Mindfulness, Madness and the March towards the Light

This is one of those things that I am admitting only because it keeps me sane and I feel a strong compulsion to share any sanity-saving techniques with the rest of the world because, man, I’ve been there. And it is usually right about now, midwinter, that I hit the wall. It’s cold. It’s grey and brown. It’s flu season. It’s not a particularly busy work season for me since the large amount of images I take are natural light, and who wants to go out into a frozen field to get a shot? (Okay, in many cases me, but the clients aren’t so keen on the idea. So.) I feel housebound. I feel sluggish. I feel…a little crazy. Maybe more than a little.

I admit that in years past, the winter ick has managed to take me over and make things really, really miserable, like unhappy on a clinical level. I believe in Seasonal Affect Disorder. Nothing worse that being emotionally frozen when it is frozen out. Frozen reference goes here for sake of stepson:

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Like this but with less Disney and more suck.

But somewhere along the way I heard something that changed my perspective on the darkening and chilling of the soul that goes on during this time of year. While this time may be difficult, it is still a necessary part of the cycle. Like the mythical yearly battle of the Holly King and the Oak King, two vital, opposite aspects within us ebb and flow, and it is our skillful ability to move within the cycle that allows us to grow and strengthen our world. And a mindful, gentle approach to ourselves and our surroundings can make the cold months a time of magic and transformation instead of a big bag of suck.

SO, even though it is EXTREMELY difficult for me to welcome and embrace this time of the year, I now have a bunch of things that I do to use the cold, slow dark as a place to regroup, recharge and get ready for the coming of warmth and thaw.

PUT IT ON ICE: I let the cold weather slow things that I’m not ready for down a little bit. Here’s an example. I need to buy a new car. But I hated the idea of getting one and driving it in the snow and ice just as it is brand new. So I sat back and looked at the situation from a ‘cold weather slow’ place. Could I get through the winter with my old car without paying too much? Would having a few extra months to bank for the inevitable car payment help? Would I be less stressed on a snowy day with my old beater, even if it did break down? Yup. So into the ‘thaw later’ pile it goes.

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My impending car payments are in there somewhere.

I also put problems on ice. Unless the issue is something I have to deal with immediately, I let it chill out – literally. I write it all down and then place the paper it is on in a small container filled with water and leave it outside. Somehow the physical practice of freezing an issue helps me create a little detachment that helps with getting perspective – and keeps me from reacting too quickly, or too much.

HIBERNATE and INCUBATE: Cuddle up with it and get quiet. I’ve found that the winter can be a great time for me to focus inward and listen. There are many ways to do this. I use mediation, the mental and emotional equivalent of cozying up to my personal wolf pack of thoughts and ideas and just laying there silently in sleepy camaraderie. I get a lot of clarity hanging out in the den, and much of it comes gently, allowing me to be near it without judgement. The more I do it, the more the good stuff grows and the bad stuff fades. By the time the season turns, I’m well rested emotionally and excited to poke my nose out and see what the Spring will bring.

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The Yin/Yang approach to hibernation demonstrated by cat.

MAKE STUFF BLOOM: Cultivate life in your home. When the light starts to return, I like to do things that remind me of my ability to nurture growth. In particular, I like to make things bloom and sprout. So I make terrariums. Force bulbs and branches. Plant seeds. Re-pot my houseplants. (In the kitchen. On the floor. Dirt on newspapers EVERYWHERE.) Not only does it lift me physically, it sets my heart into a joyful, expectant state that feels very much like the return of the Sun.

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BRING IT ON

I wish you peace and warmth, calm and gentle change during this time of year.

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Spring and Seclusion

I’ve always viewed spring as a forward, upward movement. Plants bursting from the earth. Birds in flight. Trees growing up and out, wider by their leaves. Spring forward, the old saying. Light lingering in the sky. Wind, strong in strength and direction. The opposite of hibernation.

Funny then, the effect it has on me in the first few weeks. The sun’s angle in the sky has changed, so the brightness and temperature of sunbeams are a tempting offer, enticing me outside and into a more outgoing and extroverted self. But even the sun and all it brings – the daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops, the woodpeckers and the finches, the deeply earthy scent of a new season of plenty – is not enough to move me from my window. I feel safe and relieved here, next to the outdoors but not in it, watching and wanting but not ready to participate, even though I’ve been anxious for this moment for months and months, since January’s silver sharpness and bitter cold.

I feel like a bride, sitting at this wondow, savoring the moment. I want seclusion for a few moments more, a little more quiet before I join the party, sweet time alone with my solitary soul, time to see the wonder of renewal, to be grateful and nourished, to watch the joyous flow of the spring-fed river before I jump in.

Alice Speaks

Open Letter to Barack Obama from Alice Walker
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Nov. 5, 2008

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to “work with the enemy” internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker