Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Maintain Peace of Mind

The other day I was forced to leave my comfortable garret and spend the day writing someplace else. 

I used to love writing in coffee shops or bagel places or even a MacDonalds where I had access to all the refills of Diet Coke I might want. I would follow Natalie Goldberg's rules for writing in restaurants to go hungry so you will want to eat and leave more than the ordinary tip, for you are staying longer than your turn. I agreed with Natalie that writing in a cafe' can improve stimulation.
          …the cafe atmosphere keeps that sensory part of you
          busy and happy, so that the deeper, quieter part of what
          creates and concentrates is free to do so. It is something
          like occupying a baby with tricks, while slipping the 
          spoon full of applesauce into her mouth.
                               Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer
                                Within, p. 92

However, my desire to write some place other than in my garret has changed. For almost two years our home in Madison was for sale. Two years! I have lost track of how many showings we had--selective memory is a good thing, sometimes--but we had many, many, many. And every time there was a showing, I had to be out of the house. I grabbed a book I was reading, my journal, a magazine perhaps, and whatever writing project I was currently doing and I headed to a Panera or our neighborhood Prairie Cafe or even a Culvers. I always left the house earlier than the scheduled showing time, for it was always uncomfortable if I was still there when the realtor and prospective buyers arrived, and I gave them plenty of time to tour our house and didn't return till well after the planned end time, for often they ran behind schedule. I wanted them to love our house. I wanted them to buy our house. 

That was a great deal of out-of-house time for me during those two years. I wish I could say I produced the equivalent amount of pages. 

Now we are settled, and there is no need to grab my books and laptop and escape, and I am thrilled to stay home and write. Everything I need is right here, including Diet Coke, and instead of wishing I had remembered to bring  x, y, or z with me and who knew I would need x, y, or z anyway, I have it at my fingertips. I am not a recluse, and I do leave the house most days, whether it is to do errands or see my father or pick up one of the grands or meet a friend or even roam with my husband, but my writing time is here.

I was forced into temporary exile the other day, however, while central air conditioning was being installed in our home. Mind you, I am thrilled come warm weather that we will have this luxury. We became used to having it in our previous two homes and know it will add greatly to our comfort. That's the Big Picture. The whining immediate picture was anxiety about completing all the required pieces for the grant I am applying to. I have never done this before, and this feels like a sign of my commitment to this big project. More Big Picture thinking. 

I was assured the installation would only take a day and they, the AC crew, would do any necessary moving of our furniture and all the clean-up. The night before I thought carefully about what I would need to complete the day's 6 pages of the required 20-30 pages for the writing sample and told myself the change of scene would be good for me.

The next morning was more of a rush than anticipated since the crew arrived an hour earlier than we had been told, but I managed to shower and get out the door before the work began. I headed to the cafe' where my husband likes to go to do his work, and I settled  in at a table by the window, plugging in my laptop, spreading out notebooks and folders. I ordered breakfast, a quiche, even though I wasn't really hungry, but remember what Natalie said, and I started to work. But I was agitated and irritated, and started to worry I wouldn't be able to focus on what I needed to accomplish that day. 

That's when a simple spiritual practice rose within me. Breathe. Just breathe. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, one breath to let go, one breath to be here, one breath to ask now what? 

One of my all-time favorite books of spiritual guidance is The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit by Christina Baldwin, and I especially love what she says about maintaining peace of mind.
          To pause and breathe deeply literally sends more
          energy to the parts of our bodies we most need
          to access for peace of mind. Inhalation leads to
          inspiration….Peace is all around me; my job is to
          bring my mind to peace. p. 17

More than once during the day away I needed to repeat breathing for peace of mind. Let go. Be here. Now what?, and of course, I met my page quota, even though I wasn't in my beloved garret. I even enjoyed observing those around me and hearing bits and pieces of conversations, and I was grateful to have a pleasant place to be, away from the noise and activity at home.

Now here's where I need to self-disclose. That peace of mind didn't follow me home. While I was relieved to discover that day two would not be needed to complete the installation, I was distressed to see the garret, including my walk-in closet, completely dismantled. In order to meet my quota the next day there was nothing to do but get to work and put everything back in its place and do a thorough cleaning in that space. I have still not tackled the fine white dust everywhere else in the house, but that is not my priority right now. I surprise myself with that statement, for my normal inclination would be to do whatever I had to in order to have a totally clean house. I think this shows my commitment to the Big Picture. 

More self-disclosure: I huffed and puffed my way through the evening and went to bed exhausted, but didn't sleep well. When I woke up the next morning, I needed to have the same talk with myself. Let go. Be here. Now what? I am so glad I did for I was able to move ahead with an open and grateful heart ---and complete 6 more writing sample pages. 

An Invitation
Is there some time recently when using Thich Nhat Hanh's reminders to let go, be here, and now what? would have been useful? What do you do to keep the Big Picture in mind when you are feeling anxious? I would love to know. 


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