Well, it is Memorial Day week and we have already seen 90 degrees here in northwestern Wisconsin. It’s hard to believe just one month ago, folks were grumbling as winter took its last blizzardy breaths. At the time, my daily bike ride to work was marked by the scent of wood smoke from neighborhood chimneys and the quiet of winter solitude. I found these moments to be a seamless continuation of my morning meditation with their calm mood and effortless stillness. Now, the sweet perfume of lilac bushes and the scent of fresh cut lawns lingers in the air as I pedal my way through a growing flurry of local activity. The quiet and stillness has been replaced by growing traffic and newly liberated school children, thrilled to express their stifled wild outside the confines of school walls. The scenery has transitioned from a gentle wintry nudge to breathe deep and slow down, to a more spirited reminder of all there is to be done. Boats have been broken out of storage, gardens tilled and domestic projects launched into fruition. All around us, the earth teems with new life, reminding us of the year’s potential and encouraging us to keep up momentum. Can you feel it? As I experience the seemingly swift changes around me, I am reminded of my gratitude for my 2-wheeled commute. I believe that my time on my bicycle brings me closer to my environment and the rhythms of the presenting season. At times, I may even feel a sense of sadness for drivers as they speed past, wondering when the last time they turned down the radio was, long enough to hear the bubbling creek beside them, or the chatter of the neighborhood squirrels. I worry about how their bodies will ever thermo-adjust to changing seasons as they glide from temperature controlled rooms to temperature controlled cars. I ponder the effects of moving at 50+ miles per hour on the eyes and the human brain, and how these effects may manifest in necessary moments of stillness and rejuvenation. Yet still, my perceived proximity to my surroundings and the seasonal unfolding leaves me feeling just as discombobulated as anyone else this spring. Apparently, observation makes us no less subject to the power of the observed – a wisdom one might think I would have integrated from my years of meditation practice!
Moments of reflection may highlight for us the ways in which the growing hustle and bustle is not simply an external experience. Increased stimulation and activity will undoubtedly affect our moods and level of energy. Any time we give ourselves permission to internalize, it is not surprising that the return to daily norms and activity may be a bit startling, or even abrasive at times. Just imagine the last time you had a productive meditation or a powerful service at church, or attended an epic music concert or took a peaceful hike in nature. Often, these experiences can be quite positive, if not profound, while they are happening, yet also highlight a grave contrast to our day-to-day experiences. I chuckle to myself when I think of the number of times I’ve blamed the work day for “killing the buzz” from my yoga practice, or found myself annoyed with how necessary social interactions have “stolen” my perceived serenity. Intellectually, I understand that practice over time is what creates lasting integrated results in life. I see tiny moments of evidence in my day of how my mindfulness-building efforts show up in the most mundane of moments. I believe that inner peace takes time and will manifest amidst the chaos life presents, rather than in place of it. And just as the Sanskrit word “yoga” literally translates to “union”, I am reminded that the goal is to marry the internal experiences with the external perceptions of reality. So I continue my efforts and hope to bring the best of my practice into daily life this late spring/early summer, as I transition from the permission I granted myself to hibernate over the winter, to the flurry of activity that begs our attention in warm weather months. And I accept that the abundance and awesomeness of this transition may at times, seem quite overwhelming.
As I contemplate my own experience of shifting from inner to outer this year, I cannot help but seek guidance from my surroundings. It’s always nice to find an ally or relationship that helps us navigate our own discomfort and challenges. Is anyone else feeling this overwhelmed? I look to the birds and ask them, “How do you deal with all that needs to be done this spring?” or sit still for long moments observing the insects in their own flurry of productivity. I’ve been quite fascinated lately with these inquiries…I mean, humans have the ability to distance themselves from the effects of the season more than any other creatures seem to. The black bear has no choice but to participate in winter hibernation to survive. He may not simply hop an international flight to escape seasonal perils. To thrive, the birds must follow specific migration patterns. They must follow the laws of nature to produce the most ideal circumstances for continuing their species. Unlike humans, who may use artificially created circumstances and technology to “triumph” over presenting limitations, wild animals are much more subject to the necessary adaptations of seasonal fluctuation. Of course, that being said, one of the driving inspirations for my writing is the recognition that all of these forces of nature ARE at work on us all the time, and ARE affecting our daily experience and wellness and relationships, we just may not be giving them honest or holistic recognition. Once again, let us take cues from our our friends with roots, paws and wings.
As I navigate my own overwhelm this spring, and I wonder how the birds and the coyotes and the bees can manage the shift so gracefully, I remind myself of some lingering differences between me and my winged and wild friends. Perhaps the task of emerging from winter hibernation into the productivity of warm weather is less daunting for the creatures who inherently retain presence of mind. Perhaps one notable difference in my experience from nature observed may be found in the patterns of the mind. Overwhelm seems to be born by compounding reflections of the past and concerns for the future with all that is present at hand. This can be an especially powerful experience for those of us deemed “sensitive.” Perhaps freedom from conscious concern about what happened last year, or what might happen next year, allows the animals and plants around us to set out on their tasks without unnecessary stress to their systems. Perhaps it is the most primitive of skills that will allow us to evolve the human mind in the most expansive and liberated ways of being. So let us set about on the task of presence, as to manage any unnecessary overwhelm as the spring draws to a close.
As the physical body struggles to manage increased heat and humidity, and the emotional body re-discovers the fire of willfulness, frustration and aggression, we have a continued opportunity to support the change of season in a whole-body way. How do you know when you are feeling overwhelmed, and is there a way to recognize the symptoms before they manifest into full-blown fatigue or shut down? Are there ways you might conduct yourself at the dawn of summer to develop tools for thriving in the upcoming heat and chaos of activity? As a person who deals with anxiety and feelings of overwhelm on a daily basis, I like to think that I have a number of adaptive strategies developed for self-rejuvenation. Though admittedly, I am not sure I am any more adept than the next fellow at prevention or early recognition. My number one go-to when I am feeling overwhelmed is to simply crawl back into my “love cave.” This cave is simply the space I call home, or the space I find most familiar or comforting at the time. Minimizing any type of stimulation is the most sure-fire way I have found to calm and reset an overactive mind-body. Find moments of solitude. Ditch the screens. Close the blinds. Turn on calming music. Assemble a nourishing snack or drink. And take some moments to do only what is required in that moment, trusting that the rest will unfold in perfect time, in perfect ways. And while there is a little voice in my head quick to accuse me of being selfish or indulgent, I have learned that I can only make great offerings in this world when my own cup is full. We must learn how to fill up our own cups, as we are the best and most qualified to do so. I would fail you not to mention that for most people nowadays, a whole-body reset is often easily found just by taking moments to spend time in nature: a walk in the park, a swim in the lake, a sun bath in the garden or even simply a few deep breaths among the trees surrounding us. The healing powers of nature are profound and widely available. Take advantage. So much cheaper than healthcare and seemingly much more effective!
Ayurvedic medicine guides us in a number of ways to nourish and support our systems during this seasonal transition. As the last of the winter’s excess fats melt away, the blood thins to prepare for summer and we feel an increase in our own temperature and circulation. Be kind to this process. Be careful not to go from deep hibernation right into 10-hour beach days. Take shade. Find rest in your renewed desire to play. Break the habits of lesser hydration that develop in cold winter months and keep that water bottle handy. It will help the body thermo-regulate and help you flush any lingering stored toxins in the body. And don’t forget to sleep! Longer days and increased activity may distract you from the most basic of physical needs. Just remember that rejuvenating rest will allow you to flourish and make the most of your waking hours. As for diet, let’s just keep it simple: Lighten up! We no longer need to store fats and our metabolism will only grow stronger with summer’s heat. Notice what is in season: Chances are, your yard and surrounding fields (or perhaps just the farmer’s market!) will show you exactly what the body needs to chase out the last of winter sluggishness. Bitter greens, spring salads and wild foods offer the nutrition we need to boost the liver, cleanse the blood and to build prana or life energy. Challenge yourself to get re-acquainted with hunger this month. Winter is often conducive to emotional eating, or a hand-to-mouth fixation rooted in boredom. Remember what it feels like to have an empty stomach. Let the body process meals completely before asking it to take on a new load…this will help us conjure self-discipline for upcoming moments of summer heat, where the body simply needs to cool down and lessen the work load. If you are already feeling an excess of heat, get reacquainted with foods that are cooling, such as cucumbers, cilantro, lime or avocado. It’s time to look forward to the soothing effects of the sweet tastes, that we benefit from so greatly in summer months. Early summer berries and other ripe, sweet fruits can provide so much benefit in the Pitta or fiery season we are approaching. Just remember, take fruit by itself, so as not to allow unnecessary fermentation in the gut during digestion. A cardinal rule in Ayurveda! And while I understand the first days of smelling BBQ in the air can be most tempting, May/June are both most conducive to a vegetarian diet. We really don’t need much fat this time of year (most of us) and should try to give our digestive systems a bit of a break before the real heat and potential depletion set in. If nothing else, use the quiet moments encouraged above to practice listening to the body. It speaks with great wisdom when we develop proper listening skills!
As I make my final edits to this entry, I recognize that my calendar page has turned. I am submitting my May blog on the first of June. But before I allow myself to indulge any feelings of guilt or negligence, I would like to take a moment to integrate all of my reflections. Current and upcoming moments will no doubt offer us all an abundance of opportunities to feel overwhelmed or overstimulated by all that we could or should do. Let us remember and remind one another that joy may be found in the most mundane of tasks and that our greatest responsibility in this life may not be quite as complicated or challenging as we make it out to be at times. The culture of stimulation, distraction and fast-paced entertainment we live within is unlikely to support keeping us in check any time soon, so we must help one another. Tend to your inner wells, so that you might also help others do the same. Learn to fill up your own cup, as an offering to all beings and to our planet. Happy late spring y’all!