Well, this has been another tiring week, with much grading of papers and intensive course preparation as we begin the final stretch to the end of spring semester. (Three more weeks of ND and 76 days til SEA!) More showings of the house and cleaning loom on the horizon. An annual check-up I was looking forward to, since I’m feeling so good these days, became a startling event when an unexpected symptom was brought to my attention. Inspired by the recent New York Times article on anti-depressants by Benedict Carey and Robert Gebeloff, and my own desire to “get back to normal,” I had already convinced my doctor to slash my prescriptions so that instead of taking three pills a night (two typical “women’s pills” and one anti-depressant), I take one-half of one anti-depressant. Now I’m on a strict diet also and who knows how “withdrawal” from those medications will go? Grading and prepping took all my time, so that I did not even do the morning routine yesterday. Friends I’ve spoken to have revealed more scary health events—kidney, back, and eye problems. (Old people problems! Yikes what does that mean?) And my right hip has been hurting for the past two days, plus my sinuses were acting up. I was feeling old, apprehensive, and blah.
Those were my thoughts before the morning routine.
As I settled in, I picked up a book I love and read a passage about “Being Calm—The Presence of Being.” I’ve pasted it below for you.
Gazing out the window of the sunroom, with my heels touching and feet at 90 degree angles, my back straight and spine crackling nicely back into place, I let go of all that busy thinking and just looked. The sky was blue with puffy white clouds. A few cars drove by; no radios were blasting and there were no train whistles or sirens in the air. But there was so much bird activity! I saw cardinals, robins, sparrows, and a crow.
A bright red male cardinal made my heart soar with his beautiful song, but when I tried to take his picture, he hopped higher and higher up in the tree. See him way up on that dead branch?
Later, a female cardinal showed up in a bush nearby. Last thing I saw of them, they were flying rapidly around the neighbors’ yards, him behind her. They were pretty to watch, fluttering up and down in currents of who knows what emotion or feelings. Whatever it was, it looked exciting and fun! (or maybe not. Maybe he was over-aggressive or creepy, and she was trying to get away. Now I see him way up in that tree again, alone.)
Suddenly, a sparrow flew up and I realized that other forms of life were right at hand: they built a nest right outside the window!
When the 30 minutes were up, my hip still hurt a little (T’ai chi should fix that). As for my mind, it feels all better.
P.S. On what happened next. Inspired by the happy feelings, I decided to give away one of my “Spring Yellow Plaid” Honey Girl pillows to a young man who does carpentry work for us—who was just in the hospital for a serious operation. Since Rich works most closely with the workmen here, I went downstairs to see him and tell him my idea.
He immediately looked down, shook his head, and said, “I don’t think so. He’s not the kind of guy… blablabla negative negative negative.” I smiled and said, “But Rich, have you seen the way he looks at Honey Girl? How he talks to her? He calls her Woofie Girl. He made a cement plaque for her in the backyard…”
But he just shook his head, looked down, and went shuffling off to do the crossword puzzle. That is a typical exchange between us. It used to bug me a lot and could even drive me to despair and great loneliness. But as you can see on the “Happy Clients” page of my fledgling business, I have learned to take his advice with a grain of salt (or not at all)! Typically, when he tells me not to do something kind and generous, I do it anyway.
And so I just turned away, saying in a pleasant, non-angry voice, “Well that’s ok. You don’t have to be involved. It makes me happy, so I’m going to do it.”
And now I am smiling again, looking forward to another good day. As Rousseau once wrote, “You must be happy.” And as a long-lost fortune cookie added: “Don’t stop now!”
The text from Peter Ralston, Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power pp. 5-6:
BEING CALM—THE PRESENCE OF BEING
Sometimes we experience what we call “being calm.” It is thought of as a state of mind in which all the activity of mind is clear, at ease, and undisturbed. How this comes about is usually unknown to us; however, it is conventionally attributed to “self-control” and so we take credit for it. When I speak of calming the activity that we call “mind,” it is not to support the manifold assumptions that exist as mind, but to point to a principle that appears in the presence of what we’re calling “calm.” Being calm appears when our internal activity is aligned with the principle for which this is so. This principle seems tied to the presence of being, in which the mere presence of being is allowed to be, regardless of how it appears. In this, being is experienced without preference or aversion, no matter the form. What is the principle in which this is the case?
When the activity that occurs as mind is distorted into a form in which that activity appears to be disturbed or unsettled, it is often rejected and held as something wrong, something to be avoided. This relationship to what is apparently already occurring immediately severs us from the activity itself, putting us in the position of “fixer” rather than one of simply being. This occurs the moment we first ascertain that we are not calm. From this position we are not in the best place to correct this malady, should we hold that it needs fixing, and so a struggle ensues to find and move to a place in which the disturbance can be corrected. This way of holding calm makes calm almost inaccessible.
Being calm is essential to all that we do. Having a calm mind doesn’t depend on appearance. It doesn’t depend on situations. It is more powerful to see calmness not as something that we have to force into being, but as something already existing, or simply as a quality of being in which we can abide, something to be fallen into or uncovered. It can be held as a base or context to those qualities that we call non-calm, or different from calm. Thus we can see attaining calmness not as something that we do, like jumping from one item to another, but as a shift into the sea in which all things float.
It is our tendency toward constant reactivity that reveals to us the power of stillness.
By holding calm in the way suggested here, we can simply not “do” those things. … instead of trying to make those things disappear, we can simply let them be, not feed them energy and attention, and let them float in the base that we now call being calm. It is from this principle that we can be responsive and clear.
- Peter Ralston, Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power, pp. 5-6.