Time for a Retreat?

Poison Oak
Poison Oak

Lately I’ve been focusing on all the demands on my time. I woke up around 4:30 a.m. last Thursday and never really got back into a deep sleep; when I did doze off, the dreams were vivid and insane. I think I was trying to take a chemistry test where the questions kept magically changing and the solutions I came up with no longer fit.

I took some time that morning to list the biggest sources of stress. I tend to neglect the house and yard until they scream for attention (or I know my mother is visiting). I decided to stop paying a CPA to do my taxes, but I’m paranoid about making mistakes. Organizing adult education classes at the Unitarian church is my one major volunteer activity, and I’m beginning to wish I could be fired. My daughter is panicking about the AP Chemistry test in May; twenty-seven years ago I got a degree in biochemistry and should be able to help her except that I’ve forgotten everything–hence the nightmares. I’m trying to finish the first chapter of my retreat book and get a book proposal off to an agent who expressed interest, but my perfectionism is getting in the way. 

Lack of refreshing sleep due to excessive anxiety is one sign not all is well.  A few others:

Inability to focus on projects and bring them to completion.
Resenting tasks that others ask me to do.
Excessive puttering around the house which accomplishes little.
Saying no to activities I would really enjoy.
Rejoicing at the jury notice that just arrived. It’s something different to do.
Focusing on the losses in my life, rather than the joys.

I can’t at this moment take a major retreat; I need to save my money and time for a music workshop and cabin retreat this summer.  But I’ve been taking the time lately to reread two inspiring books: Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, and Rachel Harris’s 20-Minute Retreats

Boorstein is a wonderful storyteller who reminds me of my adopted Jewish grandmother–full of entertaining stories that teach Buddhist principles of mindfulness and lovingkindness. She helps me catch myself in poisonous habits of mind, laugh at myself, and flick away the mosquitoes of negative thoughts.  A simple mindfulness meditation is to sit comfortably, close your eyes, and concentrate on the breath. As you breath out, smile.

Harris gives many examples of retreats which take only 20 minutes, and several 5 and 1-minute retreats as well. Currently I’m reading her chapter on patience retreats, and this morning I took her 5-minute Plant Retreat. She points out:  “We have more patience for how our plants grow than we do for how we ourselves develop. We never say to a plant, “Hurry up and blossom,” but, in effect, we give ourselves that same message all the time.”  In the Plant Retreat we take time to nurture plants; to water and fertilize them, note their progress from week to week and month to month, and give ourselves the same patience we give to our plants.

Getting outside for a walk or hike is even better. Each week as I hike in the Sacramento area with the Sole Mates, I watch for new wildflowers, note the rising level of the river, and even enjoy the everchanging colors of the poison oak along the trails. It’s easy to avoid contact with poisonous leaves and thoughts if I stay in the present and notice the beauty of my surroundings!

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