If you read my last post on the five actions of wellness I mentioned mindfulness – which I define as the deliberate attempt to cultivate a disciplined mind. Essentially attaining a more relaxed state at will. The goal isn’t to never have intense feelings, the goal is to be able to observe my feelings when they arrive, and to recognize them as messages from the subconscious. Right now this space of observation usually arrives sometime after whatever has disrupted my equilibrium – I have hopes of someday getting a little more real time with myself on this.
“The first requirement for healing is space.”
musician & healer Wah!
Recently I have been listening to the musician Wah!, whom I first heard while listening to a Krishna Das playlist. When I looked into who Wah! was, I discovered that she does a lot of work around facilitating the process of healing. I am quite enamored by her voice and insights at the moment. I have listened to her song Come to Me hundreds of times in the last two months. Have done several of her guided visualizations, and recently spent an evening watching videos of her speaking about healing. In those recorded talks she presented the notion that healing begins in the space we make for it. I take this to mean space in time and physical space both.
This has me thinking about the healing sabbatical that I took in 2014. An entire year devoted to treatments and the work of healing. My job prior to diagnosis was very physically demanding, and I had been overworking for 10 years, so taking such a clear break from employment was a relatively easy decision. I know that for some people having a job to focus on is part of their healing path – for me being able to be home with my children, and not having to juggle all my many many appointments around a work schedule was definitely the best decision for me. I know I wouldn’t have pursued so many complementary care modalities if I had been trying to go into work whenever I felt well enough. (Taking a year off from work had financial consequences, which I will address in another post.)
Another way I took a stand to create space to heal, was to set up a defined healing space in our house. This physical space, what we called the “Healing Bower,” was in our basement guest room, the Starlight Lounge. I slept down there about 50% of the time during 2014, usually while I negotiated periods of sleeplessness. I did a lot of late night journal writing, and watching Netflix there. Not worrying about disturbing my family with my wakefulness allowed me to relax into it. Not needing to be up at a specific time allowed me to sleep when I could. I used the space to rest, to write, to dance, to learn to meditate, and occasionally to do yoga. It had comfortable seating for when I wanted company, and a heater that kept it warm – an important consideration since the rest of our house uses wood heat.
Creating the physical and temporal space to heal was the best way I know of to integrate all the changes that occurred that year. During my treatments the need for alone time in a beautiful peaceful environment was very strong. Since returning to “Normal” life I don’t use the Starlight Lounge much anymore, and it is back to being neutral territory in the house, rather than my personal domain.
Though weathering active treatments required radical actions, maintaining and improving health post treatments requires more subtle actions. I am now learning how to give myself space in a way that is not so expansive. Usually this takes the form of using a few moments to center, just long enough for three slow breaths. Those three breaths can change everything.
It is interesting how often I forget this magic trick- and start to spin out on whatever thing is feeling stressful in the moment – escalating it in my own head to no good purpose. Creating space to center, ideally luxuriating in 3-5 minutes spent tuning into my non-verbal self, but usually just the three breaths, always shifts things in a more positive direction.
The strange amnesia that makes me forget this while under stress is perplexing. Which is why I am practicing a lot lately, taking a few moments to reset – especially during times when I don’t feel stressed. The theory being, that practicing while I am calm, will create neural pathways for better access to the tool when I am worked up. Ultimately this will lead to my using it even if it seems like I don’t have time, even if I feel super flustered, or sad or pathetic or whatever.
I actually had a small success with it yesterday, which happened to be my birthday. We were woken early by a phone call from the bakery, news of a problem that needed Joe’s attention. Suddenly it seemed like my birthday was going to suck before I even got out of bed. My plan to have a nice breakfast with the boys prior to going to work foiled before it was even started. As it turned out we did have a nice breakfast, and check-ins with dear ones that made it a wonderful day. But the space between the ringing phone and nice breakfast required that I get myself back in alignment with the goodness of the universe – It required that I give myself a bit of time and space to reset from my perceived disappointment. To be precise, a shower and a few minutes meditating at my altar, changed everything. And after that, even though Joe didn’t need to rush into town before coffee after all, I think that I could have been okay with it even if he had.
Mindfulness is dwelling in the space within. Practicing being present without judging. With that comes the realization that happiness is not necessarily related to what is happening outside of myself. I have a long way to go with this, my thoughts are still often like a frisky pony. Practice Practice Practice. Practice making small moments expand into infinity, and then returning to real time. Practice noticing when I am triggered. Practice questioning whether how I am responding is the most beneficial way to move forward. Practice listening to my body and the messages it delivers via emotions. Practice saying no to things that will push me into the stress zone.
This is all in the nature of maintenance, capitalizing on the good fortune of health created by honoring my acute need for space to heal back in 2014. If I had not taken that healing sabbatical, or created a literal space to do the important work of resting, I am not sure if I would be doing as well as I am now. The mindfulness practice is work that I imagine will be a daily part of the rest of my life. So though my days are spent doing all the normal everyday things, like cooking, working, grocery shopping etc, it is still important to make space for ongoing repairs and restoration within. Luckily this work seems to fit in some pretty small spaces.