I can feel my habits asserting themselves, lurching automatically, yet thwarted at most turns. Is that happening for you, too?
Jim and I usually travel for an extended period during the holidays. Last year it was our epic trip to Italy and years before to Southeast Asia. But this year, with stay at home orders looming all around us, we're staying close to home. Not by choice.
But. But. But....
I can feel my privilege jump into self-righteous action, "certainly an exception can be made for us!"
Habits can be hard to manage--particularly when we're feeling threatened. Particularly when we find ourselves in an ongoing unfolding large scale disaster. Reaching to comfort foods. Watching more movies. Shopping. Like a caged cat whose instincts MUST be expressed and in turn hurts itself, I am this creature of habit!
Mindfulness is poised to wake us up from these habits and sometimes help dissolve them, and all I can say is I can see the habits more clearly, but am not necessarily free from them.
Sharing special traditions may not be possible this year, but something is emerging and I notice it most when I sit in stillness. Rather than see these current conditions as a restraint being forced upon me, I'm beginning to see it as an invitation to something deeper. Something not available when I'm busy traveling or shopping.
As we find ourselves 8+ months into the COVID-19 pandemic with worsening conditions, along with the attempted derailment of the usual transfer of power in the United States after a tense election, the continued opening of deep and scaring wounds from racial injustice, a climate in crisis that is continually being denied by a large segment of the power elite in one of the largest contributing nations on the planet, and ongoing natural disasters that continue to outdo their predecessors, it's hard to find the wherewithal to practice gratitude, much less extend it.
But, while finding moments of gratitude can be challenging, those small moments can add up to big shifts in our inclination in our day-to-day life, as well as provide protective factors against the ongoing stress and trauma we find ourselves in today.
Before I settled into camp at Ruby Lake, the night of catastrophizing where I became determined to bring appreciation rather than fearful anxiety to what could have been my last night alive, I sat near the lake and prayed, is this the right spot for me to stay tonight?
The lull of the late afternoon ascended as the sun descended behind the craggy peaks of Ruby Lake. The stillness of water, save the champagne like glistening of sunlight dancing across the small expanse, sedated the day's activities. Birds flitted here and thereto find their last nuggets of seeds and bugs for their evening nourishment. The dragonflies, jokering around in two- and threesomes, swerved in and around me at water's edge, occasionally hovering briefly at eye level, as rainbow glistening wings reflected splashes of sun rays. A chipmunk came next to me, perching on a rock overlooking the lake while munching on a pine cone.
Paying me no never mind, I wondered if it had the same awe I did this time of day? Did it choose this specific spot for the view at sunset? Or was it just a convenient relatively flat place where which to eat dinner?
"They really are intimidated by humans," Sally said as we sat around the picnic table at Red's Meadow Resort eating our highly prized Red's burgers. "Just scare them off with loud sounds and act big."
I'd heard this numerous times along the trail. Brown bears--those bears we find in California--aren't interested in humans, but are interested in our food. How many evenings before bed since learning how to backpack three years ago were spent painstakingly going through the ritual of making sure that "everything that goes in or on your body" is safely sealed into a bear-proof canister and stashed some distance from the tent?
So many hours spent fretting about having residual mint fragrance from toothpaste lingering in my mouth or the scent of lotion on my dry cracked hands. Was it enough to be detected? Images of the young camper who awoke to a crunching sound--which turned out to be the sound of his own head being munched by a bear--repeatedly forced their way into my head. I shuddered every time.
Reflections from the John Muir Trail 2020: Part II - Appreciation and Gratitude shift fear and anxietyRead Now
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, the first few days on the trail I experienced an inordinate amount of fear and anxiety, particularly in the evenings and throughout the night. The fear was so fierce that I wasn't able to enjoy any of my time. I was reeling in a flood of anxiousness and reactivity. My desperation lead to exhaustion night after night.
One night in particular my catastrophizing mind thoroughly convinced me that I was doomed--that this would be my last night alive. (This was before I worked with the Just Five Breaths practice.) I was certain that I would become the meal of a wild animal!
The first few days on the trail are usually filled with some anxiety and many questions: Did I remember to pack the soap? Is there enough food? What about bear activity? What am I supposed to do if I encounter a bear? Do I look them in the eye? Act big and try to scare them off? Did I bring too many pairs of socks? And on. I fiddle with equipment and work to remember where to put things that make the most logical and efficient sense.
For some reason this year, my mind was super activated and super scared. This was my first time solo for 14 days and needing to resupply along the route. My legs were also super antsy at night after hiking five or so miles with 35 pounds on my back. My senses, as always when I'm out in wilderness, were on high alert, particularly listening intently for movement in and around camp in the evenings. I try to arrive at my 'home for the night' early enough in daylight hours so my nervous system can settle into the space before dark. It's something I learned with Shyla, my canine companion, many years before.
I also make an effort to not be right next to running water that is loud enough to block my ability to hear movement around me. It's all survival instinct, I know, and I do my best to make myself as comfortable as I can when I solo hike.
I don't know about you, but I'm regularly inundated with information these days. All of it important for these times, but sometimes it's difficult to pick and choose where and for how long to put my attention. I sometimes get caught in overwhelm to the point of freezing in my tracks. While I'm a survivor of trauma, and this is not an uncommon experience, I'm struggling to find my way through like so many others.
Equally, discerning what meaningful actions to take in response to institutionalized racism and inequities is challenging me. There are so many avenues to take for dismantling the systems of racial injustice. And, particularly, being a white woman of privilege, I feel it is imperative I contribute.
How do I (we) navigate through these times and not get lost in crippling overwhelm? Personally, I'm seeing this time akin to a long-term large scale disaster. It's unfolding over a long period of time. It is persisting the way the fire or tornado season does--over months. How do I actively contribute to better our situations AND care for myself during this long period of upheaval?
Firstly, I remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint, so my tactics need to be different. Then, I think about the self-care I need to stay engaged in the long run. I turn to my practice for respite, support, nurturance and wisdom on how to proceed.
Next, I choose mindfullly how to navigate my time and days. Here's just a few of the myriad ideas and resources that are surfacing in my research.
These are turbulent times--times that I believe will lead us to a higher ground as people and a more compassionate species on the planet. Be gentle with yourself and each other. Smother yourself in self-care to support your ongoing resilience and allow your mindfulness practice to be a source of nurturing refuge and a path to deeper wisdom.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.