Evening Rituals

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Night time. The sun sets. We move through the evening towards sleeping once again. In times of transition, such as the passage from wakefulness to sleep, I am finding it profoundly helpful to craft rituals to find ground within the shifting.

This was not always clear to me. For years I would stay up late, online, bathed in the blue screen stimulating my awake circadian cycle, to enjoy a glass of wine and the quiet of everyone else asleep. Yet when I would go to bed, I would have a hard time falling asleep, and a hard time staying asleep. Alcohol and the computer both stimulated and exhausted me.

It is a relief to offer my system what it actually needs to ride through the twilight into darkness. Dim lights, soft music, a warm bath with aromas I like, warm tea, candlelight in the cool air of the bedroom, while I rest into quiet before turning out the light.

Transitions. And Rituals. To find ground within the shifting.

My daughter, who is seven and a half, this evening: over tired and over stimulated. Lost in her activation. Warm hands on her hands, and the invitation to play a gentle, silly peanut/butter interactive attachment game: I’ll say peanut and you say butter with the same intonation I used, okay? Amazing how this playful connecting game reached right into her dysregulation and found her, immediately offered an anchor into the here and now of silly and loving togetherness.

Tears turned to laughter.

Followed by familiar soothing songs in the darkness and gentle kitty snuggles, the vibration of the cats’ purr offering a reminder to relax and let go into sleep.
“I feel content, now, mama”. She said

Transitions. And Rituals. To find ground within the shifting. How do you tend to this pathway from wakefulness into nourishing slumber?

 

 

How to Rest: field notes

I enjoy being engaged in life. Very much. And, I notice that this has often translated into being busy with exciting commitments and activities. Prioritizing a particular kind of engagement – pleasurable social activity and satisfying professional training – I sometimes I find myself feeling maxed out, or depleted. I’ve noticed that resting, being still and quiet as a form of engagement, has been a more remote and somehow, strangely taboo country – a place I have visited from time to time but not where I have chosen to reside. It’s as if I have believed that it was “not okay” to regularly simply be, as if doing was somehow more acceptable or was a kind of responsibility. This seems pretty odd, but also congruent with the dominant cultural narrative in America, that equates being busy with being successful or adult.

Recently, however, I have made a stronger commitment to offer myself a morning practice of engaging deeply in the here and now through stillness and quiet: to engage with life through conscious rest for body, spirit, and mind. I have flirted with this sort of practice in the past, but have not made it a deep and consistent priority. Until now.

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In service of this new commitment I created a simple spot in the garden devoted to stillness. Over the past couple of months, I’ve gathered some field notes about how to help myself rest more reliably and with greater ease:

  • Being Outside: It’s become very clear to me that letting my body and mind rest through sitting quietly is far more simple and compelling when I am sitting outside. I feel held, supported, and engaged in the midst of the natural world. The trees offer steady companionship in stillness. The sky offers endlessly novel dynamic change to witness and experience. The birds provide a consistently surprising soundtrack. The grasses in the wind teach about letting go of tension. Settling into stillness while accompanying all this movement in the natural world feels more effortless and pleasurable. There is something grounding about that balance of my stillness in the midst of that tapestry of varied movement woven by the plants, animals, and the elements.
  • A Constant Space for Practice: The simple arrangement of a bench that stays put, reliably holding space for stillness and quiet, which I can see from the windows of my home, offers an evocative invitation that is somehow far more exciting than the cushion in my bedroom.
  • The wind! Let’s talk about the potency of the wind. Whether blowing gently or with gusto, the wind is an enlivener. Sitting outside, with the shifting air currents, my whole system feels more awake and relaxed. (Interestingly, there is some research that suggests that being in the wind increases our oxygen intake and our serotonin levels – Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York–Presbyterian Hospital).
  • A Canine Companion: Ava the standard poodle is a wonderful teacher of this simple but nourishing practice. When we sit together in the meadow IMG_8185on our land she is steady, still, and an anchor of engagement with the world around her. She is fully present with the sounds of the birds in the sky, the sheep grazing across the road, the squirrels jumping along the branches of the trees. Seems that when hanging out in stillness it can be helpful to voyage with a teacher who knows how to be a here and now witness, a teacher who has mastered letting go of thoughts about the past or the future. Dogs are masters of this art form.

Some impacts of this practice? I feel calmer, more spacious, more steady, and happier. Seems to me that a little bit of stillness and rest, reliably practiced, goes a long way.

 

Outside

I’m sitting at my desk looking out the window into the garden of the home we recently moved into. Our garden is wild space: an acre of old oak trees on a hillside, teeming with wildflowers and tall tall grasses and weeds. A haven for birds, squirrels, wild turkeys, and the occasionally spotted deer and coyote. A haven for my children, my dog, my husband, assorted friends, and me.

As I watch the wind dancing with the trees and grass fronds my breath deepens. My jaw rests into gravity. My sitting bones connect to earth’s pull, my spine lengthens. I exhale longer, more audibly. There is comfort and ease, and a slowing down of pace, that the natural world communicates, and seems to encourage, when I listen.

I feel as though I am drinking in the green of the newly unfolded and flourishing leaves. All the chaos in the world, yes. And this simple form of nourishment too. Resting into this view I feel unbound, released, freed from thoughts or worries, freed from time. Just present here and now with the wind, and the trees, and the green green green.

Suddenly sunshine breaks through the clouds, and the garden comes alive with golden light dancing the green tones awake. Excitement surges through my being. Change. And change and change again. There is no end to the surprising, dynamic play of the outside world.

Still Life

17 years ago, while living in Vancouver, BC, I bought a small painting as a gift for my brother. It was a still life of a pear, and bursting with character. The artist (who’s name I no longer remember) spoke about still life painting as “taking a little bit of life and being still with it.” This had never occurred to me before; I had previously thought of still life painting as kinda boring. Her description of ‘being still with a small piece of life’ intrigued me, opened a rich doorway into a previously undiscovered landscape of curiosity, and has woven a rich thread of contemplation into my art making over the years.

One practice I work with currently which has been offering unending fascination is to gather stones, leaves, twigs, drift wood, feathers, shell fragments, etc, as I wander. I place these in my home, in compositions that shift with the tides of movement in the house: from children picking them up and playing with them, from me holding them and pondering them, offering them as curiosities to guests, and bringing them with me to become altars at dance classes, companions in therapy sessions, offerings left in surprising locations about town…

I love these little bits of life, reassuring talismans, reminders of the infinite in small places, beacons of presence, ambassadors of the wild: they call me alive, they slow me down to rest into the here and now.

I wonder what little bit of aliveness you are resting with.

 

 

 

Being a Beginner

When I was ten years old, my mother signed me up for guitar lessons. I took only one class. Alone in a room with an adult male I’d never met before, I felt intimidated by all I did not know, ashamed of my incompetence. There was something intolerable about being a beginner, not having it all together, not being good enough, something humiliating about not knowing how to do it right. Somehow I had the sense that as a young female there was something very edgy about stepping forward publicly in rough draft form.

Perfectionism is a life-force drain. It strips our ability to be at ease in ourselves and in the world; it blocks growth and learning and cripples our capacity for supple self expression. Perfectionism is inherently isolating, locking us into a tight, frozen, facade of presentation, unable to make genuine contact with others. It reinforces a belief that we will not be accepted as we are, that who we are as we are is simply not good enough. So we draw in and hold back.

What does it take to foster that inner permission to relax into being visible as the rough draft we are and always will be?

How do you cultivate this suppleness in being real and rough? What practices develop and sustain this capacity in your experience of living?

A central pathway for me has been contemplative improvisational dance: a potent workshop for developing this ease in being real and in process. Improvisation creates space for the spontaneous, for hanging out in the unknown, and for letting go our planning, evaluating, judging mind while our instincts for expression get to play and explore. Improvisational movement supports supple experiencing of our creative life force through the body, makes space for our impulses to take shape and dissolve, take shape and dissolve – and to be witnessed and received in this rough draft in a welcoming community.

Two weeks ago today, a sweet signpost moment highlighting the fruits of these explorations in spontaneous supple being. At the age of 43.5 years old I bought myself a guitar, and I have played this glorious instrument every day since then. As I was strumming my first evening with the guitar I discovered a melody that was familiar, but which I could not name. So I posted a video on Facebook of singing and playing this melody on my guitar, asking folks to help me identify the song. In that moment I was motivated only by the desire to learn. I felt totally free to offer my rough draft, my pure novice gist of the song, in service of learning and supported by a sense of joy in discovery.

In that moment of leaping visibly into the unknown, my curiosity was the leading force. This leaping has been an alchemical spark. As I play my guitar I feel deepened, accompanied, centered, strengthened, willing. Through allowing myself ease in rough form visibility I feel myself become increasingly supple and more at ease in my skin.

What yearns for creative expression within your being? What tenderness or encouragement could you, will you, offer to this seed?

 

Improvisation

A morning walk into the darkness, along the shoreline of the ocean. The lapping of the water, the soft wind fresh on my skin, the sand crunching beneath my feet. Light emerging in the sky, splashing onto the water, all colors of the small details of the world changing, animating. Shells. Stones. Birds. Rocks. Wet seaweed scattered upon the sand. Body happy, supple. Song and movement ripple from within. Grateful.

Resting into Earth

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cathedral, by katrina curry

Each exhalation is an opportunity to release our bones and muscles into gravity, to let go of tension we are carrying and rest in the emptiness that follows the out-breath. I invite you to try this now. Each inhalation offers a moment to experience expansion, to open space within and move into the supple space all around us – earth rising through our bones, as we experience the buoyancy of sky. Try this now. A micro-movement dance of gravity and buoyancy; a communion between inner and outer space; a taste of the inter-being of you and Earth, you and Sky.