Five years ago my partner and I started a backyard prairie. My education in prairie tending is slowly progressing, and one of my favorite things is to look for young plants arriving in the spring. I love to go searching for happy little bursts of life after a long Wisconsin winter (this is fun out in the kettles, too!). Every year I recognize a few more plants in their baby-state. Early spring growth often starts out reddish purple because of all the sugars needed to sustain growth this time of year. They are chock full of potential, and taking the brave step to poke out of the ground on cold, wet, and windy days. Spring 2022 has had a slow start, this has been a practice in patience and anticipation.
I think most of my life I spent anticipating what's next, which makes it very challenging to be present in the moment. Typically, if I'm waiting for something to happen I go deep into imagining what it will be like, I am living in the future, future conversations, future ideas, future results or consequences. I will sometimes plunge myself into preparation, which can build into worry and anxiety. Or if it's a good thing coming, I will say things like "I can't wait to see you!" When I'm being mindful, I'll say something like "I'm excited to see you" or "looking forward to it!" I don't want to wish away time, and I don't want to live in the future place of my mind that isn't appreciating time where I am right now.
These little sprouts are the embodiment of anticipation. They are full of all the potential growth to become a tall prairie plant that grows above my head. It's easy to dream of long summer days and the season of lush growth and bountiful flowers, but this is where it starts: Small little purple leaves pushing through the damp spring soil and emerging past the dried stalks of last year. I'll try to be mindful of this moment: appreciate the courage it takes to be small, experience the excitement of starting fresh and start to emerge myself out of my own dormant winter.
What are you anticipating?
Are you a patient observer, or do you like to cut to the chase?
What helps get through the long drawn out stretches of cold rainy days?
Are you chock full of potential and ready to strike out into spring, or do you need some more time to prepare?
February was Self-Care month at the Yoga Co-op. The lesson in self care is always that one needs to have something in their own cup before sharing with others. It often comes with misguided feelings of being selfish or feeling guilty for doing something for yourself. But it is nearly always the opposite. Those that would feel guilty when taking time for self-care are typically people that care for others 95% of the time. It could be at home or at work or both, most people are in service of others, whether they want to be or not. But one cannot give if they have nothing left to give. And how often do we get to the bottom of the barrel, feeling fried, or frayed, or afraid of even looking at oneself in the mirror. Someone in that condition cannot effectively give care to others.
Unfortunately, a lot of self-care takes work. There's effort in spending time or spending money or spending energy organizing what needs to happen in order to feel taken care of. There is even the figuring out of what DOES make one feel taken care of. And it doesn't always look like a spa-day or a beach retreat. Sometimes balancing your budget is self care. Cleaning out a closet is self care. Making a doctor's appointment, or a mechanic appointment, or a therapy appointment might be self care.
I knew what my self care for February was going to be, but I did not know how profoundly cared for it would make me feel!
I enrolled in a 6 week clay class that started in February and ends next week. I got registered before all the spots were filled (no small task) I paid for it. I arranged childcare. And I committed. I didn't set a lot of expectations for myself, except to enjoy my time. It has been wonderful to get my hands in some "mud" as they say, even in the dead of winter. It has been wonderful to interact with a whole set of classmates outside of my isolation chamber. It has also been wonderful that the social contract begins and ends on Wednesday mornings--we're all there to enjoy our time and then we can say "see you next week."
I love creating things. This has been a really satisfying form of self-care, which makes it all more meaningful than things that are "supposed to" be good for me. The first thing I made were these little boats. I'll imagine filling them up with any little thing that nurtures me, including the memory of making them,
What makes you feel cared for?
What does it feel like when your cup is full?
Do you have self-care in your routine in some way or another?
I bought myself a piano for Christmas. Well, it was a gift for "the family", but I bought it with the intention for me to play again. For me to practice again.
I'm really grateful my parents signed me up for lessons when I was just 6 or 7. I took lessons all the way through senior year. It was something I enjoyed, it was something I felt I was good at. That is, until the new kid in 3rd grade showed up. He was (and still is) a virtuoso, and he blew everyone away. I was a little shocked and a lot jealous at his ability to sit down and bang out tunes, fully memorized and emotive and fun.
My innermost third grader self knew: I'll never be that. I'm not a performer, and I'm not all that fun when I take something seriously. But if not to have fun, I really enjoy to play, for myself. I enjoy learning to play. And now that I'm just an adult in my own house, and with a keyboard that I can turn the volume down low or put in headphones--I can play for myself more than ever before.
As I start again in a mindful practice, I find it so helpful to be practicing something like an instrument along side mindfulness in the day-to-day. It is such a reminder of how to practice, and to feel the skills improve, and the muscle memory set in, and to know that everything about being a mindful, compassionate and grateful human also takes practice, and builds muscle memory, and it gets easier, though there will always be hard days in between.
My piano practice looks different from when I was a kid. I'm not taking lessons, and I'm selecting my own method books. I'm not preparing for a recital. It is now nearly impossible to play an entire song without some sort of distraction. Though that is frustrating, it is very akin to meditation in that way. And just like meditation, I am reminded to start again.
Do you have anything you practice that has a lot of method to it? Whether it's scales or athletic drills, there's a lot of value to repetition, to getting good at the basics, and to give a practice your full attention. Perhaps there is something you used to do that you could try again, or you want to learn something entirely new. There's no expectation to it, no one has to be born with skills in order to enjoy doing something, or even to become good at something.
I turned 35 this week. 🎈 It's not a milestone birthday. I feel neither young nor old. I don't know that I've put a lot of weight around birthdays, except for when I turned seven, because that was the year I decided I could be brave enough to go down the 3 foot slide that threw kids into the lake. Nevertheless, birthdays are nice times for reflection, as is the turn of the new year.
I'm reminded of the mental exercise to imagine your own funeral. Some people imagine their 90th birthday party, which is a little more cheery, and a little more within the theme of birthdays. But, maybe some of us all already 90, or some of us don't like big birthday parties. So, the funeral exercise is not about designing your funeral, picking the music or the readings or the menu. It's for perspective in what people will remember about you and your life.
I like to imagine the afterparty, instead of the funeral itself. Beyond the formality of a eulogy and the tears of a service, there is often a lot of cherished memories shared over a cup of coffee or a glass of champagne. (Do people generally have champagne at their funerals, or only a lucky few? )
This year I experienced a really distinct change when I revisited this exercise. Many years ago, I remember writing about what I had done, accomplishments, success stories, like a legacy. What did I contribute to the world? What was my impact? People talked about how well I treated the planet, and probably said something about my mindfulness empire, and changing people's lives for the better.
Now, I am longing for people at my funeral to say things like, "Kaitlynn was always having such a good time!" and "She really enjoyed her time here on Earth." They're not talking about what I did at all, just that I had fun doing it.
So I'm now working on enjoying my time. I'm slowly trying to incorporate activities I truly love to do. I'm putting less pressure around accomplishments and perfection and things that don't matter all that much. It's a fine line, because I do really enjoy being productive, but it's so easy for productivity to be tied to the stress of getting things done, and I'm being mindful of letting that go.
What will people say about you at your funeral (or your birthday party when you're really old)? Will they remember things you've done? How you treated them? The grudges you held? Your beliefs? The potluck dish you always brought? The twinkle in your eye?