Today is a new day, and thank goodness for that! Yesterday was the first day of school, and I did not expect it to hit me so hard. Summer vacation is over, the tourists have gone home, and the locals have returned from their beach getaways. School buses are back on the road, and my Facebook feed is filled with first day of school photos. It is time to return to business-as-usual. And that’s the issue! There was a rhythm to my life as a teacher that has been broken, and not returning to it made me feel as if there was no ground beneath me, nothing to support me. A sleep deficit didn’t help.
I felt like a train wreck! Days like that come and go. And we can learn so much from them if we face them head on rather than flee from the discomfort.
Waves of emotion kept coming at me yesterday, and they were huge – and hurt when they hit! They knocked me off balance and dragged me under, and it felt as if I wouldn’t be able to come back up for air. But eventually the wave subsided, and I floated back up to the surface and could breathe again.
And then another wave would come along sooner or later. So working with the waves became my practice. More specifically, I practiced remaining in the present moment with bare attention, without attaching any labels, storylines, interpretations, wishful fantasies, or romantic longings to whatever arose. It’s not reality that is a problem; it’s what we add to it! If we’re not mindful, we can wander into a very destructive place – a downward spiral that leads to a void we don’t want to be part of. And that is a gross misuse of imagination! I can think of a thousand better ways to channel my energy, imagination, and creativity! Why go there?
It reminded me so much of being in labor and working with the contractions, which were more intense than anything I’d ever experienced. The biggest lesson I took away from my childbirth experiences was to breathe into each contraction as it comes along and stay focused on just that. Don’t think about how many more contractions I would have to deal with or evaluate whether I was doing a good job or how much progress I was or wasn’t making. Don’t wish to be anyone else in the room. Instead, remain in the present moment, the wellspring of strength and power.
The mental imaginings also remind me of the speedboats that zip by and create a turbulent wake when I’m kayaking. Catching myself when I notice I’m indulging in a storyline – and deciding not to go into it – makes the speedboat slow down and pass by without generating turbulence. The water remains calm and undisturbed.
How wonderful to realize that we can set it all aside, push the reset button, and return to bare presence. It’s basic meditation instruction.
Granted, it’s much harder to do that when your energy is low. Some days you just have to set all expectations aside and be gentle with yourself. Don’t board those fancy trains of thought and imagination that take you to dramatic places. Stay in the present, where you can hear the rich and rhythmic sounds of a late summer day, be enraptured by the geometry of morning glories and the brilliant design of airborne seeds, and engage opportunities that present themselves (or at least realize that opportunities do exist). Focus on the basics, like getting enough rest. And remember that this, too, shall pass. You’re just having a bad day, and your thinking is a bit delusional as a result.
So that was my practice yesterday. And I learned a lot.
I was reminded of the importance of self-compassion and self-love and that the very first step is to get enough sleep.
I learned that you have to be that quality you most desire from others. Mine it from within. If you want to be nurtured, start by nurturing – yourself and others!
I learned to turn inward for salvation and not lean so much on this world that shifts constantly, like a kaleidoscope. It’s great to have people to reach out to. But they aren’t always available, and the reality is that we will have to let go of everyone in our life sooner or later. Such is the nature of mortality. So why not realize that the answers and the compass we need for this human journey are all inside of us – and lean into our own heart center and source of strength, which is more enduring and always available? Ultimately, everything we need is there. And the natural world and its larger rhythms and cycles can be a great source of healing, as well.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not at all dissing the value of human relationships, which can be incredibly enriching and healing. But there is such a thing as being too nurturing and creating a dependency that hinders others from experiencing their own wisdom and strength. Likewise, there is a danger in becoming too dependent on others for guidance and a sense of well-being.
I learned that it’s more productive to believe I am fundamentally good and just having a tough time learning a particular lesson, rather than believing I am fundamentally bad or flawed and deserve to suffer. A more loving and compassionate view of oneself allows us to cultivate more love and compassion as opposed to further suffering. There is no value in beating yourself up or feeling sorry for yourself. Doing so is completely counterproductive.
Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom emotionally to realize status quo is not working, and to jolt you into awakening and discovering a new way to proceed. The road less traveled. But there’s a tollbooth on it, and the toll required is to leave behind whatever weighs you down and doesn’t serve you. This includes the stories we cling to.
I learned that the feelings that seem so threatening and overwhelming – like tidal waves that threaten to pull us under – are invitations to grow. All the information we need is within those feelings, if we can lean into them and not run away from them. Every single wave that comes along is an opportunity to become stronger and more skilled – at feeling the waves crash over us, letting go of our baggage, keeping or regaining our balance, and then seeing the gifts the waves leave behind in the sand.
When you’re learning and practicing this right there in the water, such insights can make all the difference in the world and save you from drowning. When you hear it from the outside, it probably doesn’t sounds like much at all. What seems so simple can be so profound and full of wisdom when you find yourself in a real situation where applying it can make a difference. As I approach 50, it feels as though I am just learning the basics. It’s interesting how, as I get older, insights that seem so simplistic on the surface take on new meaning and depth.
Yesterday, I felt expendable and forlorn. Today I feel free and open to possibility. And that makes me smile. Thank goodness for a restorative night of good sleep and the gift of a new day. A day when I once again can notice and appreciate tiny wonders, such as the sunrise and its reflection on the river, captured in beads of dew on a spider web.
The reality is that, although the rhythm of my life as a teacher has been disrupted, who I am at my core has not been touched. And I am still part of a larger rhythm of the natural world and the cycle of humankind. So I am neither lost nor broken, even on difficult days. And neither are you.
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