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 bit 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.

 

Top 10 for relationships

A chum posted a cute image about relationship advice on facebook. It made me think about what my top 10 pieces of advice would be. This is the first thing I came up with.

Learn to say “I’m really sorry” and mean it. Especially when you are right.

Then I started thinking about it some more, based on relationships and friendships that go back more than 20 years.

My top 10 pieces of advice for a good relationship?

  1. Display affection
  2. Give appreciation
  3. Listen, not just hear
  4. Budget the luxuries first
  5. Make and eat food together
  6. Love who they are becoming
  7. Be silly together
  8. Snuggle | cuddle
  9. Be curious about their dreams
  10. Spend time together | time apart

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.

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

Catching up with friends

postcardLife offers so very many opportunities to be busy with projects, there seems less time for socializing in person.  In order to keep up with news of chums around the world, and even those here in town, I am increasingly dependent on social media.  I am often caught up in simultaneous chat conversations in Sydney, Tasmania, New York, Seattle and San Francisco. This almost takes the place of letters, though some family are not available on line, and letters are the best way to thoughtfully communicate what has happened in the last few months. I have taken to writing a letter for family members, and send it to multiple people, much like my friends can catch up on news here, or on other social media.

For many friends, we only catch up in person when I am in their city, however, as we travel more, we are meeting up in cities we all want to explore together. It makes it a bit of an expedition, and coordinating it is part of the fun. Planned enough ahead, a visit to London can include brunches and lunches, dinners and late night drinks with friends who are there from other countries. We can visit the British Museum together, wander around Covent Garden, catch the markets in St James Church, or wander through Hyde Park for a morning stroll. A visit to Forbidden Planet, the terrific Science Fiction store in London, is a treat. And Baker Street is a must for the Sherlock Holmes fan.

However, nothing is as good as a long weekend where we stay up late talking, have a lazy brunch, and meander through the day. Sitting together over a meal or three sets the tone for there being time to listen, and to be in the moment.

Meditation: Letting go

Salmon Berries

To begin meditation, you do so with intention. You are mindful that your intent is to take a sequence of actions to alter consciousness. Those actions can involve a deliberate change of focus, a change of breathing, an alteration in attention, or putting aside customary ways of thinking; meditation can also be a simple matter of being in the moment.  In the human potential movement of the ’80s and ’90s, we called it going with the flow. Nowadays, flow has acquired a capital letter – Flow – yet it is essentially the same thing. Let go. Be in the now. Get down with your self. Center. Be mindful.

Ideally, when we engage in contemplation or meditation, letting go is is about moving forward and not dwelling in the past. To let go is to stop holding on to things that happened to you or around you at some time before now. Some of that past stuff is good or great, and some of it is going to be stuff that bummed you or hurt you in some way. We are creatures who compare things, so whatever we bring to now is going to have informed who we are. We learned from it, were transformed by it, and survived to become the unique individual that is in the moment.

At the same time, when you meditate, this past stuff is going to come up, and that’s kind of natural to the process. When you stop running ahead, and thinking ahead about all those things to get done, stuff you ran away from, or forgot to think about rushes in, and your head can get kind of noisy for a bit.  Soon enough, if you give each thing that comes up a bit of attention or notice, it’ll quieten down. Depending on what the stuff is, it can take some time. Try to be okay with that. Some of it may have things to tell you that you did not have time to pay attention to before now.

Once you’ve noticed something from the past, maybe cherished it a bit, given your younger self a metaphorical hug, you can notice the behaviors and reactions you have from stuff that happened.  Are those behaviors that worked for you in the past still useful? Great, then keep them and enhance them. However, if the reaction or behavior is no longer useful in your current circumstances, then perhaps it is time to let it go. Sometimes the transition to being in the now means letting go of stuff that’s been incredibly helpful some other time or place. You’ll know what those things are, and what you want to keep as you contemplate.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Growing the love

poppies in a fieldIn the English-speaking world, we grow up with stories about true love, magical love, divine and destined love. We read about friendships that last a lifetime, and we are introduced to the idea of looking for redemption or completion through our relationships. Sometimes, we are even fortunate enough to see evidence of those relationships around us. We see examples of old couples who still appear to glow, whose faces light up when they see each other, who continue to be in love, in love forever.

Yet we see as many situations that do not play out as they do in storybooks, and we ask ourselves why? And perhaps we should be asking ourselves, why not? In a storybook, there is usually an obstacle or two to overcome, and this adds interest to the story, and makes it resonate with us. However, we seem to be a little lazy in the stories of our own lives. We expect perfection, right away. We walk away from anything that becomes uncomfortable, or challenging, and in doing so, we often walk away from the opportunity for love to grow.

A good friend of mine said something years ago that has played out to be true for me. “If you are willing to look deeply into someone, you cannot help but love them.” By this, he meant that willingness to love was the pre-requisite for love. I have come to believe we have within us the ability to cultivate love, and to also cultivate an expectation that we will see the good in people. That makes it much easier to both find love, and to keep it growing when we have found it, whether that is friendship or a deeper kind of experience.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Thankful Thursday

I cannot remember who suggested it first, back when our tribe connected on another social network, but the idea of Thankful Thursdays has stuck with me. The idea is that once a week, on a Thursday, we’d think about the things we’re grateful for in our lives. And then we’d post that for everyone to see. We didn’t do it every week, and it was likely once every month or so for each of us. It was a voluntary acknowledgement of what we were celebrating that week, something like this:

Thankful Thursday

The top 15 things I am grateful for this week

  1. being more in love with my spice/spouse every day
  2. friends who live around the world, and keep in touch by various means
  3. family who support each other, and who are demonstrative, affectionate, eccentric and opinionated
  4. that my sense of curiosity and wonder appears to be intact
  5. our wonderful kitties, Tempus Fugit and Morpheus
  6. a terrific house, with interesting objects and art everywhere I look
  7. flexibility – having a body and brain that are bendy
  8. the thousands of books that share our home
  9. my tribes, communities, extended family and kin
  10. having a great job where I can play with different ideas every week
  11. always having a plan b –  being prepared
  12. embracing happiness and writing about it
  13. making art, making love
  14. abandoning certainty
  15. knowing I am loved and cherished

Try your own list. Make it some random number of things like 3, 5, 7, 10 or some number that is personally meaningful. Go on. You know you want to.

 

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Nothing but blue skies


It can be tricky to remember, in Seattle, that blue skies will return. Even in the middle of June and summer, we can have more grey days and rain than most places. We have even coined a weather term “sun breaks” to capture the moments when the sun comes out to play. We rush outside, take a break, and relax in the sunshine. This all got me to thinking about how much joy there is in the simple pleasure of enjoying the summer sunshine. Perhaps we can extend memories of summer further into the year, with the notion that somewhere in the world, there are blue skies and sunshine, right now. The metaphor of happiness and the image of sunshine are linked symbols in large parts of modern culture. Add an image of a child playing, banners or kites flying, and we have the visual representations that blend the concepts of pleasure, summer and happiness.

So where am I going with this? I guess this particular musing is about celebrating the possible, enjoying the blue skies when we have them, and reaching for images of summer and blue skies, or whatever metaphor coincides with happiness for you, when they are not immediately present in the moment. It’s also a bit about the connectedness of things, about life being a spectrum of experiences.

Most of the time, I am aware of the opposite side of the planet, and that they enjoy an opposite season; that’s part of growing up in Australia, falling in love, and coming to live in Seattle. When it is summer in Seattle, winter coats are the order of business in Sydney, and vice versa. It isn’t hard to think of this as a real world example of the doctrine of opposites, or as an example of polarity. It is almost like there’s a big yin/yang symbol swirling its way through the center of the earth, connecting us to the opposite side of the globe. Neither side of the balance is entirely one thing or the other; one side of the pivot is not better than the other; the poles are just the far ends of a spectrum. I think happiness can be thought of that way as well. The spectrum of happiness could be said to move all the way from the pleasure of a good yawn, through to the quiet hum of breathing, and at the far end is the dazzling glow of our favorite things.

As I’m looking out at blue skies now, am taking myself out with a blanket to enjoy it.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved