I crashed yesterday. I was tired, uninspired, not up to anything. Instead of writing this newsletter or updating our website, or preparing materials for our upcoming teaching training program, I moped around the house. I watched some TV. I grazed in the kitchen. A took a nap.
I didn't like it. I like being steady, even, and active. I like being fully on my game, strong, capable, smart. A leader in my field.
But yesterday I wasn't. I was tired, I needed recovery time, integration time. Just time. I needed permission to rest.
The day before yesterday was also the last mindfulness class I'll teach this season. This half-year. We've been engaged and growing this year. Using six teachers, Mindfulness Northwest offered nine 8-week classes, seven 4 & 5 week classes, nine workshops and staff development trainings, and a weekend retreat during that time.
It's been a lot.
But what's the tone in my mind and heart when I say "it's been a lot"? That's what's caught my curiosity.
What did you hear just now when you read "it's been a lot"?
Is "a lot" too much? We've overdone it. We're being foolish. It's a lot of stress, it's too much. We should manage things better, do less, relax?
Or is "a lot" a lot of activity that we chose. A lot of engagement? Is it a lot of challenge, a lot of learning and growth? Perhaps a lot of joy? Can "a lot" be a wonderful period of fullness? Of wholeheartedness?
When a friend tells me "it's been a lot" what do I offer back? I think my habit is to offer the assumption that a lot is too much and offer sympathy, and maybe time management advice. "Oh…sounds like too much, you should rest, take it easy. Don't do so much. Learn how to go slower."
That might be good advice. Sometimes a lot is too much.
But what if a lot, for a period of time at least, really is a good thing? What if it's a time of challenge and growth that galvanizes us, that encourages us to bring our best self forward. Maybe sometimes a lot brings more from us than we thought possible? Sometimes maybe a lot lifts us to a new level, supports our moving into that deeply satisfying "flow state" that Csikszentmihalyi talks about? (details on him and his flow theory here: http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow).
In his middle school, my son has been taught about having a "growth mindset". And a teacher of mine has recently published a book called The Upside of Stress. (http://www.amazon.com/Upside-Stress-Why-Good-You/dp/158333561). Maybe the way we think about activity and stress, our mindset, our understanding of our life, is as important as how much we do? Is stress good? Is it bad? Is it all about how we interact with it?
There is no doubt that continued ongoing stress with worry and fatigue and all of the related states and symptoms is extremely harmful. Stress can be very bad for us. Our response to stress can be very bad. Deeply unhealthy. Our lives are shortened and diminished by this interaction with stress. This is true. And mindfulness training is such a help there. We can increase our self-awareness, see new choices that function in tiny and huge ways. We can become more resilience in the face of unhealthy stress. MBSR has been exploring this idea for 30 years now.
But sometimes stress is good. Sometimes stress is that encouragement we need to engage in our life fully.
But then we do need the down with the up. That's the thing.
We need times of reflection, integration, healing even. We need seasons. We need the full cycle. Not just the, not just the down, not trying to flatten the curve and avoid all ups and downs.
It might be our continuous year-round 24-7 engagement isn't damaging just because it's fast and busy. Some fast and busy may be healthy. It's damaging because we're not allowing ourselves that pause, that rest day, that rest week, that rest month, or that rest season. Our ancestors of course had much more season-oriented lives before industrialization, modern capitalism, and electric lighting. Maybe we can give ourselves back a sense of seasonality in some way.
Maybe instead of using mindfulness or other practices and techniques to try to even everything out, these practices can help us to engage even more fully, be even more present and engaged with "up" when it's time to be up, but importantly, critically, maybe the increased self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and inner balance these practices support can help us to let go and drop into "down" when our work is done. When our season turns. When the project ends. Maybe these practices can help us be engaged without being addicted to engagement. To include release. To be more true to our cyclical, seasonal natures.
This is the theme we'll be exploring deeply at our wonderful 4-day retreat at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California coming up at the very end of this month June 29 - July 2nd (Info on our website, andTassajara's). There is still room in this retreat. Tassajara is truly one of the most amazing places on the planet, a beautiful isolated valley inhabited with deep care and mindfulness by the Zen community that has made it a place of practice for nearly 50 years. Plus there are the hot springs baths and the award winning vegetarian cuisine! It's a spacious place to explore up and down, opening and closing.
I was first introduced to the idea that mindfulness can be about letting myself open and close, engage and release from this bit of Rumi which we took the title of the retreat from. May you too allow yourself to open and close your wings as we continue the journey towards are fullest expression as human beings.
Rumi - Birdwings
Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
Up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
Here’s the joyful face you been waiting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
You would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small
Contracting and expanding,
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
Executive Director, Mindfulness Northwest
p.s. I'm feeling much better today.