Finding a good place

May you find your own good place

I’m sitting outside this morning, writing in the quiet of the day, before the lawnmowers start and the leaf blowers and the construction projects my neighbors are doing over the long weekend.The sun is hot, where there is no shade, but the air is cool where there is no sun, and I have been moving my chair around to find the best place to sit where I am not too hot, but not too cool, and I can enjoy the morning.

Some robin has found some good bugs/worms in my back yard, and it’s making repeated caterpillar-fetching trips to the high grass (I’m letting it grow, so the roots get well established before I start mowing for the summer (and yes, I am aware that summer is practically here). Other robins have also discovered this, and they have been fighting over that little space in the back yard for a little while, now. They are very aggressive with each other, and they have been flying and fighting over this territory with loud, angry cries and swooping attacks. The other birds that happen to be nearby — the blue jay, the downy woodpecker — have been also getting the brunt of their aggressive anger.

But something very educational just happened, while they were fighting with each other. They were all embroiled in a flying group brawl, when I saw a big crow fly into a nearby tree. He sat there a few minutes, seeming to hide behind the trunk of the tree, seeming to look over at the robins. Then, when all the robins were flying around attacking each other, the crow flew over to where they were… and a minute later, it flew away — with a baby robin in its beak. I could see its legs hanging down, and the crow’s flight was a little more lumbering than it had been, coming in.

All the robins flipped out and realized what was happening, and they turned from their attacks to chase the crow, which was already on the wing, headed off to some place where it could eat its little victim.

Over at the nest, a lone robin calls plaintively, chirping with distress over and over again.

Nature can be cruel. And it can be beautiful. Just now, a yellow swallowtail butterfly flew over to me and fluttered around my head for a while. A study in contrasts — in the space of a few moments, terrible “cruelty” and wonderful beauty. Coarse necessity and fragile bliss.

That crow has to eat. The butterfly has to fly. Sooner or later, each of them will in turn become food for something else. That’s just nature’s way — as surely as it’s also nature’s way for yellowjackets and mosquitoes to be visiting me, as well.

This was a good lesson this morning — watching the robins fight, and seeing how their distraction cost them one of their little ones. I doubt that if they had all been minding their nest, the crow would have come in and picked off one of their babies. It is a natural thing, but it could have turned out different, if those birds hadn’t been so fixated on fighting amongst each other.

The other thing I noticed was how quickly these aggressive enemies became allies, when they had a common foe. When they had the same threat to combat, they quickly left their differences behind and joined forces. That is also nature’s way.

Seeing this happen, I can’t help but think about all the ways that we people also fight amongst ourselves, and in the process lose things that are very important to us. We can be so intent on proving we are right, or filling some need that we are convinced we need to fill, that we trash our relationships and alienate/punish those closest to us. We can get so caught up in “taking care of ourselves” — or just looking out for NUMBER ONE — that we lose the connections that bring us life and happiness and fulfillment. We can get so caught up in chasing after the things we think will bring us happiness, that we never get there. And the more we chase, the harder we try, the farther we are from our goal of ultimate happiness.

Ironic, no?

But it seems to me that that’s how we are built. All the chasing, all the fight-flight we are caught up in… that’s the very thing that keeps us from being truly happy. When that is all we do, day after day, week after week, year after year, our ability to just let in the happiness and joy tends to shrivel and shrink. It’s like a muscle, this ability to enjoy ourselves — if we don’t use it, it atrophies, shrivels, shrinks, and becomes so weak that it actually hurts to try to use it.

But like our muscles, our ability to enjoy life can be restored. It doesn’t have to go away for good, and although at times it may feel like we will never ever get back to a place of peace (like I felt this morning at 1 a.m.), the fact of the matter is that with practice and time and patience, we can get back that sense of pleasure, that sense of enjoyment, that resting, digesting part of our lives that is as real and as vital to our survival and ability to thrive, as our beloved fight-flight reflex.

We can get back to that good place again. Because it’s always there. We just need to find it again.

We can, you know. We all come into this world with an autonomic nervous system that gives us as much access to enjoyment and relaxation, as it does to drama and stress. Over time, we may get trained to focus more on the fight-flight, and we may actually feel more alive when we are in fight-flight. But the fact that we digest our food and breathe and even have a regular heartbeat is testament to the fact that we always have a side of us that can — and does — love to just chill. Getting back to that place takes practice. God knows, I can testify to that. For some of us, it comes easy. For others (like me) it takes A LOT of practice. But it gives you something to work towards — and the rewards are pretty awesome.

So, on this beautiful day, I wish you rest and relaxation — remember those who have given their all so that we can enjoy our freedom and our opportunities. Remember those who have also returned, still bearing the burdens of their missions and their service. I like to also remember all those who have served in another capacity, tho’ they weren’t in the military — all the individuals who have given their all to make this country, and this world, a better place for those to come in the future.

May you find peace, may you find rest, and may you find your own good place.

Building up my stamina

I had a heck of a weekend. Lots of activity, and not nearly as much rest as I needed. And this morning, I’m really feeling it. I’m fuzzy and slow and not nearly as sharp as I need to be on Monday morning. I’m fumbling and bumbling and it’s taking me a while to get my act together.

But, I had a great weekend doing things I haven’t done properly in what feels like forever, which is huge progress for me. I also figure I’m in roughly the same shape as someone who partied all weekend… but I’m not hungover, I didn’t kill brain cells (I probably added some, actually) and I was doing things that were really, really good for me, so I can cut myself some slack.

Plus, I have my list of things I need to do today, and I’m clear on what I need to accomplish, and how I’m going to do it, so I’ve got structure in place to let me succeed. And I plan to succeed. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t.

The main ingredient of my planned success today?

Not taking on too much to do, focusing on what I need to get done, and doing it to the best of my ability.

My plan for how to make it all happen?

If I get stuck (and there’s a good chance I may), pause to take a deep breath, focus on my breathing for a few minutes, calm my system down, and consult my notes to see where I’m at, and what I still need to do.

I am constantly amazed at how large a factor anxiety and agitation is with me, when it comes to getting things done. I get so charged up, so revved, that I become anxious and scattered, and then I cannot follow through on what I’m doing. But when I pay attention to what’s going on with me, and I center in on what I want to go on around me, it gets me back on track and helps me start anew.

Starting anew is a hugely important activity for me. It takes me out of a frame of mind that is STUCK and gets me back in the swing of things. If I think of getting stuck as pulling into the crew pit during a stock car race, I can accept it better, than if I think about it as a sign that I’m failing. I have a pretty powerful engine, and I run high and hot a lot. So, of course I’m going to need to pull over, now and then, to change my tires and fuel up again. I just can’t stay in the crew pit.

Anyway, the weekend was awesome — very social and very active. I caught up with people I haven’t seen in many months, and I discovered a new locale to hike in. I also got to know someone better who is a friend of a friend and has a lot of shared interests and has been looking for a hiking buddy — just as I have. We both have similar styles in the wild — be smart about your choices, dress properly, don’t take chances, but still be open to exploration and don’t shy away from mud and water and the un-beaten path.

I am physically bushed from all the work I did and all the movement.  But it’s a good kind of bushed, and it frees me up to eat well to replenish my energy stores. I messed up and had a bunch of junk food yesterday, but today is a new day, and I know what I need to do, to get myself back on track.

And so I shall. Because this newfound activity of mine — this renewal of my once-active life, the return of my energy, slowly but surely, has been a long time coming. I struggled so terribly with anxiety and agitation for so many years, that I had it in my head that I was consciously choosing to stay away from people and social situations. I was so freaked out by open spaces and unpredictable circumstances, that I designed a life for myself that was indoors, controlled, and quite limited in scope. Of course, I told myself, I was studying and learning and working online, so I didn’t have time to be out and about. But truly, I was excusing myself and my limitations and imagining them to be deliberate choices in favor of something good, rather than handy excuses for not doing something better.

When I look back on so many of my projects of the past years, I see that for the most part, they were designed to alleviate stress and anxiety, and give me a way to channel all my nervous energy into a controlled activity. The goal was not to do something useful and meaningful, but to relieve stress and chill out my tweaked system. Now I see that I can do the same thing, by getting out in the world and hiking up a mountain with a trusted co-traveler. I can do the same thing by working out in the morning. I can do the same thing I once did in sedentary solitude, by doing something social that’s physical as well.

And the great thing about social physical activity is that the more I do it, the more I enjoy it, and the better at it I become. Unlike solitary sedentary life, it builds me up and strengthens my system, and it helps me go even farther, each time. Plus, it helps me sleep like nothing else. I was up twice last night, but I was able to get back to sleep almost immediately, which rarely happens when I’m sedentary.

I’m tired, yes, but I am building up my stamina. One weekend at a time, one experience at a time… It sounds so rudimentary to me, to say it. And I feel like I should already know this. But truthfully, it’s been a long time coming. And I’m just glad it’s here now.

Out and about

Good day today. I spent the afternoon hiking in the mountains with a newfound friend who has a lot in common with me.

We’re both pretty keen on getting out in nature on a regular basis, as well as doing meaningful work in life that adds purpose to our lives.

What’s more, this newfound friend had a go-round with typhoid fever in 2004. Totally lost all ability to deal with anything. Had to send the cats and dogs to a family member’s house, because they couldn’t handle the sound of them walking around. Kept the house dark and silent. Couldn’t remember things from one minute to the next. Would totally lose info in the space of 15 minutes.

Crazy.

And familiar.

It was a good hike. And I’m bushed. I may have gotten too much sun… but I don’t care. It was a good day, and I got out into it with everything I had.

And it’s good.

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