It’s finally September. The best thing I can say about August is that it’s over. And the pool was open the whole month, except when a large tree came down during a storm and it took a few days to remove, lying as it did across the length of the pool until a crane eventually pulled it out.
My writing like my energy level has sagged but I’m hoping to get back to daily writing and weekly posts. I realize like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca that what I have to say doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but then neither does my breaststroke and it still feels good to do laps. Both keep me strong and connected.
I planned to write about the Republican convention but I couldn’t get myself to watch much of it without feeling sick and full of rage, screaming at the TV “You’re lying! That’s not true! “ And since then I’ve been immersed in the news to a degree that isn’t healthy. So I’ve been trying to do something called pause exercise to let go of rather than internalize all the fear and dread and anger that arises with each article or radio or tv program that keeps me up to date yet feeling like that tree, ready to just fell over with the next storm, lying prostrate until someone comes to rescue me.
“If right now our emotional reaction to seeing a certain person or hearing certain news is to fly into a rage or to get despondent or something equally extreme, it’s because we have been cultivating that particular habit for a very long time, “ Pema Chodron says in her book Taking the Leap, which has a lot of wisdom to impart about feeling stuck or hooked; a copy from its 2009 publication is in my collection of books like old friends that I refer to when I need some grounding.
Is despair a habit then, and if so,can pausing help minimize it? Pause practice—taking three conscious breaths at any moment when we notice that we are stuck—is an easy effective exercise that can be done at any time, a way to take a break or disrupt a brewing emotional storm. It’s a good way to stop the impulse to yell at screens or people who can’t hear you. Right away, a deep inhale and slow exhale starts to relax the sympathetic nervous system, which directs the body’s involuntary response to stressful situations.
Pema suggests you can do this practice every time you open your laptop or look at your phone or whatever you do repeatedly throughout the day without stopping to think about it. When you are making your coffee or tea, or brushing your teeth, just create a gap in your discursive mind and pause. I’m trying to do this after each news story I ingest. It’s help cut down a bit on my consumption: Do I really want to read/watch/listen to this? I do want to keep up with what’s going on in the world but there can be limits, like eating unhealthy food or any other habit or substance that clogs the body up rather than energizing it.
Kenosha, then three conscious breaths. Portland, Rochester, deep inhale and exhale. Crazy conspiracy theories, then pause. The daily stresses with V which are not going to end any time soon, especially with only two half days of school starting later this month, which will probably stop altogether once someone gets sick and we’ll once again be quarantined, which will only get worse as the days get colder and shorter and already I am back in that bad habit of worry and projecting…Pause. Bad news distracts me from my own challenging life, and distraction keeps me from staying present. “We associate acting habitually with security, ground and comfort. It gives us something to hold on to.”
Pausing she says, also gives us a chance to touch into and awaken our heart qualities, to honestly face the pain in our lives and the problems in the world. Pausing, in this way, is medicine; it’s like oatmeal and berries and yoga and swimming and everything else that nurtures. To read the bad news and feel great empathy for everyone’s suffering. To pause and feel gratitude for the simplest things. And so I take this holiday weekend to do some last laps at the pool and look up at a clear blue sky, pausing to appreciate each stroke that remains as summer draws to a close.