So, How Is It?

I’m in the process of remaking myself. Somewhere along the line I’ve lost my inspiration to write or make art. What gives? I don’t know, but I’m allowing myself plenty of time to do the things that seem most important to me right now. Like taking better care of my body. During the book writing process, I let my fairly strenuous exercise routine go down the tubes. Now I ache a lot and have gotten quite lazy. The result is a very tight body that isn’t terribly flexible. Though I still do my morning walks with the dogs, I haven’t kept up with longer walks by myself. I have added a restorative yoga class to my week and still go to my regular yoga class, and pilates workout. That’s all well and good, but if I don’t practice this stuff every day and continue to walk, it doesn’t help much. So moving, straightening out the kinks, and stretching muscles I haven’t used in a while is what I tend to do these days.

I love this poem my brother, Zed, recently wrote. I resonate with it because as I get older and try to clean up some of the stuff in my life, like finishing pieces of writing or paintings, I get distracted by the littlest things. Like watching a pair of catbirds feasting on Oregon Grape berries just outside my window. Moments like that are captivating.

I don’t like rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off. It isn’t good for the soul, my connections to other people, or the natural world. I’m moving more slowly like a tortoise.  Didn’t she win out over the hare in their race even though she was very slow?

Here is Zed’s poem:

So, How is it ?

How is it ?
I have a long list
Of letters never sent?
Combing through old emails
I learn to stuff them into multitudes
Of electronic departments of this life we have.
As if this helps me learn life’s lessons.
So, how is it?
The door knocks, dog barks, phone rings,
Or siren wails through the window.
Easy distractions with important moments to reflect or forget.

Zed Zabski
To Joan, April 26, 2017

So, how is it with you?

Keeping The Spirit Alive

Making Bone Broth

Making Bone Broth

In the past few months I’ve been a bit OCD about keeping up with what’s next on my to-do list. I’ve been pushing myself and being ultra serious about going beyond what is possible in order to get my book off the ground. I’ve been working nonstop and getting tired of it all. It’s what I tend to do when I’ve got something big going on. Whether being a caretaker to my mother, or getting my my book off the ground, I always overdo.

After the book launch, which I enjoyed immensely, I had a hard time separating myself from my book. I asked, What happens now? Do I go back to the way I used to live my days, taking breaks to read a good novel, taking long walks, napping, and keeping my garden tended and in bloom?

I’ve been very tired, needing time to process what has been happening and where I am today. I’ve kept finding more things to do to keep my memoir in the forefront … writing new content, doing more guest blog posts and updating my website … never feeling satisfied with what I’ve done.

When I’ve thought about taking a break I felt guilty. I’d invested so much time and energy in this project, how could I not keep up the momentum in order to make my book a success?

In the meantime I forgot about some very important things. I neglected to take care of myself, my home, and my relationships. I hadn’t seen friends in a very long time. I’d been too busy to go out to lunch or have a cup of tea with those I’ve missed being with. I didn’t take time to water the garden when it was noticeably wilting. I started binging on chocolate and did everything I could to keep my eyelids propped open when I really needed to take a nap. I felt very resentful when I needed to cook a meal, do the laundry, or go grocery shopping. I don’t normally dislike doing those things and actually love to cook. If someone asked me for help, I got pissy. Don’t they know I’ve got work to do?

Experiencing more anxiety and imbalance than ever, I’m slowly coming to my senses. I’ve declared my home a NO SHOULD ZONE. If I feel I need to take a nap, I take a nap. If I can’t wait to get into that great book I’ve been longing to read, I start reading. I do a little bit of book promotion, write a blog post, take care of a few chores, and then give myself a reward.

Laughing through a facial.

Laughing through a facial.

This past week I took time for a pedicure and facial. I had lunch with a dear friend I haven’t seen in years. (We live less than two miles apart.) I took time to clean out the freezer. I put all of the roasted chicken carcasses I’d been saving into a big pot, along with an onion, carrots, celery, lots of herbs, dried mushrooms, and a few other secret ingredients, and simmered it on the back of the stove for the better part of a day.  As a result I’ve replenished the empty shelves in my freeze with healing soup stock. It all felt so good and my malaise about doing anything that felt like work began to ebb. In taking life too seriously and burning myself out with unending work is not helping me live a balanced life.

It feels wonderful to just putter through my days. Birthing my book has been a long row to hoe, but it’s done and it’s time to relax. I am by no means planning to stop the continued work that still needs to be done, but taking time to watch the sun rise, share laughter with a friend, or keep the garden well tended is as necessary as writing new content to keep my book in the forefront. And it keeps my psyche running smoothly.

How about you? How do you keep your life well balanced and your spirit alive?

 

If you missed it check out my guest blog post over at Susan Widener’s blog Women’s Writing Circle, here.  It’s about writing difficult stories.

Mindfulness and Stress Release

Mindfulness is a massage for the mind and the heart.

ScatteringASHES_VERSA.inddI went on retreat this past weekend to Yogaville, just over an hour from home to pull myself together for this week’s book launch on Friday, September 30th, at 5:30 PM at the New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s Down Town Mall.

The past couple of weeks have been stressful. The last minute work of getting a book ready to go out into the world has been intense. Plus dealing with Bill’s highly successful shoulder surgery three weeks ago tomorrow,  wore me out. I simply needed to get away and rest. Once there, I was able to get some extra sleep, and enjoyed being with eight other souls looking for peace. Our teacher, Susan Stone was great, helping me find my way back to being nonreactive. I came away feeling two tons lighter and ready to let go of my mind’s constant disruptive rumblings.

I’ll be writing more about mindfulness and how necessary it is, in the coming weeks both here and in my newsletter, which will be a few days late this time around. I usually publish it on the first of each month but with my book launch on Friday, which is the last day of September, I’m going to give myself a few extra days to put it together. This past weekend reminded me that I am not a one-man-band and need to allow myself to take my time and enjoy the process.

Starting Over

Frog Yogi looks after me in my studio.

Frog Yogi looks after me in my studio.

I rarely get as much exercise in the summer as I do in the winter. This summer was no exception. WhenVirginia dog days set in and the temperatures and humidity rise, I get lazy. And even though I have a vintage cross-trainer in my studio along with air conditioning, I regularly avoid movement as much as possible. Of course, it could have something to do with aging, but still the longer I go without taking a good long walk or spend at least 30 minutes on my machine and another 30 minutes stretching, the more my body aches. My joints continue to stiffen as I promise that tomorrow I will get on the cross-trainer. But even crossing my heart and hoping to die, doesn’t change a thing. Even doing it once or twice a week during a heat wave, and feeling better for it, doesn’t change my attitude. I keep telling myself that I’ll do it tomorrow along with the million and half other things I’ve been promising to do. Hah! Sure!

I walk Sam and Max early every morning before I have breakfast and though it isn’t more than a ten or fifteen minute walk around the block with stops at every interesting smelling shrub, it helps me wake up. Later if I walk by myself and get some speed going or get on that gadget that takes up too much room in my studio, I do feel great. And for those like me who hold tension and anxiety in their bodies, movement helps me relax. I think of walking as my morning meditation. There is nothing but me moving. If I get sidetracked I simply go back to my breath and the one-two-three pattern of walking that helps to keep me physically balanced.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been kicking myself in the butt most days because I haven’t been keeping my promises to myself. I still do Pilates on Monday afternoon and Yoga on Friday morning, but the solo, out-of-breath work went down the tubes.

When the Olympics started two weeks ago, I was delighted spending my evenings being inspired by all of the athletes. I was especially moved by those who didn’t win, knew they wouldn’t, but did it anyway. Just like them, in my dreams I flew through the air,  twisted around, and landed perfectly upright on my feet.  I swam fast,  as though a shark was after me,  and dove into the pool, as gracefully as a any diving bird. I thought about all of the work it took to train and the passion one must have in order to participate in such an event.

My inner critic piped up every now and then to say, “Hey what’s wrong with you? You’re just a rotten couch potato.” Then pointing her finger at me, she’d say, “Well you are getting old. It’s time to quit that exercise stuff. It’s a waste of time. I’m sure that rocking chair in the window down at the furniture store is looking pretty good to you, huh?”

All I need is a challenge. So I’ve started over. It’s still mighty hot. The air is hazy and humid. But I’ve worked out on my cross trainer every day this past week. Yesterday a cold front came through. The morning was deliciously cool. I took  a good long walk in the morning chill and finished the day with my Pilates session.  No more excuses like I don’t have time, so I’ll do it tomorrow. I don’t need or want a medal. All I want and need is for my mind and body to feel good and the time to take care of myself. I suppose there may come a day when I can no longer walk, so as long as I can, I will.

Life is all about starting over again. Each morning we wake up to a new day and have an opportunity to keep the promises we made to ourselves. There will be days when we really don’t have time to do what we said we would do. There will be days when good or bad things happen and it just isn’t possible to cross things off our to-do lists. The point is that every moment, every hour, every day, we have the chance to  start over.

My use of sugar has been rising and as a sugar addict, I’m only hurting myself and possibly bringing on something that will cause other problems. So that will be my next restart. No more kicking myself in the butt.  I may slip once in a while but I will keep in mind I can start over again at any time!

What are you starting over?

Look for me tomorrow over at Dorothy Sander’s Voices of Wisdom series.

On Friday you will find me over at The Care Giver Space, where they are featuring an excerpt from my memoir, SCATTERING ASHES,
A Memoir of Letting Go.

Managing Stress In An Insane world

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

Earlier this year I decided to avoid the news as best I could. I didn’t want to hear about the presidential campaign; especially the words of one whose name shall not be mentioned here. He upset me greatly and when I started yelling  at the television it was a sure sign that I needed to turn it off. I do still tune in less than an hour every day because I want to be able to make informed choices. But I leave the room from time to time when I want to avoid talk from certain people.

Managing my stress is an important part of my self-care. I do not want to live with constant anxiety which turns my gut into a churning cement mixer filled with rocks. I get jumpy, depressed and feel hopeless. At the ripe old age of seventy-three I want a life of ease. I can’t afford the damage that stress causes to my mind, spirit and body.

I’ve been a news junky for as long as I can remember. I absolutely had to watch all of the heart breaking reports when JFK was assassinated. I tuned in constantly when Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were taken out. On the morning of 9/11, I wept and felt like it was the end of the world. On all of those occasions my gut churned away. I had no appetite for food. And for at least a week if not longer, I sat in front of the television reliving the cataclysm of 9/11.  Every news channel replayed the fall of the twin towers, over and over again. I was depressed. I had trouble sleeping. Like everyone else, I was sick at heart. At the end of that week I realized I was harming myself, not helping myself.

I needed to find my center. I needed to smile and laugh. I couldn’t go to NYC and help with the cleanup but thought perhaps if I lightened up and started believing in goodness, my depression would go away. I gave blood. I went back to working in the garden. I helped to prepare the downstairs apartment in my home for my mother, whose health was failing. She would be moving in with us in late October and would spend the next six years being in residence with us before she broke multiple bones and died in May of 2007. I knew it was going to be difficult and wanted to ground myself before she moved in.

I felt much better until Mom’s health started going down hill rapidly. I began watching hours of news again, and woke to NPR every morning. While I peeled potatoes, prepared meat loaf, or kneaded bread the TV was on. I listened to how the world was falling apart. It was easier to watch the world in turmoil and spout off on how to fix it, than it was to give my attention to what was happening in my own household as Mom moved toward the end of her life.

Later I was told I suffered from PTSD. It was suggested that the horrific news about climate change and the continuing saga of war in the Middle East were making me more stressed out than I was to begin with. But it was hard to turn it all off. I was too invested in the news and what was happening around the world.

I started meditating, said no to events or movies that I knew would upset me and set some boundaries For myself. But it was still difficult to stay news free. How would I know how to live if I didn’t know what was happening in the world? I was especially anxious about the mass shootings occurring so frequently around the country in schools, movie theaters, military bases and shopping centers. But even through those events I did fairly well at turning the boob tube off at the first sign of my being upset. I worked at staying positive. I reminded myself that beyond the negative is a beautiful world filled with good people who are kind and doing good deeds.

Then “you know who” decided to run for the presidency. My stress and anxiety levels began growing by leaps and bounds. I was sure the end of the world was nearing. I was afraid for my country. I feared what would happen to my kids and grandkids in the future if that man got into office. I yelled at the TV during debates and the nightly news. I cried some nights as I tried to fall asleep. Finally I said, “Enough. I can’t do this anymore.”

When I woke to the tragic news of the shooting in Orlando, a few weekends ago ago I was surprised by my reaction. I had no need to see the grim photos or know the numbers of innocent people killed and wounded. It was so unlike me. I asked, What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you reacting the way you usually do?

But I knew there was nothing I could do. Would sitting in front of the television all day taking in this heinous act of violence help to keep this kind of event from happening again? I knew that all it would do is make me feel angry, hopeless, and extremely heart sick. I decided to turn the news off and go about my day. I worked in the garden, cooked a delicious meal, and finished reading a book that I was completely immersed in. During the following days I signed petitions and made a donation to one of the sites involved in bringing an end gun violence. And after a bout of angry posts on Facebook, I decided to stop that too.

I still tune into the news most nights just to get the headlines. But it isn’t causing my stress levels to rise. I’m living in a better world, taking care of myself, trying to be as kind as I can, and being grateful for all that I have.

How do you handle the gruesome events that seem to happen every day all around us?
How do you stay positive in the face of negativity?