Mindful Leaf Raking

This morning while still at home at my townhouse which is located in the woods, I looked out at my deck & noticed that, yet again, it was covered with leaves.  I felt some irritation since it had only been a couple of days since my husband had removed a large quantity of leaves.

“Okay, okay, this time I’ll do it,” I grudgingly thought.

I slid open the door, and wonder of wonders, walked right smack into the Present Moment!  I was filled with awe as I noticed that the sun was highlighting the brilliant reds and oranges and yellows of leaves that were still clinging to their trees.  How could I have not seen that as I looked out at the pile of leaves to rake?  The air was crisply refreshing.  I was more than glad to take in nice, long breaths of it. I took my trusty broom and began to sweep the leaves into a pile.  The sound of the brittle leaves filled my ears with delight.  I had no idea why, and I sure didn’t care why.  It just did. I gathered the leaves up & tossed them over the edge of the deck.  I was thrilled with their amazing flight patterns as they danced their way down one story to the forest floor below.  “Wheeee!”  Who said that?  Why, it was me!

I suddenly realized why my granddaughters were so eager “to do” the leaves when they used to come over to spend the night during the Fall.  They really know how to be in the Present Moment on a regular basis to see all the beauty and excitement that is available to all of us when we’re not busy being “up in our heads” thinking the same old distracting thoughts that we always think.

I invite you to do some Mindful Leaf Raking.

Mindful Politics

It’s getting to be THAT time of the year, actually THAT time of the 4 year cycle leading up to another presidential election.  Can you feel it in your body?  Maybe it’s just me, but I know that I can.  There is a tightening in my stomach which usually signals stress and/or anxiety for me.

I’m aware of the political ads that my husband and I are trying to dodge by prerecording everything we want to watch, so we can “fast forward x3” through the ads.  There’s always some that somehow get through our filtering attempts.

I’m noticing that my clients are becoming more concerned about the outcome of the upcoming election.  They have plenty to say about each candidate.  Of course, as a psychotherapist,  I need to be neutral & resist the urge to add my 2 cents’ worth.  That comes with a price.  Whenever I stuff down thoughts and feelings I have to pay afterwards.  What does that mean?  For me, it means that unless I am able to clear that energy, I will notice that I have urges to eat food when I’m not hungry.  In my life, food has been my drug of choice.  I no longer allow it to have it’s way with me, but I do still feel the old familiar siren call when I am stressed &/or anxious.

You see, food, or any other addiction can help us “change the channel” on an uncomfortable feeling that we don’t want to experience.  We go on a search for the food, devour it mindlessly and then fall into remorse about having overeaten.  In the process the stress, anxiety, depression, anger or whatever has been forgotten. (Apparently remorse is preferable to the other uncomfortable feelings, perhaps because it is so familiar.)

In order to not have to pay the price, I have to invite myself, mindfully, to experience the original uncomfortable stress or anxiety.  I “let go” of the story line of why I’m feeling that way & just notice the stomach tightening or tightness in my throat or wherever I am feeling it.  I slowly & mindfully breathe while I am doing this.  Eventually the feeling will dissipate.

I have also learned that it is a good idea for me to limit the amount of political pundits I watch on TV or online.  It just gets me stirred up.

Apparently I get stirred up because I believe that my candidates have to win!  Now, I have been around long enough to have many of my candidates not win.  I have always thought that it would be the end of the world.  Obviously I was wrong about that.  Somehow life goes on and things settle down again.

This year my plan is to remind myself that it will all be workable even if the “wrong” folks get into office.  Life is too short to tie myself into knots for months.  I can do my part by voting and even working for a particular candidate if that is what I choose to do.  I can mindfully trust that life will continue to provide wondrous experiences, no matter what,  if I remember to bring myself into the present moment and notice those wondrous experiences.

Seasonal Optional Suffering

As far as I know all human beings suffer during life.  We lose those we love, we lose our youth, the list goes on.  We all know that suffering is not fun.  But I have noticed that many of us engage in what I call optional suffering.  This is suffering that seems to make sense to us, but really gets in the way of life enjoyment.

Even though I grew up in Rochester, New York, I have never enjoyed winter.  I like lots of sunshine and lots of warmth the way it is here in St. Louis, MO. in the summer.

Every year around this time (August) I start noticing “signs” of summer drawing to a close.  I notice, for example, that birds are no longer in their breeding behavior where they are highly intolerant of other birds in their territory.  I see that large groups of them are on telephone lines, side by side, and flying together in flocks.  I notice that the sun is lower in the sky.  It appears to me as though I am wearing my sunglasses as I walk through my home (when I’m not).  Goldenrod, a late summer flower, is beginning to show up in fields.

Every time I spot one of these telltale signs, I feel a cold stab in my gut.  An intense feeling of dread spreads throughout me.  “Oh, no!  Winter is almost here again!  It’s going to be freezing cold and dark and dreary.  I’ll have to put on tons of clothes every time I step out of the door.  The sidewalks will be treacherous as they’re covered with ice.”

It’s important that you understand that it is 88 degrees outside with a bright blue sky as I write this.  This is the kind of weather that I love, but here I am whining about something that has not yet happened.  This is optional suffering in at least 2 ways.

First, I am not enjoying the present moment.  I am up in my head imagining what I predict will be the winter to come.  I’m missing what I love which is here right now in this very moment.

Secondly, I am not accepting life on it’s terms.  I am resisting what will “probably be” in a few months.  I want things to be different than they probably will be.  That is definitely an uphill battle.  I have been fighting this uphill battle for decades with the same results.

But there is a better way to look at this.  This better, mindful way is to develop an acceptance of what is, an acceptance that life is going to unfold on its own terms no matter how much I fuss about it.

When I settle myself down into this awareness, I begin to relax and invite myself to enjoy this present moment of my life.  This immediately lowers my stress level.

I then am able to remember how invigorating the crisp autumn air can be, how glorious the turning leaf colors are, how the variety of winter is a part of what causes me to savor summer, how grateful I am to be able to be  warm and comfortable in my home during the cold weather, how delightful it is to see the neighborhood children playing during a snowfall.

Once again I recognize that life  is all good when I am able to quit putting on my parking brakes in anticipation of the parts of life that I don’t approve of and remember that I will be able to deal with whatever arises when it arises in that present moment.