep conscious breath every now and then, noticing how that feels. More often than not, it focuses my attention on being present in my body, sharpens the vision and gives a sense of stillness.

As I sit in my driveway, before I enter the house at the end of the day, that breath is more of a release. I consciously use a couple of deep cleansing breaths to let go of the day, and the things of the day before entering the house. That breath feels like it needs a little more focus. Some days it is easier to make this transition than others, depending on what the day held. However, being in the moment, and allowing myself to just notice how I am feeling, what I am thinking, helps put the thoughts and emotions into context.

For the next few days, I’m going to work on conscious breathing at different times of day, and in different places, just to see what happens.

Mischievous qi

In the morning, I like to do a meditation called swimming dragon. It is a stretch, a movement exercise, qiqong, and breath. Putting my palms together in front of my heart, there is a gentle tilt to the left, with the palms parallel to the floor. Gently, I move as far to the left as is comfortable, focusing on the middle finger of my top hand, breathing evenly and deeply. Just focusing on that middle finger, and the breath, in and out. Gradually, as I reach the stretch point, my hands tilt upwards, and then over to the right. My eyes follow the middle finger on top, the left hand this time, all the way to the right. My body follows my hands, creating a weaving, snake-like (or dragon-like) movement. It is a simple thing, to move the body, yet some days there is more stretch in me than others. Those are the days that I need the movement the most, to loosen up. The movements continue moving from left to right, upwards and downwards, gradually shifting weight from left to right, weaving the energy. It can take as little as a few moments, or as much as half an hour, depending on how I feel.

A teacher once told me that qi is everywhere, that it is life force, or at the heart of the life force. The thing that stuck with me, however, was their description of qi as playful, mischievous chaos, that breaks up the stagnant entropy, the sticky stuck energy that stops life from moving the right way. I liked that. Playful. Mischievous Chaos. It may not be a “traditional” way of thinking about it, yet it resonated with me.

On those mornings when I feel a little stiff, and less like moving, I think I need the mischief along with the movement. It gives me something for my mind and spirit to think about, and something for my body to be doing to be present with myself.

3 easy steps to helping friends organize

How to get started on dealing with household mayhem

It’s after the holidays, and your chum’s house looks like a tribe of Ewoks collaborated with a dervish of devils to make a mess that rivals a teenager’s room. What to do if you are called on to help sort it out? I’m not suggesting your own house is in the same state, though if it is, you can follow the same steps below to get started on organizing it. Our place tends to wax and wane, depending on where we are with projects, travel, and visitors; during the week, jackets and bags get dropped in our offices, and need to be sorted on the weekend and hung up again. We could just put stuff away as we come into the house, but where’s the fun in that. Colorful piles of stuff make the place look lived in, and happy.

Step One – go to the dollar store and get a batch (12 or so) $1 laundry baskets
This is the sorting mechanism – they’re a good size, have handles, and nice open tops. You can also use boxes if you have empties on hand. The container wants to be about 2 x 3 feet and shallower than it is deep.

Step Two – put 4 baskets/boxes in each messy room, in the middle, and label them. Add one big black garbage bag. Here are your categories for a general rough sort for the room.

  • Keep – you definitely want the stuff you throw in this basket
    (good electronics, clothing, gifts, unopened candy, bills to pay)
  • Recycle – someone wants it, just not you
    (include regular recycling like bottles, plastic, wrapping paper as well as old monitors, cords, CDs, old dish sets)
  • Shred it or file it – important paperwork, paper stuff
    (magazines, catalogs, letters, cards, memorabilia, medical records, taxes, paid bills, contact info, business cards, research materials, photos etc)
  • Undecided – we’ll make a call on this later
    (it might be something you want, or it may be stuff you’re not ready to let go of, shoes and clothes you don’t wear, misc stationery, left overs from projects, half a ball of yarn, old nail-polish, messenger bags you are not currently using, plastic cups, cutlery, colored napkins from a theme party)
  • Black bag – toss it out – it’s garbage!
    (open bag of chips, cookies, clothing labels, trash of any kind)

This rough sort has the benefit of reducing the piles of stuff to manageable chunks, and the trash gets taken out to the bin right away. I take the regular recycling to the recycle bin, and the other stuff goes into bags for donation to good will, PC recycle and so on. The paper takes a longer time to sort, so putting it all together means I save time and avoid being distracted by it while clearing the larger room.

Step Three – move the baskets out of that room

  • Clean the surfaces of the room with surface cleaner and paper towels
  • Sweep, mop or vacuum the floor
  • Only return the stuff to that room that will live there from now on

As an added benefit, helping a friend organize their stuff gives you a fun backdrop for conversation, with lots of opportunity to find odd treasures and learn more about each other’s lives.

Copyright 2013 R Loader all rights reserved

Mindful driving – Getting into Car Fu

view from rearview mirrorCar Fu is being mindful about driving, just like doing things with Kung Fu is more about excellence than it is about martial arts. A baker can bake with excellence, with kung fu, just as a brick layer can lay bricks with kung fu. My sweetie taught me to treat driving in a similar way; though he calls it Car Fu. As he’s successfully avoided accidents by being one-with-the-car for many years, I thought this sounded like a good practice.

He sits in the car for a few minutes and settles himself in the moment.Adjusts the mirrors, touches the wheel, the stick, looks around, and then turns on the car. He listens to it, breathing into the moment, making a connection with the car. You could argue that he’s listening for any engine trouble, and that would also be true. Almost everything about driving is in muscle memory and learned responses, yet the best drivers are those who pay attention to everything around them. He is one of those drivers.

Just about every day, I drive in city traffic in Seattle. Around me, people are talking on cellphones, merging with no signals, changing lanes without looking first. Getting into Car Fu, and being present in the moment, mindful of where I am and what I am doing is good when driving a car. It makes me much more able to respond to changing circumstances. I still swear a lot when insane stuff happens on the road. I fancy though, that Car Fu has saved me more than once. Try it some time.

Copyright 2013 R Loader all rights reserved