Tag Archives: emotional equilibrium

Lost & Found

Standard

Although normally an optimistic person by nature, there are days when the relentless little disappointments of life wear me down and leave me feeling discouraged.  When this happens, my instinct is to do what has always brought me comfort: retreat to nature.  Whenever I am feeling lost, I can always find myself again in the woods.

Throughout my childhood, my family used to spend the summer on a small little island in the middle of a fairly large lake in Massachusetts.  There were about a dozen families that owned cottages on this little rock in the pond, but the island isolation helped to create our own little paradise.  It was very rustic; there was no electricity, running water, or flush toilets.  We floated tanks of propane over to the island to run our refrigerator and stove, but otherwise, there were no modern amenities.  Water was pumped by hand from the well and hauled up a hill where our cottage stood overlooking the lake, and our outhouse was, well, it was just something you got used to.  When it rained, we entertained ourselves with endless card games.  When the weather was nice, I was out in the woods.

I could hardly help it. The island was heavily wooded from shore to shore.  Just being there meant being among the company of trees.  I learned to climb them, and run among them in the dark without breaking my toes on the roots.  (That lesson took a few years and many broken toes.)  I learned to listen to their whisperings and tell when the weather would change by the sound they made.  I watched trees grow up, and sadly, I watched trees fade, fail, and die.  Summer after summer after summer, it was me amongst the trees.  I watched birds build their nests, and squirrels raise their families.  I watched bats roost among the branches, and a legion of insects make their way in and around the leafy canopy.  Trees were ever-present, and although it may sound unusual for a child, I counted the trees among my friends.   I was a woodland creature as much as any squirrel.

I still am.  Now, as an adult, I find myself returning to the woods again and again whenever I need to find comfort and peace.  Our family no longer has the cottage on the island, but I still live in the extensive woodlands of upstate New York.  I do not lack for woods or trails to hike through them.  So when the going gets tough, I grab my walking stick and instinctively head into the shelter of trees.

I was feeling discouraged and depleted this week.  I needed to find my internal reset switch.  So I took up my walking stick, filled my knapsack with what I would need to sustain me, and made my way to the nearest trail head.  I started my hike with a bit of yoga stretching.  Sun Salutations became a moving meditation as I used them to get grounded and open myself to being present.  Then I sat at a picnic table and took out my journal, where I wrote for a bit to clarify my intention to cultivate peace.  It’s hard to drop baggage that you don’t know you’re carrying, and I find journaling to be a good process to identify the things that are weighing down my journey.  This wasn’t just a random hike, but a journey to find myself again.  Thus prepared physically and mentally, I entered the woods.

I chose a path through the mountains above my home on a trail that crossed over many streams that carved their way through the landscape seeking sea level far below.  The trail began at a waterfall splashing down merrily among the fossil-laden limestone, evidence of an ancient inland sea from a time so long ago my mind boggles.  Meditating upon the presence of a clamshell fossil up in the mountains is a great way to find perspective.  It’s hard to stay trapped in the fleeting fears of the moment when confronted with time on such a vast scale.  Humbled, I rambled on, more peaceful and reflective than before.

Everywhere I look, the stones preserve the memory of the inland sea that this mountain used to be.

I walked steadily, but as silently as possible, pausing frequently to peer through the trees to see what wildlife might be sharing this trail with me.  I’d walk, and pause, and listen, then continue on.  I paused at another waterfall, and sat for awhile letting the sound wash over me.  I went further along the trail and found a fallen log in a sunny spot off the beaten path, and sat there for awhile and listened to the trees and birds exchanging news of the day.  I watched a spider reinforce her spiral web against the wind.  I saw a millipede hunt along the log where I sat.  Farther along, I found a large flat boulder and used it for another seated meditation where, anchored by the stone, I allowed my thoughts to become untethered and roam freely on the breeze.  I was hardly aware of myself as I rose and continued my journey.  As I continued my solitary drift through the woods, I allowed thoughts to form and pass.  I noted them, followed them, and let them go.  I spoke to the trees about what was in my heart, and let the breeze carry those words away.  I opened all my senses, and received the grace of the woods.

I thought I’d hike for an hour or so, but when I finally emerged from the woods, four hours had passed.  I felt a bit like I had slid down Alice’s rabbit hole.  I couldn’t possibly have been gone that long?  But it was time well spent.  I emerged from the woods feeling more settled, peaceful, and hopeful again.  I was pulled from my own petty worries back into a place of timeless beauty.  I dipped the ladle of my soul into a deep well of peace, and was refreshed.

Where do you go to restore yourself and find peace?

Advertisements

Heart’s Ease

Standard

From distress to destress

Where do we find our heart’s ease?  How do we cope with emotional distress?  What do we do to help ourselves when life gets challenging?  I find that when I can keep my heart open to joy, I have the emotional resiliency to carry me through life’s difficult transitions.

I interviewed for a job earlier this week, and it went well.  Nerves don’t bother me in such situations.  I’m friendly and open by default. I have spent much of my adult life trying to cultivate an attitude of emotional equilibrium which helps me keep my cool in stressful situations.  However, I’ve had to work hard to maintain that equilibrium in the post-interview waiting stage.  With so much riding on the outcome of an interview, the waiting can be excruciating.  These are the day to day opportunities for growth that I try to be grateful for.

I’ve always found waiting for important news difficult.  As a teenager in high school, I used to audition for solos in choir and for parts in the plays and musicals.  I was still developing emotional self-control at that age, so I was a bit more nervous during auditions, but it was nothing compared to the all-consuming distraction of waiting for the call back list to go up.  I had a hard time putting my mind on other things, and would be anxious and distracted for days until the outcome was known.  Once I got the news, good or bad, I was fine again.  It was the waiting that killed me.

So it is still for me today, even after decades of meditation and self-development under my belt.  I have gotten much better at being naturally confident in auditions or interviews, but I still am driven to distraction while waiting for the outcome.  But while my idle mind still returns again and again to the thought “Will I get it?”, I have at least learned of a few effective strategies to engage my mind in worthier directions.

Here’s what doesn’t work: sitting by a phone waiting for it to ring.  Now, I don’t have a cell phone that I use for business purposes, so if I get a professional call, it’s at home.  This makes it far easier for me to walk away  from the phone, both as an object and what that object symbolizes.  As long as I’m at home, every innocent ring makes my heart leap into my throat, and my mind buzz like a kicked hornet’s nest.  I can’t find peace in a state of hypervigilance.  But by getting away from the reminder of my discomfort, I’m better able to place my attention and my emotional energy on other things.

A very effective strategy is to find ways to be helpful or useful to the world.  I actively look for opportunities to do good deeds.  If you’ve ever volunteered your time, you likely have experienced the special kind of joy that comes from helping a worthy cause.  Selfless giving opens the heart and aligns it with a greater good. There are a million little pieces of unhappiness and suffering in the world.  Relieve a piece of that for another, big or small, and your own heart is rewarded with the very act of doing it.  It’s impossible to stay stuck in emotional distress while simultaneously experiencing the joy of selfless giving.  An open heart finds sympathetic ease when easing the distress of another.

So yesterday, to ease my distraction by a phone that didn’t ring, I looked for ways to be of use to the world.  I saw a friend in emotional distress over the grave illness of a loved one, so I offered to visit with her and help her create a custom essential oil blend that could support her emotionally in this difficult time.  I blend oils for myself to give me support in similar situations, so I was hoping to offer this friend a gesture of solace that might also provide her with a real tool to help her through this time of sadness and transition.

We chose six oils whose properties are associated with decreasing anxiety, fear, and stress: Patchouli, Cedarwood, Lavender, Melissa, Bergamot, and Cypress.  Patchouli is good for steadying the mind when overthinking and worry develop.  Cedarwood can give us strength in times of crisis, and support emotional resiliency. Lavender is rightly renowned for its ability to calm and sooth frayed nerves. Melissa can provide relief from anxious depression, while Bergamot clarifies and uplifts the mind.  Cypress helps convey a feeling of emotional cohesion, and supports our ability to cope with change, particularly with the transition of death.  When I was done with the blend, my friend was left with a custom perfume that can give her something to focus on when stress becomes overwhelming, and I was left with the heart’s ease that comes from supporting a friend in need.  And of course, I was also exposed to a therapeutic qualities of these oils as I was blending them, so it helped us both  find a bit of strength together.  That’s what friends are for.

It doesn’t do us any good to stay trapped in difficult emotional states.  Whether unhappy with some piece of our lives, or distressed about events outside of our control, staying stuck in those emotions isn’t healthy.  I think it’s important to find ways out of negative emotional states into more peaceful, joyful states of being.  This is an important part of my search for samadhi.  I seek liberation from the chains of emotional distress.   In those times when I am able to achieve emotional equilibrium, I find an infinite pool of joy waiting to offer its endless abundance.  I haven’t been able to achieve a perpetual state of bliss, and maybe I never will, but that is where I become a buddha.  No matter where I am, that is my destination, my heart’s ease.

“Better do a good deed near at home than go far away to burn incense.” – Chinese Proverb