Monday, October 5, 2009

Cycles of Nature

Although we often forget or deny it, we are part of the natural world. All of nature moves in cycles and patterns. There are the great tides of the sea and the migration of birds, the mating patterns of the butterfly and the huge seasonal shifts as our planet orbits the sun. We too, live within the cyclical laws of nature. And, within us move cycles seen and unseen.

We are aware of the rhythm of our heart and the cycling of blood through the circulatory system. We have a circadian rhythm--our natural sleep-wake cycle. If we are female and of a certain age, we undergo a regular cycle of fertility called menstruation.  If we undertake to follow the cycle of breath, it can bring us into our center and ground our awareness in the body and the present moment. These are all physical patterns, but what of the more subtle patterns working through, within and upon us?

How does the light filtering through the window as the hours pass by affect our mood, our wakefulness, creativity or depression? How do sound vibrations entering the ear affect concentration, relaxation, agitation? How do the larger patterns of the season, climate, weather, and even the stars affect our cells? It is a lot to fathom at once!

 It is important to take time to notice these patterns and their effects upon us. Doing so can only help us better know ourselves. Knowing ourselves better can only help us take better care of ourselves. Taking better care of ourselves can only help us become more effective in the world.

Until we come to awareness, we don't even know what it is we don't know.  Once we are congnizant we have the power to choose and to transform.  How will we know if the waning light of autumn brings on sadness if we aren’t paying attention?   Once we know, we can take real action toward self care. Perhaps we don't need a prescription for antidepressants after all.  Perhaps that extra glass of wine isn't necessary to lift our spirits or help us relax.  Instead, we might try taking Vitamin D, sitting in front of full spectrum lighting, changing our diet and increasing our intake of beauty.

Oftentimes, my students and clients will complain about complacency, apathy or what they deem laziness when it comes to consistently doing the poistive things which make them feel better.  It is true that this resistance may have something to do with punishing ourselves or being afraid of the changes which might come if we consistently practice self-care. It is also true that this pattern of “slacking off” is part of a larger cycle.

In nature that which grows unchecked is considered a nuisance, plague or cancer. Why would we expect or want ourselves to enter states of unchecked growth?  If we don't take time to stop and review, we won't even know what is happening to us.  More often than not, the kind of transformation we are undergoing is quite subtle.  We cannot be the people we are longing to be—more authentic, creative, generous, evolved—until we allow ourselves to slow down and notice who we are right now.

Take a long slow breath. Find your center. Come fully into your body before you quickly read on. Take as long as you need to slow your breath and your mind so you can really take in what comes next.

Too often we sign on for one workshop, spiritual practice, exercise class, self care regime, or commitment after another in a mad rush to take better care of ourselves and develop our spiritual core. Inevitably we fool ourselves into believing that if we do more we’ll make greater, quicker strides forward on our quest. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work. Just as we know a quick stop at a fast food restaurant might fill our belly but leave us nutritionally depleted, so too can this all-at-once approach to our own personal transformation and spiritual development.

For a long time now, our culture has emphasized a puritanical work ethic and capitalist ideals which promises us more hard work will yield bigger and better results. Think about how these ideals permeates your professional, personal and spiritual life. Think about how these thought patterns have influenced our communities, economies, the environment and the government.

Faster is not necessarily sustainable. More is not necessarily desirable. Bigger is not necessarily better.

Our body/emotional selves know this. Take a breath into that body-wisdom.  Your breath will affirm and expand the idea, helping it take root and shape within you.

Begin to forgive yourself for pushing yourself so hard that the only thing left for the body/emotional self to do is quit exercising, eating right or meditating. When the body/emotional self wants to quit we are being given a clue about our internal cycles.

When we begin or deepen a new regime, we set a cycle in motion. We are, in a sense, giving birth to something new in us. When we are committed, we begin to see results pretty quickly. This excites us and we may find ourselves slipping into that capitalist ideology and push ourselves to do more, go faster, get bigger results. Meanwhile, a part of us is trying very hard just to catch up and adjust to the radical changes already in place.

The cycle thus far looks like this: Commit, Do, Get Results, Quit.

If we have been doing the work of personal transformation and spiritual development for a while, we might recognize this pattern well. We realize how hard it is to re-commit once we have quit. We become distrusting or even hostile toward ourselves for quitting. We call ourselves names like lazy, complacent, apathetic, underachieving or self-sabotaging.

I wonder if the trees in autumn are berating themselves for losing their leaves.

I wonder if when the Earth turns her face from the sun each evening, she screeches in anger toward herself, “Quitter!”

I wonder if the child lying down for a nap after a hard morning of entraining muscles, nerve-endings and brain cells belittles himself for not having accomplished enough.

We need periods of rest for integration. That means there will be times when we cannot take on another commitment, another practice, another asana. There are periods when we must stay the course with what we are already doing.  There are times when all we can do are the very fundamentals of our practices while our body/selves get accustomed to the great leaps and bounds of growth we have made.

All natural cycles include a period of rest.  There are forty pauses between breaths every minute.  There are pauses in music, between contractions at birth and even in the great turning of the seasonal wheel of the year. These periods are built in to ensure we have embodied the activity which came before and to strengthen us for the activity which comes next.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Daily Commitments for the Week:

October 5, 2009. Notice the cyclical pattern of your day in a deeper and more focused way than following your routine schedule. A good way to begin doing this is to check in with yourself four times: On awakening, at lunchtime, dinnertime and bedtime. At these times, stop and take a moment to breathe long and full. Notice your body and where it is, Then, continuing to take long, full breaths simply notice the following: Where is the sun and what is the quality of light? What is the quality and quantity and volume of sound in my environment right now? Am I hungry, angry, lonely, bored, tired, thirsty or agitated? Am I content, happy, engaged, alert, comfortable or calm?

You might want to jot down your responses to these questions. If you need to you can decide to take action to change something either in your internal or external envrionment. You may also choose to give thanks for what's right in that moment.

October 6, 2009. If you are already committed to self-care, personal transformation or spiritual development, think about what happens when you reach a plateau. Do you quit entirely and have to start over? Do you push yourself harder to get to the next level?

Ask yourself if its possible to discern what the basics of your practice entails. What are the fundamentals? When you reach the next plateau, rather than quitting or pushing past the gold which arises when we take time to rest, renew and review, can you give yourself a set amount of time to work the basics of your practice? Can you commit to refraining from self-derision and instead allow the spaciousness within which integration occurs to open within you?

October 7, 2009. Today, commit to setting aside thirty to sixty minutes to review the yearly cycles in your life. Breathe long, slow and deep. Center and align yourself in the way you know how. Draw a circle on a page and divide first into quarters--one for each season--and then into eighths so each season is comprised of two eighths. Beginning at the top of the wheel label the first section Early Spring, the next Late Spring and so on until you finish with Late Winter.

Next, place all the most important events of your life inside the section of the Year Wheel when it took place. Some examples are your birthday, anniversaries, gradutations, the birth of children, major accidents or illnesses, highpoints and disappointments. Note as well when you feel most motivated, flirtatious, creative, focused, exhausted, antisocial, etc. Get it all down inside the circle.

Here is a tool that will give you clues about the cyclical patterns of your life. Once we become aware what is happening to us, we can anticipate the pattern or choose to change it.

We are not powerless. With just a little knowledge and desire, we have the power to overcome our most deeply held patterns. We have everything we need to see with clear vison, heal with clear intent, and step forward with clear conscience.

October 8, 2009. Today's commitment will take about 10-15 minutes. Today, we'll draw another circle. This time don't draw the lines in until you are done completing the information. First, inventory all the things you do each day which you consider to be "work." For example, you paid job, the laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Next, inventory the things you do which you consider fun or important but not-work such as your spiritual practice, sex, making art, working out at the gym, getting a massage, watching television or dancing. Finally, list the things which you would call "rest." This category includes sleep, of course, but might also include listening to music, reading, watching television, hanging out, etc.

Some things I have listed in one category above, might go in another category on your list. That's okay.

When you are done, divide the circle in three. Is your circle balanced or off-balance? Someone wise told me there are three eight hour "servings" in each day. To be healthy, we need a full eight hour serving of each: Work, Play and Rest.

Just notice your circle and the sizes of the servings on your daily plate. Now that you have information, you have power.

October 9, 2009. Take another look at the circle from yesterday's commitment. Take long, slow, deep breaths, feel yourself inside your body and let your focus become deep and still. In looking at the cycle of your days and where things are out of balance, we don't necessarily want to start throwing things out. It may be more beneficial to begin moving toward balance by moving things around.

Can the commute to and from work which you list as "work" become "fun?" Perhaps making dinner could also move out of the list of chores and be approached as fun. Maybe you can move bedtime back an hour so you get rest rather than the entertainment or "fun" of television.

How can you reorganize and recategorize your daily round so it comes more closely into balance? A change of attitude before a change of plans and schedules will bring you immediate ease.

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