I offer you this poem of the week as I contemplate matters of time, effort and how to know when enough is just that… enough.
A Full Cup
by Robert Creeley
Age knows little other than its own complaints.
Times past are not to be recovered ever.
The old man and woman are left to themselves.
When I was young, there seemed little time.
I hurried from day to day as if pursued.
Each thing I discovered, another came to possess me.
Love I could ask no questions of, it was nothing.
I ever anticipated, ever thought would be mine.
Even now I wonder if it will escape me.
What I did, I did finally because I had to,
Whether from need of my own or that of others.
It is finally impossible to live and work only for pay.
I do not know where I’ve come from or where I am going.
Life is like a river, a river without beginning or end.
It’s been my company all my life, its wetness, its insistent movement.
The only wisdom I have is what someone must have told me,
neither to take not to give more than can be simply managed.
A full cup carried from the well.
So, by this time every year, everyone’s talking about,
re-posting, or writing their own virtually-obligatory article about gratitude.
I have mixed feelings about this topic.
My thoughts begin with this article that I’ve kept coming back to this month. It posits that our hearts have an electromagnetic field that extends up to 5 feet from our bodies, through which we are energetically sharing what we feel with others all the time. Thus, when we hold positive feelings in our hearts, we increase our own frequency and can share what we’re feeling with others. Once we become grounded in this awareness, we get to be in charge of what we project out into the world. The energetic realm is quite amazing, no?
Then there’s this other side of gratitude that’s so cliche. I lump it in with the mainstream messaging we are constantly fed around positivity and happiness, which I think Barbara Ehrenreich totally nailed in her 2009 book, Bright Sided. These are not feelings we relate with very authentically. In western culture, we overplay the need to be positive all the time, which I think often causes our positive expressions to lose power and meaning. (Hallmark holidays come to mind…) Barbara, through this book, you validated me at a time when I really needed it. Oh…
I teach yoga in a women’s prison. I was there last night, the night before Thanksgiving, and shared both of these ideas with them — that we can spread positive sentiment and actually affect other people simply by feeling it AND that gratitude is something we can all work toward, but sometimes, it just doesn’t come….and that’s okay. You’re actually not a bad person if you can’t “think positively” or conjure up something you’re thankful for. Sometimes it feels like it’s blasphemous to say I’m not happy right now or I’m not feeling positive or grateful or hopeful or whatever it is… it doesn’t mean that state will persist forever. It shouldn’t create a certain judgment about you as a person.
It’s ok to question. It’s ok to feel down or faithless. Feeling things fully is what allows us to move through those states. Why is it so difficult for human beings to hold two opposites at once? Why can’t both of these things be true?
The autumnal equinox has come and gone. We’ve transitioned out of daylight-saving time, at least in the majority of the US, which means the end-of-year holidays are rapidly approaching. We’re given mixed messages at this time of year. We consent to this widespread social practice of setting our clocks back an hour, allowing shorter-feeling days and a little more darkness into our lives. But how many of us are willing to honor the winter months as a time to conserve energy? Further, if we do value this opportunity, how many of us actually behave like it through the holiday season? Hmm, I thought so…
Notice How You Feel
As we head into the next 6 weeks of rapid-fire celebration, now is a better time than ever to practice energy-saving measures that can help you feel more supported from within through all the output. You know…the giving. The hosting. The attending. The socializing. The baking. The shopping. The hurrying. The putting of others before ourselves. Don’t get me wrong — nurturing our relationships and cultivating community are beautiful and necessary parts of life. “It’s just too easy to get caught up in all there is to do,” we say, but when the “doing” gets out of control, it ends up negating the joy and sense of connection may be seeking in the first place.
As I grow older and more experienced in the art of being human, I find it easier to honor the necessity of rest and recovery. I had a light bulb moment recently, in which I realized something terribly obvious, yet indispensable: I need to take responsibility for my own energy output. Literally, no one else can do that for me! I think we worry others will perceive us as being selfish or neglectful of responsibilities by making this choice, but in the long run if you’re depleted, you simply won’t be able to give in the ways desire most.
The Sensations of Stress
So, how does “burned out” actually manifest in the body? It might present in the form of tension headaches, insomnia, or digestive issues. But have you ever experienced a feeling of deep fatigue in your center that manifests as an ache in the kidney area — an itch, almost? It’s a tell-tale sign that your sympathetic nervous system working overtime and it’s connected not only with your activity level and what you put in your body, but also what’s happening in your mind. Personally, I find its onset strongly correlates with my level of emotional output over a period of time. Energetically speaking, it’s interesting to note that this area of the body correlates with the 3rd chakra manipura (this name for the solar plexus chakra translates to “lustrous gem”), which governs matters of personal power, confidence and will. It’s no coincidence that this is home to many of our major organs, including the adrenals — a key player in the stress response.
One of the reasons yoga is so transformative is that it can bring about measurable shifts in our neurobiology. Things like changing posture, shifting the quality of your thoughts and even wearing a different expression on your face can actually influence change in the brain and help to reinforce new habits. When total depletion strikes or I’m feeling “wired and tired” (simultaneously alert and deeply exhausted), I try to remember to change my shape. There’s no better go-to for me than viparita karani or legs-up-the-wall pose. This pose routinely brings about a measurable downshift in my mind, body and nervous system in the span of less than 10 minutes. Focusing on settling into my back body and allowing the floor to receive me, I try to let go of my need to give. To move forward. To make progress. To gain something. To make everything work. To ensure everyone else is content before I can rest.
This holiday season, I invite you to embrace a downshift of your own. Exercise the right to listen to your body’s needs. Leave white space on your calendar. Do a restorative yoga pose or two in the middle of the day or before bed. Wrap yourself in blankets and hide from the world for a time. Avoid saying yes when you mean no. The best part? This takes practice. It is a practice. One that will help you more skillfully and effortlessly choose what is right for you in each moment — and it’s a huge step toward leading the more sustainable life you crave.
This past week, I’ve been sharing this quote from Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck in my classes. (She said many things of import in her long life.)
When conflict, opposition, or stress arises, who do you become?
I fully subscribe to the theory that things don’t just happen to us. The inconveniences and hardships of life unravel as they do to teach us something. Maybe we each have a destiny, or maybe it all truly unfolds with no map. But however this revelation works, to not learn at every turn would be a missed opportunity for growth.
If the things that have happened in our lives hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be at the exact point we are at now. In realizing this, perhaps we can find a greater appreciation for the path we’re on.
We’re the creators.
As you move through the coming days, notice what calms you. What annoys you. Which moments bring out automatic reactions. Which welcome more spaciousness of thought. Openly invite that which you want more of. Write a letter (figuratively or literally) to the universe.
You’d be about 110 in Earth years now.
When I can listen during the quiet times — it’s the time between waking and actually rising for me, so often — is when I start to feel like I’m actually inhabiting my life. People who have passed find me, then sometimes signs will chase me all day long.
I wrote this poem for her when she would have been 100. I think I got an A. If I didn’t, I think I should have. If for nothing else, for telling the truth.
true lady of ninety, cognizant of her mortality
ever gifting me with those tiny parts of her world,
that a only a child can appreciate correctly
she would be hours puttering in the garden that faced my window
tending the two uniform rows of the tulip bed
wearing tan gloves to protect her
already-worn hands from the dark soil
she invited me over for girl talk and tea
carpets, walls soaked distinctly with her thick, perfumy scent
she told me stories of her young years that were important
never had a child, nor I a grandmother
when she died
they gave me her toys.
Notice who or what emerges next time you are quiet.
… and no matter how strong the urge, don’t run away.