It’s more important than ever to carve out that “me” time
By Paula O’Kray
With the presidential race coming to a frenzied head, I’ve been looking for more ways to de-stress these days. I’m trying hard to minimize my time with social media and purposely leaving everything unplugged in exchange for enjoying the natural world as much as I can. It seems more important now than ever.
I have a little Zen calendar that has a deep and meaningful message for me every day. Sometimes the concept du jour is too deep and escapes me, but it’s amazing how many days the message is dead-on appropriate for what I’m dealing with.
Today the message was about what happens when you fall out of practice, referring to meditation. It explained that your body and mind go out of tune, and that you are no longer a vessel of insight – that there may be moments of beauty and peace all around you, but if you’re out of sync, you’re likely to miss them.
As if it knew, my Zen calendar told me it’s time to put myself back in tune, and to find that quiet moment of peace to gather myself for the day, even if I have to do it in the bathroom before breakfast. That even if I only sit briefly, I will have at least “settled my day.”
Wow, how did it know? I’d had a very stressful week, one that took all my energy to get through, that was capped with the death of the family dog. Then came Saturday, when I had a memorial service to attend for my stepmother. She passed about a month or so ago, and I thought I had processed my grief. But I was wrong.
I sat in the church listening to the service, the music and the touching memoirs her family shared. I spoke briefly with her children and enjoyed the photos that were displayed. But I didn’t feel well and needed to leave soon after.
I felt bad about that, but nature is nature, so I got to my car and took a moment to relax a bit in hopes of feeling better, but what happened instead was my week, my grief, my stress … it all caught up with me.
Overwhelmed, I sat in the car and wept, for a million reasons. Sometimes it just feels good to cry. There’s something cleansing about it. So I let myself cry for a while. Once I calmed down a bit I decided to head over to the cemetery and visit some of my favorite people. I don’t even know why, it just felt like the thing to do.
I visited my in-laws first. Are they ex in-laws after a divorce? They passed before things went bad, so I’m not sure. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m never sure what to do in cemeteries, so I stood over the headstones and just hung out and thought happy thoughts about them. After a while I drove over and visited the aunts and uncles from that side of the family. More happy thoughts there, and then I straightened out the veteran markers that had gone amiss. It was a lovely day to be outside, so I lingered awhile.
My last stop was the cemetery where my parents are buried. I figured a talk with them would be good for the soul. I parked the car, walked over to the graves, kicked off my shoes and sat down next to dad on the grass. They should have proper seating in cemeteries, I thought. How is anyone supposed to get comfortable in these places and have a good conversation?
But I was comfortable, sitting with my dad on the cool grass. After a few minutes went by, I started to discuss the state of things with him. It’s always nice, chatting with my dad, because he’s always got a hug for me. I have no idea how to explain that, but it’s there every time. And he listens.
And sometimes he has advice. This time he suggested I get some new shoes, because doesn’t that always cheer a girl up? The thought made me laugh. That’s just what he would say to make me smile, if nothing else.
So I sat for what might have been 10 minutes or an hour and ranted, sobbed and just sat quietly with him. The crisp fall breeze over the marsh, the incredible kaleidoscope of autumn clouds, the colored, crumpled leaves dancing across the grass were all amazing comforts to me. I sat until I had said everything I needed to say, and listened until there was no more advice. We just sat together for a time, and that was really lovely.
As I got up to leave, I straightened out a few more markers and vases on other memorials as I made my way back to the car. Might as well make myself useful while I’m here, I thought. I drove back home feeling much better, and promised dad I would get those shoes.
The next day I found myself in my front yard harvesting tomatoes. I don’t really have a green thumb with things that bear produce, so collecting the bounty from plants I simply watered was really kind of amazing. As I plucked each one from the stem, I thought about what a miracle it is that these things even happen. And I was loving the moment, enjoying the lush smell of the tomato plants and just being happy to have a moment like this to enjoy. I decided I needed more of them.
That night on my walk, I marveled at the incredible variety of sizes and colors of fallen leaves on the sidewalk. Every color of the rainbow, save for blue. Blue leaves would be cool, I thought, but perhaps because the sky is so blue, Mother Nature decided that leaves should be every color except blue. I think it was a good decision.
On the way back, I passed some girls playing with sticks and leaves in their yard. In a day where children are rarely found outside playing with organic materials, I was delighted to find them. It reminded me of the days gone by when we would pile the leaves together and jump in, flailing about and making a gnarly mess, until the leaves stuck to our clothes and tangled in our hair. When did I stop doing that? And where could I find a pile of leaves right now?
My Zen calendar referred to a practice where you sit still and quiet on a little mat in an uncluttered space. But meditation is really in the mind of the beholder. It’s the practice of finding a quiet place in your day to let go of all that pulls you down, a place where you can center yourself and remember how wonderful it all is.
And that can be anything you want it to be. A walk on a breezy fall day. An afternoon of fishing on the river. A long bike ride on the Green Circle. Sitting on your porch with a good book. It’s anything that clears your head, even for a few minutes. And if that’s jumping into a pile of leaves to remember a much more carefree time, so be it.
If you find you’ve forgotten how good life tastes, perhaps you’ve also forgotten to carve out that little space for yourself every day. Just a few minutes can be that important. I forgot for a while, so I’m reminding you too.