I think it’s important to acknowledge periods of setback just as I’ve written about periods of growth and strength in my practice. July was definitely a month of setbacks. At the time, things just sort of seemed to happen; looking back, I can see how one event led to another.
My work hours increased – first a little, then a lot. Once I was working or on call on multiple successive evenings and weekends, I began to feel more tired. I suspect this was less about losing actual sleep time and more about higher stress levels and losing the pre-sleep decompression time that for me is a necessity to get good sleep. I became much more tired all the time. My 30 minutes of practice in the morning slipped to 10 minutes of meditation so that I could sleep a bit more. Then I dropped the 10 minutes of meditation. I also dropped my morning preparation of a green smoothie, of which I would usually drink half with breakfast and half around 10am. All of my meals became more hurried and less healthy. Some meals I ate at my desk or while checking my BlackBerry. My body craved sleep that I couldn’t give it, so I snacked instead. When I did have free time, I felt rushed to catch up on things I’d let slip and to spend time with my family, though I was distracted and irritable even when I wasn’t working. I was always hurrying from one thing to another, trying to fit everything in. I cut out almost all of the self-care parts of my day: my morning practice, my mid-day walk, my after-dinner walk, my pre-sleep decompression time.
What were the results of this sequence of events? I got sick: pink eye, the flu, then a sinus infection. I ended up on antibiotics twice. My stress levels increased dramatically. I began regularly experiencing shortness of breath, probably more due to stress than sickness. I gained weight. I put all of my emotional strength into managing work and became extremely sensitive to any tensions. I misinterpreted and over-reacted to situations that arose at home.
I am not describing all of this to gain sympathy; I worked a lot fewer hours in July than many of my colleagues. But I think it’s important to recognize how quickly things can go poorly when I cut out self-care and allow stress to snowball. The break in my practice lasted 21 days. The effects of the break were significant and I suspect will linger for months. Even once work quieted down, it took nearly a week for me to get back to something resembling a normal schedule. The good habits I have worked so hard over the last year to establish – regular meditation, exercise, healthy eating – required only moderate effort to maintain, but once slipped, required massive effort to restart.
I’m back to meditating for 10 minutes in the morning again. I’ve made the green smoothie once this week. I’ve taken more walks, eaten better. I’m trying my best to slow down. I sat with my meditation group this past Tuesday; we’re bringing mindfulness meditation into a nearby women’s prison. It was really good to be in community and feel the support of Sangha.
My husband and I are going on vacation soon; when we get back, I will be returning to Denver for the next phase of the Phowa training with Anyen Rinpoche. I have not accomplished nearly as much regular practice as I intended to the last time I was there. I’m feeling regret but I’m trying not to have guilt. I think it’s more productive to move forward with intention and mindfulness, learning from the difficult lessons of the last month and vowing to do better at taking care of myself, managing my stress, and cultivating the qualities I truly value. It’s all too easy to let positive habits slide but the ramifications of that are swift and dramatic. It’s time for me to start anew.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run-
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).
You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.
~ Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected 1957-1997, trans. S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh