Perhaps having spent this week in the shadow of The Mountain, it is apt to reflect on mountains. If you have never been to Cape Town this should definitely be on your list of destinations to visit. And if you live in Cape Town, you are very familiar with the ways in which the mountain is central to the lives of the inhabitants living on or around its slopes, or even out on the flats. The mountain is the north star by which one can navigate, no matter how lost. And as I wing my way home across the base of Africa, above the clouds, thoughts from the week stay with me.
This past week. One of re-imagining and re-navigating my life. Inquiring deeply into its nature, the nature of my work, and the supportive and nurturing networks of family, friends and colleagues that have so magically grown over the years. A week with other carers in this world of working at the edges of death, dying, and living every moment. A week of launching a palliative care network for children, being a part of various presentations and workshops, and ending with the territory of mindful practice and attending. Attending to our personal lives. To that very personal space we often neglect to tend and nurture.
As carers for others we are want to leave the tending of self to the very end. Something that we imagine takes up too much time or have no time left over for. But it does not have to be difficult, complicated, or take any time at all. It can be very simple. Three tools and exercises shared in the workshop today are activities all of us already know how to do. Already have as a part of our lives. Perhaps placing them within a new context helps us recognise them as self care. In a room full of health care workers only about five volunteered that they already have a daily practice of self care. How curious? Consider this. Do you eat every day? Do you sleep every day? Do you wash, look in the mirror, and get dressed every day? Well if you do these things. And I am taking a risk here and assuming that 99.9% of you said yes to all three. You already have a daily practice of self care. It is only the thinking mind that keeps us from this recognition. Our bodies know this as self care. It is perhaps the attitude with which we engage in this self care that can make all the difference. How many of you breathe every day? And now that figure must have gone up to 100%. So congratulations all of you who already know how to tend to your self. You have activities already in place in your daily lives that ensure capacity to care, to be present. The step to conscious self care is a very small one from here. The step is just to notice. To recognise. To be kind. Above all to be kind. To allow your life to be inhabited by kindness for whatever shows up in this moment with care. In doing so you will be able to care for the magical unfoldings of your life, even as you may care for others through very difficult and challenging times.
Three simple homework tools to practice for this next week
1. When you get up in the morning, greet yourself in the mirror with kindness, saying “Good morning. So good to see you.”
2. Remember to STOP through your day. Especially when a stop sign presents itself, or the urge to do something reactive (if you can know this at the time)
STOP of course is :
Take a breath;
Observe what is going on in your body, your thoughts, your emotions, around you; Proceed with caution, grace, kindness, and renewed energy to engage in this moment of your life.
3. Notice the ways you already care for yourself each day and bring kindness and attention to this care. Do it exclusively at the time of noticing. Don’t have that meeting in the shower in the morning. Ever noticed how crowded the shower can be in the morning? The meeting could actually wait until the meeting happens in real life. Water is the scarce resource of the 21st century. Give it the respect it deserves. When having a shower, experience the shower. When eating, experience the eating. Be in one place at a time and give you brain a break from being divided between where you want to be and where you actually are. Just be there. Be here. For now. It may surprise you, the beauty of where this actually is. And who knows where this noticing may take you?
Ah, yes. Sorry. And the mountain? You may ask. So one of my favorite meditations is one called the mountain meditation. One that uses the power of imagery to enter into and deepen the world of attending to this moment. The mountain is solid, stable, and strong, even as the weather patterns, seasons, and times of day may change. I first encountered the mountain meditation with the suggestion to imagine a mountain that one has perhaps visited, or even seen in a photo. This never felt quite comfortable for me until I allowed the image of a mountain, the felt sense of a mountain, to emerge from within of its own accord. No postcard vision for me, but a strong felt inner sense. Allowing the inner knowing and emergence. Or not. If nothing, working with that too. And in the emerging I was held by this knowing of my mountain, my story, my personal narrative. Not the perfect one I long to encounter or be with. And in this engaging with my mountain I could slowly begin to understand the narrative of how this mountain, despite seemingly otherwise at times, is solid, has a firm base, and can weather what ever storms affect its slopes. So as I’ve meandered through this writing I come back to my original question. Whose mountain are you living? Have you stopped lately to pay attention? You may find you are living another’s dream mountain. Or, that you are precisely, exquisitely, beautifully, as best you can, living your own.
And while you continue to examine this mountain, remember three simple tools: greet yourself each day, STOP on occasion, and care for yourself in the ways you are already doing, with kindness and care. Lastly. Do remember to have some fun!
My time in the clouds is coming to an end. See you on the other side as you contemplate the path ahead. You may think this journey is mapped out and that there is a path laid out that you are treading. But, as a friend reminded me recently, our path is made only by the walking of it. One footstep at a time.
Traveler, your footprints
Are the path and nothing more;
Traveler, there is no path,
The path is made by walking.
By walking the path is made
And when you look back
You’ll see a road
Never to be trodden again.
Antonio Machado (in brief)