hope

Fall Backward: Honoring the Call to Rest

When autumn first starts to yawn it is contagious and I begin to feel the invitation to slow down, unwind, retract my energy and attention. I start anticipating the sheer, bare stillness of winter solstice with relief. My body takes cues from the yellowing tips of leaves, the morning’s snappish air, the sunlight slipping away just slightly. The planet twirls and spins and this is why seasons change and when I am in resonance with these natural signals to decelerate, I typically find myself busier than at any other time of year. In past years, I’ve dreaded winter, resisted adjusting my pace and ended up SAD! This year, holidays and all, I’m resolved to claim my quiet space, to have meaningful inner dialogues and rest in the verdant dark.

Fall flew by for me. I had been intending to neatly wrap up my summer writing project. It was late October when I mentioned this to a friend who said, “Summer is over and so is that project! What’s next?” That last part was nice to hear. It told me she is confident that I will keep finding new inspiration, especially if I set that intention and keep it with me like a compass.

I visited Capitol Reef National Park in Utah shortly after that conversation. I spent three days hiking the dry washes of slot canyons, my attention merging and twisting through towering white and orange sandstone cliffs. In those narrow and silent spaces, I felt contained and safe. The dense yet luminous surfaces existed as a boundary between my need for solitude and the pressing demands of my life. I let the canyons do their formidable work of sentinels as I soaked up the last of the season’s warm sunlight.

While hiking Cohab Canyon I rested on a flat surface of a ledge. Sounds were unapparent, only slight movements now and then in the environment, which I was able to perceive only after settling into a deep inner stillness. It seemed absolutely essential to meet that motionlessness, something I couldn’t resist doing and had to honor. So I sat in meditation, blessed now and then by a nimble, easy breeze as it travelled through the sandstone corridor. That light wind was full of a coolness that felt like a blessing or a grace.

A ladybug (in the desert!) landed on my hand and when I put a drop of water from my bottle there, she drank it. She stayed for a few minutes in my palm and for a moment, she and I were both the center of the universe and nothing at all. The slight weight of her was a focus in the immense vacuum of the canyon, an anchor in the transcendence and transparency of self. She then walked to the top of my finger, spread her odd shell-like wings and flew off.

Remembering that moment calms me still— has imprinted a sense of safety and connection in my consciousness just as the waters and time engraved these strange spaces in the land.
After my meditation, I found a pool of rainwater, hidden beneath the ledge where I had just rested. It explained the increased activity of birds, lizards, chipmunks and ladybugs I had begun to notice in this part of the canyon. Tiny tadpoles were gestating in the leftover rain and I wondered at how we had all intuitively constellated around that tiny pool of life-giving water.I mostly marveled at how I ended up in the mix— grateful for some wisdom in the body that resonates automatically with the elements and the seasons— amazed again and again each time I realize I am wholly interconnected and alive and aware.

a pool of rain
 
—hidden—
but sensed by all
the pressure of the desert
<an arid lack & willfullness of water>
……..
yet here are hundreds of tadpoles
a flurry & commotion deep in the silence
where my eyes have adjusted
to this unperceived world, now
……..
I am swimming in a puddle
in the bottom of (what was) the ocean
in the galaxy at night
……..
from my dark and spacious winter dreams
I’m gathering words
reminders of our connection,
of our past and our future
together, friends
(and all beings everywhere)
-Renee Podunovich, 2015

The Medicine of Kindness

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – the Dalai Lama


I encourage clients to experience positive states of mind in equal proportion to their difficulties and distress. In this series of blog posts, I will focus on specific, practical skills for increasing positive states of mind such as happiness, safety, calmness, compassion and connectedness.

I am amazed as I witness again and again, the inner capacity for healing and wellness that my clients discover in their therapy process. Every person has innate inner strengths that emerge when most needed.  It’s as if we are designed for resiliency and this innate quality allows us to process and heal from distress and move forward feeling lighter and less burdened.

Recent research into brain functioning has confirmed we are born with a capacity for kindness because we are hard-wired for love and compassion. Acts of kindness are an extension of this natural compassion. Being kind requires us to notice the needs and feelings of others. Noticing those around us with compassion rather than judgment allows us to feel connected to others. Belonging and feeling connected to others is a basic human need and through acts of kindness, that need is filled.

Practice: A Kindness a Day (kindness toward others)

Our compassion is innate, but we may need to fine-tune it by practicing a simple remedy:  acts of kindness. Studies on the benefits of kindness are numerous and show that kind acts have biological, emotional and social benefits. Acts of kindness can be spontaneous such as smiling or saying thank you or holding a door open for a stranger. The Action for Happiness group recommends that acts of kindness don’t have to be random, we can “plan for happiness” by making a list of small action to take in daily life.

Practice: Find a Success Each Day (kindness toward self)

Directing kindness and compassion toward the self is a tremendous wellness skill, one that takes continual practice. Our self-talk can be incredibly negative. When I worked for the substance abuse prevention program Dare to be You at CSU, this was a skill we practiced weekly in our groups. Parents and their children would report one thing they felt successful about from their day. We were looking for small successes, encouraging the idea that if we wait to feel successful for big things like promotions or a new car, we might be waiting a long time. The practice is to notice the small things such as making it to work on time, facing a challenge, making time for relaxation, etc.

Sometimes this activity would evoke tears from participants whose day had been so stressful that it was frustrating and seemingly impossible to make the shift to the positive. What started happening after a few weeks is that participants would come to group with a success already in mind. This means their awareness habits started shifting from noticing the negative to focusing on events that they felt good about.

Take a minute to listen to this talk by Dr. David Hamilton, author and messenger of happiness. He uses the image of dropping a pebble into a pond as a metaphor for an act of kindness that ripples all the way to the center where it makes a lily pad bob on the water and smile.