Welcome to the first post of this practice on Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.
We are experimenting with the frequency of doing this practice. And my first thought is…not doing it every day is awful. Maybe that feeling will change, but although I gained an extra half hour or hour to spend as I wished, what I found was that delightful experiences like meeting little missy, the tribal fusion belly dancer and Graham, the oak spank paddle craftsman (yes, really) were missed and in danger of being forgotten. I also found that my psychic defences were weakened and it became difficult not to let negative thoughts plant themselves in my mind and rent space there for free. I had a very gloomy day yesterday and for the first time in many months, I was in a foul mood for much of the day and really had to stay away from people. I am better today because I stayed up until nearly 5 am and just took time for myself in the quiet hours to be alone. I am feeling compressed by togetherness that has, for awhile, been oppressive. And, when I feel compressed, that gets reflected in my inability to ward off negative thought.
Why does this happen? I don’t know. But I do imagine that it is an individual thing. I am prone to rumination. That serves me as a writer but not as a human being. I can’t separate the two, really and so it is both a blessing and a curse. Daily practice of reflection on Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service, on the other hand, injects a positive counterbalance and keeps me from living under a black cloud.
I need space to let my thoughts wander and my creativity breathe. When I don’t get that space, I get very very (did I say ‘very’?) irritable. I have noticed this in the past month and the word that keeps coming to mind is compressed. I have a friend who has compressed some vertebrae in his back. It causes him chronic pain. When my energy field gets compressed, I get into chronic psychic pain. So, the combination has been difficult.
Added to this is the fact that there has been someone very negatively focused and unfortunately also very outspoken in my ear, on a daily basis. I understand this about negative people now: no matter how shiny your disposition, if someone is compelled to throw mud all over the place, it takes a lot of energy to keep washing off the mud. Eventually the shine gets scratched.
Added all up, my shiny disposition got muddied, I ruminated without counterbalance and I let negative thought rent space in my head. Phew. No wonder I had a black cloud over me.
Part of the answer is to get more space. If I didn’t know that space was naturally coming, I would have set different boundaries a couple of weeks ago. However, knowing now what I do about it, I see I need to set broader boundaries around myself with everyone, in the future. It is easier to draw people closer than to push them further away, without causing hurt.
The amusing thing is that I have been all over a couple of other people, as a result. I feel like a jelly donut that got stepped on and my jelly has splurted all over the place. There is a man with whom I have become acquainted – a photographer – and he is a total lone wolf, like me. Every time I felt compressed in my life this weekend, I would escape into chatting with him online. It must have driven him crazy. Here is this verbose woman nattering at him and disturbing his peace. I think I have also done that with my reasonably new friend G- as well. That is an interesting side effect. And, knowing how I feel right now about being stepped on and compressed….its a side effect for which I need to make amends by shutting up for at least a week.
In fact, I have stopped socializing. I skipped events that I would otherwise normally enjoy just to spend time alone. Wow. Until just now, I hadn’t realised what a burden this has become. There were other reasons for avoiding those events – backbiting and gossip that I didn’t want in my life – but I probably could have dodged that if I had more space and more positive thinking.
So what is all this to say? I guess that weekly practice may be too infrequent for me. It isn’t a week yet and already, I see my wellbeing taking a dip. I think what is right for us will depend on what is going on in our lives and what else we have going on that is impacting on our wellbeing. I have quite a bit right now.
So, perhaps when I am working again and I have managed to find a balance between social and solitary and when I have jettisoned the pessimistic and negative people, I will be able to do a weekly post. But for now, I’m just going to keep experimenting and report back on how its working.
With that long preamble….here we go…for the past 5 days:
1. I am grateful that I am able to watch my mood and to reflect on it so that I can see where things are going catty wumpus and stop the downward spiral. I learned this trick long ago and my remedy to a bad mood or the dark cloud was to watch a lot of good stand up comedy. The canary in the coal mine was when I had lost my ability to laugh. That was 911 emergency! (or 999 if in the UK) I am grateful that I have a more early warning sign – this thing I call ‘compression’ and when I feel it, it is a sign that there is trouble and pain ahead if I let it go on for too long, untreated. And, I am also grateful to know that I have been able to speak up and say something when I am feeling overwhelmed by negative messages. Finally, I am grateful that last night I went where I knew I would have the experience of space – to the river at sundown. Oh, I am grateful for the understanding that where other people may long for more connection with others, I long for more space. And both are okay and it is important for everyone to seek to meet their own needs. It is also important to set one’s own boundaries where one is comfortable. I have been in discomfort and it has caused distress. So, when it comes down to it, I am very grateful that I have this practice to which I can return.
2. I am grateful for all the weird and wonderful people I meet in London. I called some characters odd to someone I had just met and she said she thought they weren’t so much odd as ‘awesome’. I understood that she could not have known that, to me, odd IS awesome.
I am an eccentric. I have always been an eccentric. It is probably getting more pronounced as I get older but it has always been there and it is one of the things I love about myself. I never tire of eccentric people. Having relationships with them – well perhaps that is tricky and one of the reasons I am still single. Relationships, however, are not all they’re cracked up to be. I met a new friend on the weekend and we were talking about how difficult it was for him to get into a relationship with someone. He is very set in his ways. I can relate. By this point in life, we know who we are and we know what we need. That is fine, as long as communication is open and non violent.
Based on my experience, lately, it is important to set forth who you are and what you need, very early on.
3. I am grateful that I am self aware. I have noticed that different sides to me come out with different people. With one person I am naughty and engage in smut talk without batting an eyelash, with another, I am talkative but perhaps too eager to be liked, with another I am quiet and don’t reveal too much of myself – perhaps because we are very different on the outside and my acceptance of his somewhat alternative lifestyle could be construed as sharing the lifestyle. I don’t share that lifestyle but I really think it would be hard to misconstrue that with me.
I don’t judge him but I also don’t share his way of being. I find that kind of refreshing and I wonder sometimes what is the longevity and possibility for depth in our friendship if we don’t share similar lifestyles.
I keep thinking of Swami Satchidananda, my yoga teacher. He opened Woodstock with a universal chant of ‘Om’ and all of his early followers were stoners. At the ashram now, the rules are vegetarianism, no smoking, no drugs and no alcohol. Sex is seen as sacred and not to be entered into with many partners. The rules are there. I am sure the rules have always been there. But he didn’t enforce them punitively. People knew what he stood for, and he accepted anyone who came to him. Everyone knew the Gestalt of living with the Guru and why the rules were there. They weren’t there to keep people from enjoying themselves. They were there to guide people away from physical sensation to spiritual awakening.
The pursuit of pleasure is a never ending chase. Pleasure and pain are inextricable and to rid oneself of pain, one must rid oneself of attachment to pleasure. That doesn’t mean don’t have pleasure. It means don’t seek it for its own sake. Enjoy what comes. And by making himself known, people were free to choose.
Now, Swamiji wanted nothing from the others. He was a renunciate and worked to curb his desire and wants. And because he had no attachment to outcome, it was simple to let people come and go with the rules till they found their own way. It is not so easy in a friendship. Compassion is possible. But we all want something from a friendship – even if it is simply their full and undivided ‘presence’. And being present means being present to what is. Without judgement.
I hope there is some longevity to this relationship because it is helping me to grow in ways that I need to grow.
Joy – It was a joy to see the sunset last night. I kept thinking how easy it is for us to fall into the blues. Everyone I meet lately is somehow depressed. They may be masking it with substance abuse or with photography but there is a little element of depression in them all. I understand that. Becoming depressed and giving in to the negative thoughts and the sense of compression is actually pretty easy and it happens pretty quickly (witness my week). Being happy, being positive, noticing joy? That, my friends, is hard work. We think it comes naturally or it isn’t authentic. I beg to differ. It takes work.
Oneness – Hmm. This is a tough one. Oneness is an expansive concept to me. It is about connection, compassion, empathy, awe…all very expansive feelings, in my opinion. I have been feeling compressed. And, even when I reached out to connect, it was in order to find relief. I think the lesson this week is that I have not connected with myself. I met someone last week who mentioned how much she had lost touch with herself and didn’t take time for herself on a daily basis. And why? She was putting the needs of others before her own. I advised her against it. And then I watched myself do the same.
Sometimes we feel that the sacrifice isn’t a big deal. And, sometimes it isn’t – we can have out of town guests overnight and cater to them. But when those guests stay on for a week, a month, a lifetime….that is when we get into trouble. Mothers do this naturally and I’m not sure that giving up oneself for the sake of one’s children is really a good approach. Ever. The child knows it. The child internalizes it and the child runs the risk of experiencing guilt or hostility as a result. At least, being the daughter of a mother who sacrificed herself, I can say that I felt it.
A good lesson for me. And so tonight, even though it is partly to support someone else, I am going to go to a Dan Shears concert. I wanted to go watch some painters – the Nomad Clan – paint in Monty’s bar, but I have writing to finish and there won’t be time for both. The bar will be social and I may run into people there that I know and have to be ‘on’ and I’d feel I needed to buy a beer rather than a diet coke. I’d rather just go listen to some beautiful music, drink a diet coke and feed my soul.
I also had a nice moment with a fellow street art fan – Kth – over the weekend. He relieved some of the pressure because I was able to share with him the experience I was having (not the specifics) with backbiting and that it was making me stay away. He had very sage advice and perhaps if I had not already felt compressed, I would have put it in perspective in the same way, but since I couldn’t do it for myself, I am grateful Kth could do it with me.
Service – I helped someone out this week who needed money by engaging their services. I wanted to engage their services but now would not have been when I would have chosen to do it, given that I am not bringing in an income. But, sometimes we are given a chance to help someone. She asked for something from me and I know that normally she will require far more in compensation than she asked. I knew that it must be important to get what she asked for but it wasn’t right to give only that. So I sat and I contemplated and I came up with a figure that was a sacrifice for me. It also happens to be a steal, but that is not the intention. I sat and tried to come up with as much as I could because it is important that we value one another in adversity because only by doing that can we uphold their dignity as well as our own. I am happy that I could help and the thing for which I paid will be a reminder of that learning on sacrifice and dignity.
I don’t know how many days will pass before I have to write again. Let’s see. The frequency of writing depends on the individual. If you are struggling with your practice…experiment with the frequency and watch how it impacts your thoughts and emotions.
See you in a few days xx