In recent months (ok, years) I haven’t exactly devoted a lot of time and attention to my own well-being. I could point to a few causes, but mostly it comes down to this: my life has been crazy busy over the past few years, and I’ve either lacked the discipline or simply not made the time to seek balance amid the whirlwind. Perhaps having self-discipline and making time for important things could be considered one and the same?
I’m guessing that at some point, most of us are forced to realize that we need to slow down and reprioritize. There are plenty of published materials from experts and laypeople alike which expound upon the virtues of personal wellness (or what I like to think of as common sense). Ideas like “slowing down,” “finding balance,” and “doing what you love,” are deceptively simple, and somehow easily overlooked.
For those who share my situation of a temporary lack of common sense, or for those who simply need a friendly reminder to be kind to the self, here are a few easy steps that I’m taking to strike a balance, find a center, and achieve renewed health.
No, not you, me. Tech-loving writer-geek that I am, it’s become all too easy for me to spend sunup to sundown at my desk, typing and scribbling away. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that sitting on my butt all day, every day, might be part of what’s got me down this season.
Option 1: GARDEN, of course! I postponed my garden work this spring to make time to prepare for a trip that I wasn’t able to take — because I got sick. The result is an unprepared spring garden and a grouchy Jade. In this image you can see the fruits of my initial labors, which are tasty indeed. I’m sticking with light-duty garden tasks for now (like seed sowing) and working my way up to the big stuff (like garden bed relocation).
I’ve mentioned before that my garden resides in a rock-rich swath of glacial till in Kitsap County, which means I need to add a lot of organics to build up the soil. This season I had a healthy pile of mushroom compost delivered on my driveway, which equates to lots of rounds with the wheelbarrow to relocate the decomposing matter to places around the garden. I’ve decided to visualize that big, steaming pile of crap as the symbol of my big, steaming pile of unwell. I can’t move the pile in one go, but I have to work at it, one load at time.
–> Suggestion: find a symbol that works for you, and see how good it makes you feel to move that mountain of shit out of your way. [Hint: try looking at the state of your desk, or office, or house. Notice anything that’s getting in your way?]
Option 2: QIGONG: I first tried T’ai Chi Ch’uan in 2000 while working in payroll tax and terminations at the-bank-formerly-known-as-WAMU. If I think about it, I probably started taking that program for the same reasons as I have today: I wasn’t feeling well, and I knew I needed a change. My instructor at the time (whose name currently eludes my memory) said something to the effect of, “the first million tries don’t count,” as told to him by his mentor. For me, this is a reminder both to discipline myself with practice, and to forgive myself for the inevitable imperfection.
I know that I love to dance, even if I’m not all that graceful. While studying at The Evergreen State College I practiced Orissi dance with Dr. Ratna Roy and Jamie Lynn Colley. Orissi Indian classical dance is a delicious intersection of Tantric, Yogic, and Martial arts, which often uses motion to tell stories on the stage. Orissi is by far my favorite dance, but it has been six years since I really practiced in earnest, and I’ve lost much of the form, discipline, and strength I once had.
This June I am beginning with Martial arts (again) with the help of Eight Simple Qigong Exercises for Health: The Eight Pieces of Brocade, a DVD by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming which was originally recommended to me many moons ago by Qigong instructor Michelle Wood. I bought this DVD a couple years ago, used it for a while, and then stopped. This June my focus is on the sitting portion of the Eight Piece Brocade, which I am practicing every morning upon waking. My goal is to learn enough of the motions, and the poetry behind them, so that I can do this every day (and without using the DVD as a guide). I’d like this daily routine to last indefinitely.
–> Suggestion: find a motion that works for you, and do it EVERY DAY. [Hint: walking is moving. So is waving your hands in the air like ya just don’t care!]
An attitude adjustment can be the most obvious (and the most difficult) solution to a lot of problems. Feeling bad begets more bad feeling. Whenever I’m frustrated, stuck-in-a-rut, or I otherwise feel like there’s no way out, I can usually eliminate all the external grievances I might have, and boil my problems down to this: I’m not looking for a solution, and I’ve donned an unproductive attitude.
Option 1: SMILE, of course! Anyone who has experienced depression knows it’s not that easy. You don’t “just snap out of it,” because chances are, you didn’t just snap into it. You probably wormed your way down into that dark little hole (or fell in unwittingly), and maybe turned your back on the exit, forgetting it was there. Silly movies are one approach, but I’m not a TV junkie. My approach is to spend time among the things I love (like out in the forest and the garden) until I start to wake up, notice the world around, and smile. This morning I ate breakfast on the porch and watched a humming bird eat its breakfast in the salal (Gaultheria shallon). I dare anyone not to smile at such a sight.
–> Suggestion: close your eyes, quiet your mind, and ask yourself this question: “If I could be doing anything I wanted right now, what would it be?” [Hint: it’s probably not “sitting on my butt getting frustrated.”]
Option 2: EAT WELL, naturally. I consider myself a good eater… when I eat. I prefer fresh foods to packaged foods, I grow what I can in my garden, and 18 months ago I began to eliminate meat from my diet and replace it with plant proteins, like my many beloved legumes. This has been a great choice for me for several personal reasons, but if you need a few of your own it’s easy to find ethical, ecological, and practical reasons to reduce your meat intake: if you’re looking for discussion rather than instruction, start with Michael Pollan.
The problem for me is that I often skip meals when I’m busy, ill, tired, grouchy, or otherwise out of balance. I’ve also recently adopted a bad habit of eating at my desk while working, and it’s not hard to recognize that my meal isn’t restful if I type while I munch. My goal is to unplug from my computer for significant chunks of the day, get back into the kitchen, and remember to celebrate the simple pleasures daily. For me, this means physically shutting down my machines, because otherwise I’ll think of something REALLY AWESOME, run in to my office to write it down, and stay there for three hours.
–> Suggestion: take stock of your meals, and BE HONEST. Really be honest. If most of your food comes from a box, consider this: where do most animals get their food? [Hint: the answer is not “from a box.”]
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To recap, my goals/foci are as follows:
1) Get out in the garden
2) Practice Qigong
3) Smile, and adjust the attitude
4) Eat well and cook more
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Your turn! Share your ideas and answer us this in the comments: how are you approaching your goals, health, and attitude this season?
This impromptu photo taken in my kitchen last weekend (click the image to enlarge) reminds me of a couple projects I’ve enjoyed in recent journals: