Archive for June, 2015

Downside, Upside

June 21, 2015

 

Nearly fifteen years of drought in my northeastern corner of NM have not come to an end – but this spring into summer we have had rain, almost daily, steady and hard at times, short and sharp at others. More days have been cloudy, foggy and cool than the dry, windy and sunny we’ve become accustomed to enduring since 2000. Forestry signs indicating level of fire danger are in the lower yellow – moderate – range instead of the screaming fire engine red of extreme.

Ranchers are running larger numbers of cattle, and those herds are lazing about in lush greenery up to their bellies. Horses are grazing fat, and antelope scattered among the domestic herds are too somnolent to come check out, as in their more normally inquisitive fashion, the curiosity of a person walking nearby and waving a hat. I give up waving, and continue my way, remembering the morning I woke from a sleep-out under the stars, a ring of antelope surrounding me. Not this bunch – too lazy.

The rainy dampness and chill have greatly delayed me in initiating my outdoor walking routine. A rural dirt lane a few miles from my house has become my normal exercise site – a mile and a half round trip the standard, easily extended to two miles or executed in every shorter times, according to my increasing stamina. By this time last year I was already well seasoned and doing two miles in half an hour. Today, it took me the half hour to just go a mile and a half.

The delay in getting up to speed is partly due to rain, and partly due to my own reluctance to switch to early morning walking. It’s been my habit to finish my work day and then walk – and that habit had years to become set, as the drought mandated waiting until the cooler temperatures of evening made walking a pleasure. I’ve become accustomed to the evening walk as a way to wind down from work, to quiet my mind and prepare for evening chores and rest.

Back in the 1990s, when last we had wet summers, I practiced a different routine. Then my exercise was riding my horses and I knew the activity had to be completed before midday, if at all. Our then typical summer pattern was bright sun and light breeze until about noon, when huge white cumulus clouds would build up and move in from the west, to collect and darken and dump rain in the afternoon, often lasting into the night.

That pattern has, this year, established itself once more. For several months now, by the time my work day is done, the sky is totally overcast, the air is thick and wet, the ground is sodden and more rain threatens/promises to fill the night. No way to walk outside and unwind from the stresses of the day.

Ronni Bennett, who blogs on elder issues at Time Goes By, Time Goes By recently posted about habits – in her case the habit of ordering her coffee from New York because that is easier than going through the process of trial and error to find a blend, where she now lives in Seattle, that satisfies her as much as her long-enjoyed standard.Ronni makes the important distinction between habit and addiction and reminds readers that, while addiction is a serious problem, habit most certainly is not. Indeed, we cannot survive without habits. How exhausting to have to go through a day thinking out each step of all the cleanliness routines, the household chores, the mechanical skills on which we rely! Habit only becomes a problem (still not as serious as addiction) when we become locked into patterns and resist change.

Like my recognized delay in adapting to the changed weather by switching my walks from evening to morning. I’ve started the process (today was my second morning outing) and expect that by week’s end I will have a new habit pattern in place. I will not, however, have made up for the month’s delay in building my endurance and speed over my usual trekking path.

Even in drought, walking in the evening meant wearing long sleeves and lots of bug repellant. Now, in the wet, walking at night is truly not safe (West Nile Virus is here). Fortunately, I do not seem to need excessive protection in the early morning. Perhaps the mosquitos, so very much more prevalent at night than they were last year, have also not made a change of habit to morning activity?

Walking in the early morning feels self-indulgent, like I’m doing something purely pleasurable BEFORE meeting my obligations to my family or to my employer. Why is it that I feel I’m only entitled to do something for myself after other responsibilities have been met? I work from home, am supposed to put in a “normal” work day/week but the demands of the job do not allow me to take lunch hours, the day never ends before 6 or 7 P.M. and only rarely do I have an entire weekend off. Why, then, am I still pushing myself to start promptly at 8 A.M., as though I were clocking into an office assignment?

Tomorrow, a Monday, I intend to walk as the start to my day. Probably that means I won’t turn on my work computer until 8:30. Almost certainly I’ll feel a bit guilty, but I’m counting on that habit, also, being changed by the end of the week. Morning walks, better energy and also, almost certainly, better concentration are my new habit priorities. This older dog IS learning new tricks.

Right, Just and Good

June 16, 2015

A number of times lately I’ve set out to write a post and instead have spent my time playing solitaire. Forty Thieves occasionally but mostly Free Cell. I have no idea if I have set any sort of record on the latter – 4600 consecutive games without being stymied. I undo and start over when I see one not playing out – and a few times have had to repeat that process four or five times before I succeed. I think maybe that’s “cheating’’ when it comes to setting records, but since I’m not playing for a record I don’t suppose it matters.

What am I playing for? A sort of mindless zone out that lets my attention relax and float free, to be with my spiritual Master on the inner. Oddly, doing something seemingly profoundly mental (a card game) serves me as an avenue out of Mind and into a non-mind status.

Coming back to conscious awareness, I often have new insights, including ideas for posts – but too often have used up my free time that otherwise might have been spent writing. Alas, no matter how elastic time sometimes seems to be (long when I’m tired but obligated to keep working at my primary job, so short when I have a rare day to relax) it simply doesn’t stretch to encompass all that I want to accomplish in my “off work” hours.

Especially not now that I am coaching my husband through his demanding load of summer classes. He’s taking his first psychology course, being exposed to the discipline that was my major in college. I participated in a reunion (I won’t say which one) by Zoom conference last week, the first time I’ve ever attended any such activity. I enjoyed visiting with a few classmates, and seeing how differently we all look. But I realized, also, that I have very little interest in looking backwards to my years at Swarthmore. I greatly value the education I received, which has continuously served me well as I have taken up employment in a series of different fields. My appreciation of my teachers and the learning process is a present condition, however, with very little nostalgia attached.

Apparently one of the undertakings of my classmates on campus was to share personally significant memories about our years at school. I find that almost all of mine arise out of my own achievements, with relatively few memorable events, other than friendships made, involving other people. I was not “social”, although my senior year I captained the archery team, and I regularly performed with the modern dance troupe.

In that capacity, at the start of my senior year, I posted a notice seeking a musician to improvise in response to a dance I’d choreographed. The drummer who answered became one of my best, certainly most long-term and special friends, as we are still in communication close to a lifetime later. The experience of connection when I performed the dance for him to watch, with the next run-through a perfect match of music to movement, is a significant personal memory of Swarthmore.

Another is my feeling of floating over the ground as I left the oral exam for my philosophy courses. I’d spent over an hour with the visiting examiner, analyzing a statement I’d made in one of my written tests, to the effect that good, right and just are coextensive concepts, a core tenet and summary of my personal belief system. At the end of the session, the professor stepped back, looked over the blackboards that we’d filled with examples, and said “I think you have a coherent philosophical system laid out here.” It was not merely a validation of my intellect, but a deeply felt validation of my ethics and spiritual concepts of right conduct, or what I would now call Knowing, Being and Seeing.

Just as I now find value in what could seem to be mindless time wasting, moving cards around on a board, I guess I do also see value in occasionally looking back. If nothing else, when change is incremental and in such small steps as to be easily missed, looking back can provide a signpost marking the fact that change has in fact occurred – or perhaps it has not.

The important thing is not to get stuck with one’s sight turned to the past. Equally important, is to not be so focused on the future that the present is overlooked. I appreciate and value the reminder that “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” To be able to reach my end with as few regrets as my grandfather (who wished he’d learned to play the mandolin) I know I need, daily and here and now, to manifest the ethics that covered that classroom board and to Be in my life in each moment of it. When I succeed, I know such happiness 


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