Now that the excitement of this midterm election has come to a close, it is time to rest and digest. After all the “aerobic” energy of the campaign and election season, and as we process the results, we must enter a season of pausing and reflecting.
I am relieved this election cycle is over. Some of the returns have yet to be finalized but I am happy to see that the turnouts were high, and more women were voted into office than ever before.
Though I did not get to bed very early because I was still watching election returns, I know I will need some down time to recover this week. I identify as an introvert, so I am aware of my need for more down time than the average person. I have found that if I approach life in terms of cycles of intense activity followed by adequate rest, I am able to make better decisions for the long-term.
Maybe it is a product of age or maturity but I feel like it is easier to see the big picture than it used to be. I recognize that it is necessary to regroup and recharge between the intervals of intensity. As it turns out, this is how we best deal with stress in our lives. Stress in itself is not bad, and is in fact necessary in a healthy life.
But chronic and unrelenting stress for long periods take a toll on our bodies, our immune systems and our mental health as well. So take a break, gather your energy, allow some time for reflection and recovery. We will live and be stronger in case we need to “fight” another day for important causes that matter to us.
On Wednesday I had an interview for a technology company that I like, but in a retail environment that would be a different experiences for me. On paper, it seemed very exciting. I liked considering the advantages of this part-time opportunity. I believed it would allow me to ramp up my other efforts a little more mindfully and without rushing.
The interview went well, and I even advanced to the next round with a higher leader in the organization. But as I was considering the nature of the work environment, and my preference for adequate personal space and solitude in every day, my body felt a noticeable depletion of energy rather than excitement.
I’d been excited the day before about getting called so quickly for the in-person interview after the phone interview. I am eager to learn the technology, and to help people use it better, the original reason I pursued the position. Also, they were seeking bilingual Spanish speakers and it would be an opportunity to keep my skills sharp. But the thought of an 8-hour shift “out in the open” on a retail floor made me feel drained and tired.
That is okay. I would not necessarily have been able to visualize and imagine myself in the setting to consider whether it is a fit without actually being there and observing. My body is giving me signals to help me figure out the next steps for myself. Typically when I pay attention to my energy levels, and move in the direction where the energy lifts rather than falls, I am happier.
I thought that learning and practicing sales and marketing techniques would be good for my own business. But there are other ways to do this, and I will not give up on that idea.
This week, most U.S. states (except Arizona and Hawaii) will go through the process of the Spring time change. I typically go on an annual rant to my facebook friends about how much I dislike the twice annual time change, especially this one when we lose an hour of sleep. We lose daylight in the morning, and as a morning person I dislike having to get started in the dark again.
For many people, I realize this is a minor annoyance. But for those of us with more sensitive sleep schedules, messing up our circadian rhythms causes real health issues. On Mondays after the start of DST there are typically more workplace injuries and tiredness at the clock change is the cause of more traffic accidents. A Swedish study found that the risk of heart attack increases for the first 3 days following the switch to DST.
So what is there to do with all of these annoying and also potentially serious consequences?
I would very much like it if we abolished the switch, and just used the DST schedule year-round. The energy savings we supposedly gained a century ago when this madness started are no longer relevant. I believe the health risks associated with changing the clocks really are not worth it. Also, it makes things more complex when we exist in a global world with some countries changing time, others not.
But since I am not necessarily able to gather the political will to make this happen, I instead decided a few years ago to declare a “be kind to myself and to others” week. Since I know I will be a bit sleep deprived for a few days, and my body doesn’t like the disruption, I do other things to make sure I take care of myself. I go to yoga, often I schedule a massage, I eat a lot of healthy food and drink plenty of water. I use compassion with myself and realize that if I am tired and cranky, my body needs patience and understanding.
I consider the fact that Spring is indeed arriving, and the light is increasing. I acknowledge that while I need to wake up in the dark for a few more weeks, having a bit more light in the evenings is nice. I try to take it easy on myself, knowing that I love Spring, but seasonal changes can be hard on anyone, and routines need mindful adjustment.
I allow myself to be a little “lazy” at work, by working from home the Monday after the change, and appreciate the privilege I have in doing so. In a week, things will be better. I typically adjust in about 3-5 days, and my cats do so as well, and things will even out.
If others you meet are tired and cranky this week, it helps to remember that some people may feel this change more acutely than we might. Make an effort to go easy on them as well if you can.
I think we can all benefit from declaring a “Be Kind to Yourself” week this time of year, especially to those of us coping with the change. Why not? We should be kind and compassionate on a daily basis more anyway. Let’s just kick it off this week with some mindful and intentional care of ourselves this week. We deserve it.
I have not yet read the book by Thomas Moore bearing the title “Dark Nights of the Soul” but I just added it to my Amazon list. Perhaps the universe is nudging me in that direction. This concept that rises up now and then as I try to anticipate changes ahead.
Lately I have been struggling with some insomnia, despite my commitment to get more sleep and the strategies I have put in place to help me do that. I power down my devices by 8:30 p.m. and try to get myself “wound down” by reading a book (an actual paper book), taking my magnesium and 5-htp supplements and leaving my electronics outside the bedroom.
All of those things help, to be sure. But sometimes my brain still gets stuck in the “on” position. I meditate, I try watching my thoughts and letting go. I try breathing exercises, with nice long exhales to activate my parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” part of the body. And still: the brain latches onto things and spins them.
I trust that someday I will get better at this, and I am practicing the skills to help me get the rest I need. I have struggled with insomnia since my teen years, I think, when anxiety about school or other issues crept into my consciousness. My Dad used to tell me how I needed my sleep, that I would have a heart attack if I did not sleep adequately. I was a skeptic back in those days, and I knew this was extreme. So I did what all teenagers do: ignore their parents’ warnings.
I have always enjoyed mornings, apparently since I was a tiny baby, and my Mom tells me I was a bit colicky after eating. But I always woke up with a smile, and I guess that persists to this day. Well, most days. As long as I have my coffee…
Instead of tossing and turning in bed and waking up my poor husband, I typically go out to the living room and journal things out. It’s a “thought download” of sorts, and I hand write all those spiraling thoughts, to empty out my head and externalize them. It is a practice recommended by psychologists. It can help, but my brain is a determined little monkey.
Reading fiction books is also helpful. But when they are too good? That can be a problem. Liane Moriarty was my “drug” of choice last night, but her books can be too engaging so I suppose that backfired a bit. I finished re-reading Truly Madly Guilty last night and enjoyed it as much as the first time I’d read it. It is a bit of a mystery, you see, and I wanted to see if I could appreciate the craft of the story as much as I had the first time, now knowing the ending.
But I digress…
I tend to do that a lot when I’m sleep-deprived.
What I do now thought, instead of beating myself up for not mastering the process of getting good sleep EVERY night is to acknowledge I am getting better at it. No, I have not mastered it, but with practice we all get better at skills. Humans are fabulously adaptable creatures, when we let go of the need to control everything (which does not work anyway).
So I am going to offer myself patience and kindness. I am going through a transition right now, and there may be a few dark nights of the soul. And that’s okay, I will get through them just fine.
As I was on the mat yesterday for my favorite yin yoga class, I could not help thinking about the practice of “yin” which in yoga terms means surrender. We spend so much time pushing forward, trying to be productive and striving to accomplish things. The culture in which I live promotes and supports that. It is all about action and results, the yang side of the balance. But what I love about yin practice, is that it complements all of the yang activity that I normally do.
In doing the research for this piece I encountered a nice little video from “Ed Ted” that you may enjoy if you are interested in learning more about the Taoist concept of yin and yang. It is only 4 minutes and really quite beautiful. For example, the inside space of a cup is “yin” but the cup itself is “yang.” Each side contains the seed of the other within it.
The Tao is the power or the way of the universe. Living in harmony with the way means we do not have to fight with the universe’s natural flow. Listen more; argue less. Be ready to back up or undo something and you will make even faster progress. Don’t worry about being the best; be who you are. The wise person is flexible. The Tao Te Ching has even more wisdom in it, and when I read it years ago, some parts of it resonated with me, while others I was not ready to understand. I will probably return to it now, as I feel like I have been in a period of yang in my life generally. However, the yin beckons to me and I realize that I have not been living in the most sustainable balance.
One of my favorite yoga teachers, Ruth Silva, has said in some classes: there is no hurry. And this echoes another mantra that I often use when I meditate: “I have time for everything I need to do today.” When we tell ourselves we are too busy, then we live that way. When we acknowledge that, technically, all we need to do to stay alive in this moment is breathe, we are telling the truth. And everything we do beyond that is a choice. There is no need to “spin” into tales of woe and self-pity about what we “need” to do. Instead, we can be honest about many of the actions (or non-actions) in our life as choices we make. The choices have consequences, but when we are honest with ourselves, we can see so much more open space in our lives.
I was feeling “stuck” the other day in my job, wondering what would be next, getting annoyed over the tasks I thought I “had to do” and wishing I could be somewhere else, or do something else. Granted, I have been contemplating a change for quite some time now, moving outside the corporate world to work in a way that allows me to fully engage my creativity. But then I realized that, when I allow myself to see ways to apply creativity to some of the challenges I face every day, it opens my soul to the possibilities to act right in the moment where I exist.
It is about balance, finding that yin that co-exists within the yang. I know that my own life affords me much privilege to do work that I enjoy, and get paid a fair amount for it. For that I am profoundly grateful. I also know that rest and renewal are a necessity for my work to be high-quality, which is why I never leave vacation days on the table… As I consider my Friday yang activities in anticipation of the yin of the weekend, I wish you peaceful surrender and plenty of rest.
I do not think humans are adequately evolved to process the emotional fatigue of social media and a constant 24 x 7 news cycle. In the wake of the latest mass shooting in this country in Las Vegas which occurred yesterday, I am mindfully listening to some news sources, but I am very consciously limiting my consumption to small doses. I choose to turn off my social media notifications rather than constantly getting drawn in . I have done this since last November post-election, because I realized that while I believe staying informed is a good idea, it can be exhausting and unproductive to be hyper-connected. I no longer check facebook every day, and I am grateful not to be as distracted, or pulled away from things that are more important to me.
With news of hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings, political nonsense and your average day in which we lose some beloved performer or actor, it can seem like bad news dominates. But this is not true. It is one reason I no longer watch television news – “if it bleeds, it leads” is one of the guidelines for local headline news. By coming up with an attention-grabbing headline, news outlets can exploit our negativity bias, our brain’s default toward those things that may be dangerous or fear-provoking. I will say more in a future post about the biological basis for this phenomenon, but for now, it is good to just be aware of it.
When we realize that we cannot change anything by constantly worrying and ruminating about these terrible events, maybe we can take a step back, breathe and acknowledge that some time way from the incoming flood of news is okay. It is necessary and it is healthy to stay present in this moment and to perhaps take a moment to be grateful for our relative safety, for some small joy in our day that can help put things into perspective. Undoubtedly we will all face some speculation about recent events, and I expect I will do the same.
But I am turning toward the positive events, people, and qualities in my life so that I can keep some steady ground beneath me as I consider how to interpret and decide how or whether to factor these events into my life. It is difficult but necessary to do this, and I know my meditation practice has helped. By letting go of what we cannot control, we focus on what we can do. I am not saying to ignore what is happening in the world, by any means. I am just asking you consider if stepping back may help you gain some valuable emotional distance to be able to consider what possible actions will serve you and your loved ones best in the present and the future.