As I sit down to write today, I notice that, the same as last week, my body is tense and my mind is disturbed. As I read that sentencce and take time to notice what’s happening, I can see that I woke up with a rather disturbed mind, and that every little aggravating thing landed as if on a sensitive spot. Now I’m so tense and aggravated I can feel it as a pinch in my back (the place where everything always lands) and tension in my jaw. I take a breath and acknowledge all that. I pause and take in my environment.
The practice of pausing to take in my environment is very helpful. I see things I can appreciate, and I can feel their effect on me. The room I’m in is my office, but it’s a kind of sacred space and taking time to savour thaat I’m here, and to savour the aspects of this space that please me, I feel some good feelings, some slightly warm expansion in my body and mind. I savour that. Ahhh yes, a little bit of space iinside. I also hear the music I’ve chosen to play. It’s no longer background, so as I focus on it, I feel its effect on me. I close my eyes and listen. As I take it in, it evokes pleasant memories in my mind and body. I savour those feelings.
The power of music to affect my mood has been forefront in my experiencing this week. It is part of my asana (yoga posture) practice and of course as I’ve mentioned already, it’s part of my drive to work every morning. But music is only one part of my morning routine, and that makes me aware of just how much effort it takes in the morning to set myself up to have even a chance of having a half-decent day. My routine has become extensive and takes two-and-a-half hours (only about 30 minutes of that involves showering, hair, clothes and makeup). Part of what takes the time is taking time: purposely taking time to be with myself and with what I’m taking in (not only material food but also the energetic and spiritual nourishment I “feed” myself).
As I contemplate this, I have a feeling of astonishment about how much time and concerted, conscious effort (morning, evening and throughout the day, on the spot) it takes for me to be and stay happy – or more accurately, to create the conditions under which I have a snowball’s chance in hell of feeling even a little bit of happiness. Then there is also sustaining that effort. Things like music, asana, exercise etc. are less than effective if they are applied only occasionally. In the moment they might feel good but part of their value for me is that they refer me to previous times when I have felt their benefits and as those cognitive memories come, so do the feeling-memories. This means that already I’m feeling their effects as my body remembers and in remembering, experiences those effects in the now, even as I’ve barely begun my practice in the moment.
Another aspect of the work is that, in addition to sustained effort daily, if/when I need more nourishment because I’m thrown off-kilter in the moment, they have to be applied in that very moment. I have to focus on them (not on what’s bothering me) and I have to do them for a sustained period, say 20-30 minutes, before they take effect. Unlike ibuprofen for a headache, I can’t just take 30 seconds to ingest them, then go back to whatever I was doing, forget about the reason I took them, and expect to feel better. In fact for me, when I take ibuprofen for a headache, it won’t “work” to relieve my headache unless I also do some acupressure moves on my head and neck and apply some pain-relieving balm to my neck. Furthermore, if I haven’t done my self-care routine of massaging shiatsu points for preventing headaches, even all that is not as effective as it could be in giving me the relief I want. What’s more, the headache won’t stay away if I don’t check in with it and keep applying these in-the-moment measures.
Another example of this phenomenon is how music worked to support me one morning week. One morning, it took every ounce of self-discipline I had not to flip my lid and just rip into my husband before I went to work, but to just carry on. All through my morning routine, I held in my mind that I was going to bring this anger to kirtan. I chose a long piece of music that started slowly and built into enthusiasm. I didn’t even feel like singing along at first. But as the song built, I sang a word here, a word there, a phrase here, a verse there, and eventually found myself not only singing along but also feeling the building energy of the music combine with my own agitation. I started to yell the words, and yell and yell and yell them. By the time the song was over, about 20 minutes later, I was relaxed. The tension had drained out of me. (Note to self: energetic singing is very aerobic and has some of the same benefits.)
As I checked in with myself after the song ended, I could feel that what had bothered me was still bubbling inside me and would need more attention. But the attention it wanted wasn’t tension relief by ripping my partner up one side and down the other. I was connected with the more of the situation, the whole of it. I was connected with the part of me that needed something, and the more of me, the larger me, that could provide what’s needed. Part of the work was done, a big part, the self-care part, and more was needed, including checking in with myself during the day to make sure the bubbling inside didn’t boil over, as well as having a conversation with my husband.
I don’t know where I get the will to do all this so-called self-care. It used to be a real pain in the ass. I never used to bother. I would just put my head down and carry on. I would put off eating when i was hungry, taking something for a headache, etc., etc., telling myself it wasn’t worth the trouble, or it wouldn’t work. I didn’t think there was anything I could do to shift the situation.
What do know is that now, there are times when I enjoy applying these measures of caring for myself, especially when I don’t rush through them, or do them accompanied by a voice that says, “Oh, this is just such a pain in the ass. I don’t want to be feeling this way. I resent feeling crappy and I resent having to do something about it.” When I first started being loving to myself, 10-ish years ago, it was just a cold, noble pursuit: “I’m doing self-care because it’s what I’m supposed to do.” Insert eye roll here. “I’m doing something good for myself.” Yeah, right. It didn’t feel good at all, except marginally.
As I write this now and look back over my self-care journey, I think, “Maybe being happy has to start with doing happy.” I see that, after long practice, I have trained myself to appreciate self care. I have trained myself to notice what it actually feels like to do it (as opposed to listening exclusively to my thoughts about it). All this training seems too have developed sufficient mental and physical memories towhich my organism refers when I start a particular self-care practice, so that I can sense the good, happy feelings sooner, and more fully. This is a good news bad news situation. On the one hand, who is going to start something knowing it will take 10 years of practice before it pays off? On the other hand, I didn’t know that, I still put the time in, and now, finally, here I am, experiencing the benefits. Doing happy, sometimes I also feel happy. Perhaps that’s what gives me the gumption to go through such an extensive routine now. Regardless, it’s a nice place to be.
What are your thoughts about how to be or do happy? What are your routines for supporting yourself? What are your challenges with all this? Please let me know in the comments below.