a little reframing and a little stress relief

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Plant life

I dropped off my ballot today! As I walked back to my car, I passed a man who gave me a smile and said “Congratulations!” That brief moment of connection felt great, and I’m guessing he’s hoping for a Biden win, too.

Voting was the most important thing I did today. For many years, I told myself and others that voting was the only time I felt patriotic. I have such mixed feelings about this country – deep appreciation for its natural beauty and the many heroic people who call it home, and deep sorrow for the ideals we’ve never managed to achieve.

But today I realized that while many would not characterize me as patriotic, what I’m not is nationalistic. I want so much for things to be better and just because I don’t automatically stand for the anthem or pledge to the flag does not make me a “traitor.” Sounds simple, or maybe even obvious, but for me, it’s a shift in how I see myself.

In a similar vein, I was talking with a funny, wise, and compassionate friend recently, and she said she’s not political. It could be semantics because as I see it, if we care about the water we drink, the air we breathe, educating children in the best way possible, regardless of zip code, ensuring that people have enough to eat, and about racial and social justice – well, that makes us political. Maybe one day, we will finally achieve those ideals and all of the above will be assumed. In the meantime, we try to get closer to those things and we vote and yes, get a little political. Or a lot. Our voices matter, and this is the election of our lifetimes.

There isn’t one person I know who is not stressed out by our twin pandemics. I’m sharing a few ideas I’ve tried to relieve the tension, and I hope one could help you, too.

  1. Meditate. Ok, this one’s obvious, but I’ve made a shift in my practice. I was using a meditation app on my phone, and I found it distracting. I had to adjust the privacy settings because while I’m sure my fellow meditators are delightful, I really didn’t feel the need to see who was doing what. And the app kept a record of how many days in a row I meditated. Sounds good, maybe, but a while back, I missed one day after months of daily meditation. I’m sure there’s some lesson there, but I felt annoyed as shit every time I saw that little days in a row indicator. So, because I also wanted to keep my phone out of my bedroom at all times, I went analog and got an alarm clock/meditation timer* and the simplicity is really working for me.

    I keep my actual meditation very simple, too. Sit comfortably, focus on my breath, notice when my mind wanders, kindly direct myself back to my breath, repeat. Ten minutes, in the morning. Simple, not easy.

    *I have no affiliation with this company. I just really like the clock.

  2. Photograph. With intention, with a single idea. I have gone on photowalks to make an image inspired by: minimalism (see above), a single color, or an emotion. Or you could just focus on leaves, or branches, or textures that you particularly like. If you decide ahead of time what you’ll look for, your walk can become a treasure hunt and an adventure in noticing and discovering. Here is a gorgeous online show featuring the color green for some inspiration.

  3. Read. Of course, reading can always be soothing, and sometimes there’s extra comfort in revisiting childhood favorites. I recently downloaded a couple of Nancy Drew books and was brought back to my eight-year-old self. I remember my teacher learning I liked the Nancy books and telling me that’s what she enjoyed, too. My smart and super cool teacher read what I read? Neato!

  4. Scream. When I was small, my family would sometimes vacation in the Sierra foothills. As our little VW Bug chugged its way uphill, my brothers and I would wait with anticipation for the exact time when there’d be no other cars around. At that moment, we’d get to roll the windows down and scream our heads off. I remember my absolutely blood-curdling voice and my joy at letting it all out. Wise parents.

    I miss those days sometimes. There’s nothing like a good scream, especially now, but I have neighbors. A few months ago, I really wanted a scream and was frustrated that I couldn’t make it happen. So frustrated, I could…well, you know. I had to be somewhere the next weekend morning, and as I was driving down the freeway, I saw no cars around me. I turned off my phone so as not to scare Siri, and let it out. Piercing, B-movie style screaming. It was operatic and such fun. Highly recommended for when you’re sure you are absolutely alone!

  5. Collage. Or, in my case, practicing cutting. I’m interested in collage and have made a few, but I’ve been drawn to more precision lately. I don’t have excellent hand-eye coordination, so I’ve started practicing with an X-Acto knife and with scissors. What started out as a desire to achieve clean lines in my cut-up images has turned into a meditative act, one that doesn’t need to lead to anything in particular. Maybe one day these cutouts will become a collage, but for now, I’m enjoying playing with scissors and knives.

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