Five Ways to Fill Your Well

I am re-blogging this fabulous post from The Practical Mystic because it resonates so much with me right now. Summer days are a time of high energy and activity, days are often full of social activities, events and trips. For me, the clear evidence that I have been letting self-care fall by the wayside is when I begin ruining those otherwise lovely, fun-filled times with friends and family by suddenly becoming a miserable grump and resenting everyone around me, including the dog and the cat (omg, especially the cat).

Part of the commitment to self, as the Practical Mystic points out, is carefully observing what your needs are today, in your body and spirit, and knowing that they will shift from day to day, season to season. My usual strong vinyasa practice is not serving me well right now and in the mornings my body is wanting to move more than be still for seated meditation. As the temperature warms and my life is in the midst of major transition, I am being drawn to more restorative or yin yoga practices, exploring tantric breath work and learning more subtle techniques for moving energy in the body.

I am thankful for the great resources offered in this post and re-commit to exploring new ways of nurturing myself in this season, paying closer attention to keeping my “well” from running dry (and I become a heinous bitch version of myself.)

And if it’s already too late and the train has derailed, don’t worry – here is some emergency first aid. I already used it this morning. (:

The Practical Mystic

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One of the things that has been turning over in my head recently harks back to a recent post, where I wondered how it was that my personal practice could be tweaked so that I could avoid burnout and illness during and after a busy period. On a walking talk with my mother the other day, she suggested that now I am in my 40s, my daily routine may need to be tweaked to reflect my changing life. After all, she said, your 40s are a time of hard work out in the world, and these busy times are likely to become the norm. Your practice needs to incorporate filling your well so that you can embrace this time, a time that you have been preparing for over the last decade and longer, without burning out, getting sick or both.

Aha! The missing piece of understanding clicked into…

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And then suddenly, he was a boy.

I have been pretty unsentimental, I guess, about  a lot of the milestones so far in my son’s almost-three years of life.  I don’t necessarily feel the pang of being needed less as time goes on, certainly not in the way that maybe the mother of three does watching her last baby graduate from infancy to the front steps of her kindergarten classroom –  in what feels like the space of overnight. I’m three years in. I basically still don’t really have a clear reference for time. I know that there was life before my son, but it’s kind of hard to believe that it actually existed – since what could I have possibly done with all of that free time ?? I am fairly certain I wouldn’t recognize that 31 year old girl if she showed up on my doorstep much less relate to her (what does she DO with all of that free time?) I’ll be honest, its all a little fuzzy and not totally unlike the feeling of having been on a bender for the last three years of my life. Except that, unlike the consequences of unrestrained drinking, some really great things have happened.

The bittersweetness of common landmarks have bypassed me: walking, talking, sleeping in his own bed, going to daycare, potty training, etc.  Babyhood was hard for us, this stage feels lighter – maybe that is a big part of it. Or maybe that he is my first and only kid. I know its a precious and fleeting time. And if ever I forget,  there is someone to remind me everywhere I go and at every chance, how fast it all goes and how much I will miss it when its gone. Thank you, stranger in the check-out line, for letting me know essentially, that I am guaranteed to feel shitty later thinking about how I should be happier right now in this moment which will invariably get gold-plated in my memory…… that I will um, revisit when I am older and sipping my tea in my quiet house with piles of books around and art supplies and projects that I don’t ever have to clean up because no one’s going to touch my stuff and I have the whole weekend ahead of me to putter and dally and not cook for anyone and stay up as late as I want??? Just kidding. Sort of. I know my kid is going to grow up and we always feel wistful for what is behind. The past is like an Instagram account with flattering filters to highlight all of the high moments and none of the bad days. Oh wait, no that is actual Instagram.

At every stage of his increasing autonomy I cheer him on, marvel unflinchingly at the passage of months gone, feeling  a sense of satisfaction that he is finding his footing in this world, as they do kind of with, without, or in spite of me at all.  Often my partner and I will look at each other with some variation of, “Can you believe …?” But I’m still the one without a lot of nostalgia about it. I guess kindergarten will be a big one, we’ll see though.

Anyway, we decided it was time to cut his hair. It’s wild, unruly, a battle to wash and comb through and people have been mistaking him for a girl, (which he’s always gotten to some extent, but now he is starting to notice). We’d been getting comments for awhile from his grandpa and others (seriously, what the hell makes you SO uncomfortable with my kid’s hair?) which was frankly really irritating mostly because it starting making my son self-conscious about it. I was a little scared though, because I had also been told his curls won’t last. The ringlets he inherited from neither his father or myself, I had been warned, would disappear with the first cut. Literally, EVERYBODY has told me that. But he was excited. His first haircut! We promised ice cream afterward.

She didn’t even take off that much. Just a trim. He looked so big sitting up in the chair.

And as soon as I watched those first strands fall to the floor, I wanted to cry.

He sat very still and when she was finished he saw himself in the mirror and smiled with pride. We went to ice cream.

And I just could not look at him without tears spilling over. Just like that, everything had changed. The baby had disappeared. He was a boy.

My heart was gripped with the realization that we’d crossed over a threshold. There was no going back. I tried hard not to let my son pick up on my feelings. “It will grow again,” my partner reassures me when we are alone.

“No,” I say, “everything’s different.”

I was unprepared for the level of emotional reaction. Of course I know, it’s just hair. It will grow. It will be whatever it will be, curls or not. But is these such landmarks, the ones that don’t just naturally happen on their own but require the diligent, careful eye; the sense to know when it’s time to gently remove the scaffolding, the lovey, the comfort habit that has outgrown its service, the training wheels that have lingered past their usefulness. And no matter how much you might want to hold on to it for what it represents –  it is these moments of stepping in to move forward the hand of time when only you can and must, that cause the heart to waver. It is these pivotal moments, some without as much fanfare as a haircut, that come and go in the most ordinary way and yet leave behind a profound imprint of what parenthood is again and again, the letting go. It is the thoughts that buzz around like a mosquito in your darkened bedroom as you lie awake and  throw up a prayer for the twenty-seventh time that you did the right thing . Because even though you might know it was, it still pangs.

Like knowing it was the last time I would breastfeed my son.  The moment I decided I was through pumping. Breastfeeding was complicated, arduous and emotionally wrought for us. Weening was something I had to accept long before I had wanted to. Though it was clear it was best choice for both of us, I still remember that quiet moment, in the dark, with my baby beside me, when I decided to let my body be done. It’s the Instagram reel without the filters, full of the raw emotion of what it really means to be a mother.  In yogic philosophy there is a name for this letting go again and again: aparigraha, the principle of non attachment.  Over and over again, we watch for the signs for when its time to let go a little bit more, when its time to release our attachment to the current story and let the next chapter begin.

“Motherhood is at once an exercise in unwavering fortitude and complete surrender.”  (Read: Suspended in a State of Mommyhood. I’m serious, if you are  a mother or a young parent, you’ve really got to read it. Go, right now.)

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Honoring the Dark.

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Altar to honor the Winter Solstice and return of the light.

December fell over me like a heavy blanket. All at once it seemed, I felt the energy drain out of me. I worried I was slipping into depression, as I have in the past struggled against that gravitational pull, down into darkness, silence, deep introspection, isolation. I spent most of my adulthood watching for the signs that the dark was creeping in to grab hold again and drag me under. When I hear the first notes of that ghostly refrain I usually launch into my list of preventive action steps: I push myself to go running, to get out and socialize, to eat something nutritious even when I don’t feel hungry. I talked to my therapist: “I don’t know,” she said, “This doesn’t sound like depression to me. Could your body just be telling you that you need to slow down and rest?”

The next day I reread a text message I sent to a good friend: “I wish I could just curl up in my room for three days and see no one and do nothing. Then I could re-enter the world and be ok again and do Christmas.” Suddenly I flashed back to a year ago almost to the day, telling another friend right before a week long trip to see family: “I wish I could just check out from everything for two days and then come back and do the whole holiday thing.”

My life is as full as always: work, and school, a preschooler, household stuff and new projects on the horizon that I am excited about giving my time and energy to. But everything feels overwhelming. Not uninteresting just…too much.  And the more I push my body the greater the urge to retreat. And it’s no wonder, as we are linked to the earth’s cycles along with every other living thing. Since the Summer Solstice, we have been incrementally losing light here in the northern hemisphere. The longer nights and lower temperatures signal the trees to drop their leaves and the animals to start preparing for winter. When winter arrives, the trees are almost all bare, many of the plants that once flourished in the sun have let go their leaves and blossoms. If you didn’t know better, many of the plants and trees might appear as if dead. There is no movement, thus begins a period of conserving energy through the coldest months. Though life force is just as present, activity becomes dormant.

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And why should we be any different? (Read: BODY RHYTHM, PLANETARY RHYTHM). 

Alan Fogel, author of Body Sense, writes in Psychology Today:  “I’ve always thought it odd that in the late Fall — when my body just wants to withdraw into cozy, warm rest in response to the longer nights and cooler temperatures – urban culture becomes more active, more complex, and more demanding. The trees are shutting down all but the most basic functions and mammals are retreating to their dens and burrows for some form of hibernation. I want to go with them but I can’t because school is in session, there are performances and shows and social events, business deals are being made, and then the winter holidays come with all their pulls and obligations.

All this social pressure coming at a time when our bodies want to slow down is a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. Could it be that SAD and other seasonal dismays are not the result of darkness at all but rather a psychological splitting as we are torn between social demands for increased activity and the planet pulling our body sense in the opposite direction? Perhaps it is not our dark moods that are problematic so much as our sense of their cultural unacceptability?

Let’s imagine that we could just accept and embrace our body sense as it follows the lows and highs of seasonal cycles…Let’s imagine letting ourselves feel tired, I mean really feel like we are going to collapse if we don’t crawl under a blanket. Probably, you could find that feeling inside right now if you let yourself. Let’s imagine that we could give in completely to our sadness, that tears might come because we really let our feeling fill up the present moment; we become sadness and there is nothing else in the world but sadness. What would happen if we could do that?”

Well, what would happen?

There is  another pattern I have started to notice over the past four years of noting my natural cycles of highs and lows throughout the year is the near inevitability of a melancholy February and March, where exhaustion is often accompanied by sadness and loss of passion and interest in normal things. While this could be in part a natural reaction to the lack of sunlight (I plan to invest in a magic desk lamp this year) could this also be a result of pushing through the holidays, work, family gatherings and social events instead of honoring my own need to retreat, rest and conserve energy during the darkest months? Why is it so often our habit when feeling out of balance to add more instead of doing less?

Maybe there isn’t anything “wrong” with me at all but this natural inclination to check out from the world for awhile, even to be sad, to let the soul mourn it needs to could actually serve my highest good? Can I make space for honoring the dark? 

Perhaps I can’t take a week off my job or check out of parenting and run away to a hotel for three days by myself but can I bring the feeling of nurturing and self care into my life in small ways? What if, I could prepare for December the way people start their Christmas shopping early or string their lights up after Halloween? What if I could start creating space in July by working a few more hours to set aside for the December days when I need to work a bit less? Or be more deliberate in advance about keeping my schedule light during the holiday season?

Just by beginning to entertain these things, my heart begins to feel lighter. I don’t have to fight this, I don’t have to resist. I can make tea. I can change into my pajamas early. I can “check out” in the evenings with  something good to read, with a movie or a good show. I can decorate my altar to honor the Winter Solstice. I can let the house stay messier than usual, I can honor my body with a restorative practice instead of power vinyasa.  I can make a big pot of bone broth, I can clear my calendar of unessential items and I can curl up under this blanket for awhile and just rest… that is, until my kid calls me to come wipe his bum.

So yeah. That’s where you’ll find me. Don’t be offended if I don’t answer the phone. I’ll be back just as sure as the light returns.

Look at me all honoring myself and shit. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Winter’s Cloak

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.

Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

~ Joyce Rupp