Bullies, Beatitudes, and Birds

Bullies, Beatitudes, and Birds

 

Bullies, Beatitudes, and Birds

By Jane Tawel

August 24, 2020

Since I have put a bird feeder outside my “reading window”, I can now spend my early mornings looking down at my book, looking up at the birds — down, up; down, up; down, up. Come to think of it, I look a bit like a bird, with a head full of grey feathery hair atop my long scrawny neck, bobbing up and down as if pecking among the philosophies and fictions strewn across my table; and looking up at the birds — down, up, down up. I am like the scout-bird who is often a part of a small group of birds; the one that sits not at the trough of seeds but up on the top of the post, or in a nearby tree branch, the guard-dog of the others, (to mix animal metaphors). I sit with my pack of people imagined and real in books and pictures and thoughts and memories, and my own life-flock is with me in spirit, if not in truth. And I guard them, both in my memories of feeding them, and their continual feeding of me.

 

I like to see the little red-breasted, red-throated birds, who might be robins or finches but might be neither since, even though my daughter, Verity and my dear friend Heather, have tried to teach me and help me, I remain blissfully ignorant of types and names. The birds in the air swoop in and peck in their persnickety ways among the feeder’s offerings. I love the cool, grey pigeons — so seemingly unremarkable compared to the others. The pigeons are the sheep of birds, quietly feeding on the seed that has fallen to the ground. They may not be flashy or particularly bright, perhaps being two feathers short of a quiver, but they calm me and I feel my divine pathos rise up to surround them with thoughts of hope for their protection and delight in their innocence.

 

There is often one little sparrow — at least I think it’s the same one. I least I think it’s a sparrow. I watch the birds — I am not a bird watcher, a birder. I actually mostly don’t want to know anything about them — their names or anything like that. I just want to observe them. To be with them, apart, but a part, similar in cellular makeup, but oh! So very different! If there is anything that can assure me in the dark hours before the Sun rises, that there is a Loving Creator who somehow spoke into being, our planet Earth and all of the awe-some-ly unique creatures that roam it — for me, a belief in a Creative God is stronger, now that it has happened to be that I have time to sit and quietly watch the curious qualities of “birdness”.

 

So back to this one little sparrow. The minute he comes he pushes or scares the other birds away. He is a horrible bully and I feel so sad for the little birds that he scares from their places at the bird feeder as they fly away in fear and shame, while the bully bird takes their place. Notice I assume a male dominance factor going on here, but the bird could easily be female. Remember, I don’t want to know. It is unimportant to me. With the birds, I am able to do what I seldom can with people. I can judge the behavior without judging the character.

 

This sparrow, let’s call him / her a non-gendered name, shall we? This sparrow I will call “Jody” is a true bully. There isn’t a morning when Jody does not feel that no matter how much room there is, no matter how peacefully all the other little birds are getting along with each other, no matter what side of the nest Jody woke up on that morning — there is not one single morning when Jody does not immediately swoop in to bully the other birdies. He doesn’t stop to assess the situation. He doesn’t offer a deal or make some small talk. Jody doesn’t wait for the other birds to strike first or snap at him with some unpleasantry. She just hops on the feeder, flaps her quite normal-sized and frankly, rather drab colored wings, and chases away whoever got there before her that day. And if one of the others tries to sneak back on the other side of the feeder to finish its breakfast, Jody leaves her spot and chases the interloper off again. Don’t try to make excuses for Jody. This has nothing to do with being a “leader” or a “chosen and favored one” (Jody is nothing special, being a bird just like other birds). Her behavior must not be excused with some silly idea about it being evolution or natural selection. I am sorry, but it must simply be accepted — Jody is just a bully.

 

And I feel like sneaking up one morning on Jody when he’s at the bird feeder, his attention somewhere over his birdy shoulder looking for perceived enemy/victims; and I feel like grabbing Jody up in my gigantic godlike paw and holding Jody powerfully in my right hand and saying,

Jody, my birdy-pal, my darling, I, the God Who Peers Through the Window, She who observes the Sun rising, and the deeds of all birds; I, Who have watched you each morning of your miserable little birdy-life; I, the Goddess who gives the birdseed to nourish the good and the evil birdies — and who cares for even the naughty, cheeky squirrels, for Heaven’s sake! I forbid you, small wee Jody, to keep bullying the other birds. Fly now, away with you — you are forgiven but Sin No More!”

 

And then, because I can’t kiss Jody on his little beak or hold her little foot as I would a naughty child’s small hand, I will stroke Jody on the head and assure her, and assure the whole little flock that now has come to see me deal with Jody– a flock of all kinds and colors, genders and abilities of birds — a multitude of birds that has by now gathered at my Godlike feet, stunned into birdy awe at my great supernatural appearance, and who are all bobbing their little birdy heads as they listen to my righteous message. And I will say to the flock that, foolish though they be, are my own, and are all those whom I have come to love and care for, even Jody:

“There is plenty. There will always be plenty for all in My Kingdom. Do you not know, that I can take these small seeds that I hold now in my hand, and I can turn them into a Costco sized bag of food to feed you? There is room at the bird feeder for all, for the pigeons and sparrows, for the meek and the red-breasted, for the shy and the brave, for the protectors and the children and for those who sing like angels, and yes –there is even room for the Jodies. There is scattered seed on the ground for those who must scratch in the earth to get their daily meal. And there is seed in the feeder for all that I watch over from my own perch, behind the window.

Do not worry, little flock of beloved birds. Do you think by worrying you can add one feather to your head? Do not worry, Bully Jody. Do you think by bullying you can add one hour to your life? Be peaceful in your bird-brains, and at peace with each other. If God can care and provide for both the good and also the naughty humans, how much more will He care and provide for you, the birds? Yea, even for the Jodies.”

I think Jesus observed birds often and knew them well. He used them as illustration and metaphor quite often, along with ones about seeds and grain. Maybe every morning, he woke up and read the Torah and had some pita bread, maybe throwing the crumbs out onto the ground to share with the birds. I like to picture him quiet before the world woke up, meditating prayerfully, reading and learning from the words on the scroll, and then looking up at the sparrows eating his crumbs and the grey pigeons pecking at the seeds in the fields. I imagine The Great Teacher and Miracle Worker in the early hours of the mornings before the hungry, needy multitudes gathered and the crowds and his friends and followers, who would swoop in, full of need, full of chatter, full of fears and hopes, and with broken wings and bent tail feathers they wanted fixing. A flock of followers who just as I do, just as you do, keep searching for something to feed us body, mind and soul, but miss the common, ordinary miracles of life and our planet and the miracles of other humans. We miss the miracle of seeds. And so we have rarely seen, that we too can fly.

 

The miracle that real food and spiritual food are always available is what Jesus tried to show the people; the reality that there is plenty and that no one needs to take more seed than what they need that day, because tomorrow, there will be more seed. That is the miracle of the seed.

 

Good birds will share space and seed; but even bullies could have much more than they could ever dream of, if only they would just ask. If we would only look around, and scoot over to give more room to others, and enjoy the seed set before us in just this moment, why then — those everyday miracles would become common place. Most people came to Jesus looking for a handout, anxious to fill their stomachs. But Jesus offered them what he knew they really wanted, which was the bread, the manna of his life that gives us life, and the “living water that will make us thirst no more”. Many came to the one they called Messiah, Rabbi, Lord, looking for an edge, a way to rise above the hungry, dirty masses and be better than their neighbors, richer than their enemies, more favored than those who were different than they; and to have Jesus do the heavy lifting but grant them a ticket cheaply bought to a better, far off heavenly place, a new, select feeder made just for them and not for the crows and ravens, those they considered scavengers, or the weak and meek, those they considered worthy only of what we in our pride and greed, had made of this filthy, untended, sinful world. But what they were really looking for was the beauty that had been forgotten, an earth full of possibility and hope, joy in the journey, and fullness in every moment. What they longed for was not someplace out there, but to finally be truly right here; in a new Garden, a better Kingdom to live in, a world that is this one, but reborn, renewed, recreated, in every glorious breath we take.

 

Since the beginning, some humans have struggled with the fearful reality that tomorrow the feeder will be empty, and others have hoarded and stored up more than they need, with the despairing anxiety that The Feeder will desert us for good. We are all afraid that that which has held the world together, and The One Who has cared to create us, will leave us on our own, leave the fools and the bullies that we are, in the shadows, in the burnt out husks, in the arid, drought-deadened fields, in the wilderness without Him. So since First Woman and First Man bullied each other into eating from the forbidden fruits of greed and need; and since the manna in the desert wilderness rotted in the storehouses of both the greedy and needy alike, we seekers of seeds and soulfulness, have tried to bully God. We pray without listening, look without observing, take without trusting, and we try to force God into understanding us, rather than the other way around. We whine that our hearts feel empty even when our stomachs are full. And we refuse to believe that we might be able, — even now, even all these years, after the beginning, after the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us — we refuse to believe we might be able to fly.

 

Many start their mornings and end their evenings at the feeder of thoughts and prayers, yearnings offered up to a God that in truth, we doubt can really care that much for us. After all, if there was a God who loved us, wouldn’t He give us more seeds and crumbs? So some of us bully the weak, and hoard the grain that rots in our storehouses, and we convince ourselves that it is our own power that provides the food in our feeders, and our own abilities that keep us aloft. Some of us choose to believe that there is a God who is as weak as we have let ourselves become, and so we convince ourselves that we need to do nothing but assent to the idea of the existence of a Bird Feeder, and we can let the world turn as it has always done, being only as weak as the God we have fashioned in our image. We worship a God whom we have made in our likeness and so She is either a bully or a weakling, or some days one and some days the other. We keep chirping and squawking, “Why? Why do we have to keep coming daily to the feeder for our sustenance? Why don’t You bless us with something more than manna or crumbs? Why must I share?”.

 

People came to Jesus and some of them learned that he loved them and that he believed in a Greater Good that also loved them just as any wonderful Mommy and Daddy always love their children, even when those children might be very naughty or unable to fly because of a broken wing. Jesus showed people that there really was Someone behind the window, and that even though the window was so foggy and scratched up and cloudy, you couldn’t really see Who was sitting there, you could sometimes see movement; and you knew that it was The God Behind the Window who each day, provided the seeds for us.

 

People came to Jesus because they were hungry and wanted to be fed, just as my birds come each morning to my yard to be fed. The people came to The Christ in their foolishness and pride and neediness, and they drained him of power and fought over who got the best and biggest crumbs of divine knowledge and holy interference. We are all people who never quite trust there will be enough of God’s good gifts. But there are seeds strewn throughout the world, freely given, gratefully received, enough for all, created by The Feeder’s righteous hands and shared by those of us who scoot over to make room for more hungry beaks. I think of these people who came to The Christ, people who depleted the Giver, like the hungry birds deplete my feeder full of seeds. I like to think after a long tough day, that Jesus returned to sit by himself, or maybe with one or two other bird-watchers, sharing a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread but not talking much, just sitting together, listening to each other’s breathing, and relaxing, and observing, and very glad to be alive.

 

I, too, want to follow in the footsteps of those who have left us evidence that they were Masters of Life and Living. I want to rise each morning to learn my lessons and share seeds with the birds, and to let the Great Gurus and the small birds teach me as I look up and down, up and down, up and down. I want to sit in the cool of the evenings somewhere quiet and alone or with those who also watch and wait, and we will end as we begin, by watching the birds.

 

When I sit watching Jody bully his neighbors, or the pigeons meekly graze, or even those cheeky, naughty squirrels catapulting through the branches or skittering across the yard in their games of tag, I imagine the mornings before the Father’s Sun rose, when Jesus sat alone, but never felt alone. I think of The Man as that one who would suffer all we do and more, much more, and yet who was able to care for the birds; a man perfectly content, happy, mindfully watching and waiting, just a human being, like me, reading, observing, smiling or shaking his head at the foolishness of birds and of men; someone who saw everything for what it truly is, but deeply loved and cared for it all. And I imagine that those were the times that he understood most truly that he had fulfilled his mission for living among us, as he sat with his head bobbing — up and down, up and down, up and down.

 

I understand a bit more now about my own task in this world and my own joy in the journey of a moment, now that I too, have made the time I always needed but seldom took, to sit and study, and watch and observe, and just be — just be with the goings on about me on this planet, and to be with the birds. I know more about why Jesus, The Teacher, told us the Parable of the Sparrows, because knowing birds a bit better, I am learning that we are all so much less important than we think we are, and we are also so much more loved than we believe we are.

Whether today, you are a struggling pigeon of a person, pecking and hunting for your sustenance. Or you are a Jody — a bully who thinks he has to overpower and overcome others to get ahead, to get more, to get what he deserves, to have the best perch, the most seeds, the top spot, or whatever it is you think you must have. No matter what kind of bird or being you are, remember that there is One Who Makes the Seed; One Who creates and plants and tends; One Who gives each day the Sun and Rain to grow the seeds; and One Who cares as much for you as for the sparrows. Meditate today on The God Who is a Feeding, Watching, Caring Being that even when you can’t see Her, loves you and has provided plenty of food and room at the feeder.

 

Then we must all try to understand, that the final instructions that Jesus gave before he flew off, were:

“Feed them. In the same way you feed others, you will be fed. Trust in Goodness, and that there is enough for all. In the same way you share seed and give place with others, I will give to you. Now go — and you must not just feed the birds you like, but you must also feed your enemies, the Jodies. I say, unto you, love The Watcher in the Window, and love your neighbors and your enemies just as much as you love yourself. Know that by doing so, you are like Your Heavenly Feeder and Father, whose feeder is full to overflowing, available and free for all of us.”

Remember to look around at the world, to observe the birds of the air, and the beasts of fields, and as you peck and scratch, or you hop and flit from here to there today, be assured —

There is plenty. Take and eat.

© Jane Tawel 2020

The birds at the feeder

 

 

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the unbelieving and faithless who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.~~Jesus as recorded in The Book of Matthew by one of his followers.

Caught Up — Let Go (a poem)

By Jane Tawel

 

two people

“two people” by Katerina Atha is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Caught Up – Let Go

A Song with Words

 

By Jane Tawel

August 18, 2020

1.

Caught up again, and it feels like yesterday,

Dragging my life again, into tomorrow,

With no Today in sight.

And the days stretch on

And the nights are long,

And I lie there wondering

Where have hope and joy gone?

Oh, I’m trapped inside my own thoughts and dreads,

And I can’t get out of my aching head,

And my heart is broken for the things we’ve lost,

So, I worry and fret and I turn and toss.

Oh, I’m so caught up

In what might have been.

Oh, I’m so caught up

In what might never be

And I think there’s no way for you and me

To solve these problems

‘Cause we’re too caught up

and we can’t untangle from the past

and we can’t stop wrangling with tomorrow

and we let today, oh, our only day,

slip away,

slip away,

slip away,

but we don’t let go.

*

Chorus

*

When you get caught up

In the hopes and fears,

And both bring angst,

And both bring tears,

And you can’t be positive

‘Cause you’re so nonchalant,

And the negativity has lost its shock-

Value – what is value any more?

The haters and the whiners threw your ethics out the door.

Oh, I’m so caught up,

Yes, I’m too caught up,

And I need some help

To let go.

*

2.

*

We have got to try

Both You and I

To release and untie

All the pain, all the lies.

Let’s unravel the false bonds,

And what we’ve placed our stakes on.

Oh, I don’t know about you,

But from my point of view,

I’ve made yesterday a jail,

And tomorrow looms like hell.

And today I’ve filled with stressing,

Instead of seeing it as Heaven.

*

I’ve forgotten how to pivot,

From all the things today isn’t.

Maybe you have too?

Maybe you have joined the queue

Of the hopeless and the blue?

But did we really have to?

*

Isn’t it more likely,

We have broken our own psyches,

And we shouldn’t keep on blaming,

All the haters we keep naming?

I admit, it’s my own fault,

That I’ve put a hard, fast halt,

On embracing this rare day,

And to walk the narrow Way,

Of mindfully embracing,

What I’m feeling, what I’m tasting.

*

But I’m so caught up

With a half-empty cup,

That I can’t let go of you yesterday,

And I can’t let go of you tomorrow,

And I can’t let go to drink of Today,

Taste of Today,

Live Life Today,

Be in Today.

*

And because I have been stiffened,

 And not bent, and not listened;

I’ve ignored you and been missing,

Life’s best offerings and visions.

We have made our life a prison.

*

And the We, of you and I,

Keeps passing us by

And This moment flees — bye-bye.

Bye, bye to tick.

Bye, bye to tock.

Imprisoned by this broken clock.

Take stock

Of what we have.

Take stock of just Today.

Just Today.

Just one more moment,

One more today.

One more now.

tick.

tock.

*

3.

Oh, the “Who’s” lost the “Why”,

And most days I just die,

To the life that’s worth living

If only I’d give in,

And let go,

Just let go,

Let myself go.

and let you go,

so I could catch you again.

*

Today can not change

What was yesterday’s pain,

But it can use our pasts,

To make good things that last.

And tomorrow’s not pledged,

But our bets, we should hedge.

For by what we are building,

today for the children,

will one day be our memory,

for the World’s legacy.

*

4.

Let us grab hard and hold,

Let’s be present, and bold

As we treasure the sights and the sounds,

Of just what is around,

In the here and the now.

Let’s renew solemn vows,

And increase our know-how,

Of just breathing, and being,

And in that way freeing,

Both me and you.

We can make dreams come true,

If we just today do.

Let’s do this! —

With a new point of view,

Hope and Love will breakthrough.

*

Coda

*

No longer caught up,

Except in love.

No longer a prisoner,

Except of hope.

Releasing the past,

Except for good memories.

Accepting the future,

But not its fears.

Today, I let go of what has caught me.

Today I choose freedom.

Today I choose to be mindful in moments.

Today I choose to love my life.

Today I choose to love you.

*

Letting Go – Holding fast,

Only this love of ours will last.

Letting Go – Holding fast,

Only love will last.

*

© Jane Tawel 2020

How to Secretly De-Stress and Re-Joy the Human Race

How to Secretly De-Stress and Re-Joy the Human Race

How to Self-Care Anywhere, Anytime

By Jane Tawel

January 8, 2020

“splat 01” by Simon Rankin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

You lie awake in the wee dark hours, your mind churning and fussing over what happened in the past or what you are anticipating in a stressful future. Or you sit at your desk and simply can not focus on the menial or career-defining task at hand. Or you perch on an uncomfortable chair designed to keep you awake when bored in the umpteenth meeting for the umpteenth yakkity-yak, feeling your shoulders rise to your earlobe level, ready to scream at the next speaker, for no other reason than that they, too, keep using that ubiquitous and utterly irritating most recent pause filler again and again and again. I swear, the next time I am listening to someone speak publicly about anything and he says, “that being said”, I am going to take off a shoe and throw it at him.

 

That being said, here is what I will try to do instead. The next night or day I feel stressed-out, but am also trapped, and unable to get outside and walk around in the “real world”, the world not made of nightmarish sleeplessness or sleep-inducing boredom, or irritatingly boring meetings, or anxiety-inducing discussions with people I like, but who are causing me stress for some reason right now, etc. etc. etc. —  I will purposely practice relaxing and re-joying.

 

 I would, like you, of course prefer to run away from my nightmares by having a “nightcap” or metaphoric “toddy” of another chapter in my mystery book, relaxing by candle light, but I have to get up for work in two hours, so I really need to find a way to go back to sleep. By day, I would really prefer, to check my cell phone during a boring meeting, and fake a shocked look on my face, stand up, apologize to the people in the meeting, but tell them there is an urgent emergency that requires my immediate attention and I have to go. And as I hastily walk out the door when they ask me what the emergency is, I will tell them, “the emergency is that my head is going to explode if I have to listen to one more thing coming out of any of your mouths while, you like not-hot-at-all succubi, drain and suck the life slowly out of me.”

 

The following ways to de-stress when you can’t escape either someone else or your own churning thoughts, are old techniques, and yet, I hope, may be fresh ideas on how to try to de-stress your mind and body. These are techniques you can use when you sleep next to someone you don’t want to wake-up, or when you can’t let-on to the person standing next to you that you are de-stressing. These are the secret care -for- the- soul means and modes to find at least a bit of relaxation, less stress, and maybe some actual and evident true joy in whatever journey, day or night, you find yourself on.

 

Eight Practices in De-stressing and Re-Joying

1. Be a Cat. Cats enjoy themselves just for being themselves. If you are allergic to cats and can’t own one yourself, watch videos of cats, and then be as sneaky as they are in self-care. You don’t realize how completely committed to self-care, cats are until you have lived with one. Dogs may teach me that there is joy in being with others; cats teach me that I can find joy just by being with myself. Cats are endlessly able to make themselves happy and content by playing with fluff, stretching their limbs, yawning, staring out the window, scratching their itches, and licking themselves. I don’t recommend licking yourself in a sales meeting, or yawning when your loved one is droning on at you, but if they don’t catch you, you could stare out the window or play with a bit of fluff.

2. Silently repeat memorized poems. Of course, first you need to start, (if you haven’t already) memorizing things that will help calm you. I have a few poems by Dickinson, Frost, and Donne pretty much under my belt, a couple ancient psalms, and The Serenity Prayer memorized (except for the lines about “accepting things at they are and not as I would wish them to be”, which for “some reason” — air quotes aptly applied —  I balk at remembering). Memorizing de-stressing words of great artists and those human beings who left a record of having lived well, help me get outside my own thoughts and into something higher. Poetry is important to read and helpful to memorize because metaphors and concise imagery take us to a different plane of understanding and metaphors can grow in meaning along with our own individual growth. It is also easier to memorize things that rhyme or things that are poetic in structure, so there is that.

 Memorized pieces also can function as mindless mantras, sometimes, much like counting sheep might in terms of repetitive-type thinking meant to help in relaxation. Rather than using my brain to read or write or do something that requires me to take-in something that will stress or stretch me further, or require me to put-out something new and productive; repeating memorized “feel-good”, encouraging, or joy-inducing literary things, is a way to somehow connect little old me stressing-out within, to and with something big and grand and wonderful, without. Memorizing things comes in incredibly handy when you simply can not pull out something to read or watch.

3. Breathe in and out, but send the breath into different parts of your body. We can all get a bit lazy with letting simple breathing techniques relax or de-stress us. This technique is an old theatre exercise and one that you can do anywhere if you are relatively quiet about your breathing. Take a deep breath in and then mentally send that breath into a part of your body. If you are short on time, simply send it into the part of your body where you are feeling the most stress. If you have time and maybe a wee bit of privacy, or you are trying to sleep, you can lie down and do this properly. If you are able, you can stand up at your desk or sit back for a moment, spend five or so minutes, and close your eyes, and send the breath into every part of your body. If you are at work, one of those slightly extended bathroom breaks that we all take from time to time, is much better used for de-stressing this way, rather than sneaking time on your cell phone, and stressing out about the latest Kardashian drama or the text from your spouse or the screenshot of what your kid got on his math test. If possible, take several minutes and start the exercise by sending the breaths into your toes, then feet, then calves, then hips and work all the way up to the tippy-top of your scalp.

If we truly thought of our breath as our life-flow or our spirit, then we would honor it more in every part of our bodies. By letting my breath have space and a place in each part of me, I honor the whole of myself. By de-stressing my entire outer-being, my body, I am practicing not only a physical exercise but a spiritual discipline, and I will find that I am better able to let go of what is stressing my inner-being, or mind, heart, and soul.

4. Tense and release, starting from the feet working up to the head, and then reverse the order from forehead down to toes. This is also a breathing exercise and functions much in the same way as breathing into your body does. Again, start at your toes and “stress” them by scrunching them up, tightening as tight as you can all the muscles in them; hold the tension while you breathe deeply in;, then all at once, release the tension as you breathe out. Work your way up your body again from the bottom to the top, not forgetting any part — fanny, tummy, your fingers, wrists, jaw, forehead, etc. Breathe in- Tense. Breathe out — release. If you are out and about and people may be watching you, you can still do this pretty secretly with your feet, your hands and sometimes your facial muscles.

5. Massage your hands. The “handy” thing about this is that you can do it without anyone noticing. Try massaging your neck next to someone, and they will ask you what is wrong, and then you’ll be all stressed out explaining. Try massaging your feet, and you will be asked to put your shoes back on. But most people will not notice if you are massaging your hands. While not as relaxing of course, as a full body massage, or even a foot rub, massaging your hands does have benefits. In fact, there is a special little spot, between your thumb and forefinger — that little web-like spot, that if you squeeze hard between your other hand’s thumb and forefinger and massage that web in little circles — even to the point of a bit of pain — you can relieve minor headaches and relieve cold symptoms. I often need to put moisturizing lotion on my hands during the day, and will use that time to do a little massage of my hands with no one the wiser. (Choosing to have a good smelling lotion is an additional sensory technique for reducing stress which has acceptable public approval ratings).

Our hands do so much for us, it is nice to give them a little special attention and lovin’ during the day and they will return the favor by making us feel more relaxed. Pressure points on the hands work much like those on the feet to relieve a host of problems. Here is one schematic of pressure points in the hands and their associated problems that massaging can help relieve.

 

6. Replace bad memories, with good plans and vice versa; replace dreaded future events or things you are dreading ahead, with good memories from the past. 

I have a difficult time accepting that there is relatively and almost always nothing I can do to change the past, either in my own life, the life of someone I love, or the world at large. I can, however, take the memories or historical facts that are weighing on me, and use them for fodder to plan for the future. While it is true and important that we not avoid thinking about stuff, and must try to learn and grow by learning from past mistakes, that doesn’t mean that we may think and plan better if we also reduce stress.

So when the past is burdening my thoughts and spirit and I can not get the crazy, stressful ‘history-monkeys’ off my back, so to speak, I make not good plans, but “plans for GOOD”. I let my mind wonder into what seems impossible or un-doable and I dream big and imagine wildly. If something in a past relationship is upsetting me, I imagine a future where that person and I are traveling to Italy or having a moon walk together in a future where space travel is available and free for all. If I am feeling bad about myself in the past, I imagine a future when I am reclining on clouds, eating calorie-free bread, cheese, and chocolate and discussing and creating art with Michelangelo, Bach, and Shakespeare. If I am anxious and fearful about decisions leaders make that lead us towards war or increase pain and poverty, I quietly might sing the words to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and dream about all the good things that will happen with enough daring hope and enough audacious kindness.

 

As for stressing out about the future, which I often can and should do something about, but which sometimes, of course, I can’t be certain of, or in charge of, or feel at peace about no matter what happens — I find it helpful to look to the past, of either my own life, or the lives of other human beings. I am a worrier and a planner and the two often go hand in hand, even if I am planning something that is “technically” a good thing. I get consumed with tomorrow when it is still today. I churn over wanting to find solid, immediate answers to questions that are still in the queue. Will it turn out? What if? Should I? Will she? Why? Why not? What is that pain in my side and will it kill me tonight in my sleep? Etc. etc. etc. And while none of us can foresee the future, we can all choose how to remember, focus on, or obsess over the past.

If I am stressing about something I am “driving” towards up ahead on my future day’s or life’s road, it is not only helpful, but wise to remember that I also should be looking in my rear-view mirror at what is behind me. I look behind me and realize, “oh, I did make it around that pothole successfully, even though I didn’t know it was there.” Or, “wow, I took that last speed bump way too fast which was kind of thrilling at the time, but I think I will slow down for this next speed bump ahead.” Or maybe, “that is a beautiful sunset and view, back there. I can’t turn around and go back myself, and I certainly can not turn the whole darn bus around for everyone else, but I can stop, and just gaze in my mind’s rear-view mirror, meditating on the beauty and joy that I and so much of the world, have traveled through.”

Looking at the past glorious sunsets and remembering successful points of view, can help us anticipate tomorrow’s sunrise, and find hope that the triumphant point of view of someone else traveling, just like I am traveling, will arrive, up ahead, just around the next curve.

7. When you can’t doodle or write lists, draw pictures in your imagination. This is where I, a hopelessly horrible visual artist, can rise to the ranks of a Van Gogh or a Gary Trudeau, depending on the need. If you are stuck lying awake at night, imagine the ceiling as your canvas and paint your own “Starry Night”. If you are stuck looking at a podium or projected power point, become a Gary Trudeau or a Bill Watterson and doodle some cartoon characters in your mind’s eye (just remember to chuckle silently or you may get a dirty look or two). If you are waiting at a bus stop, figurative or otherwise, and foolishly forgot your book, don’t hop on the cellphone where more stress both mentally and visually lie in wait. Gaze at the scars and junk around you and create beauty. Remember that lovely scene in the movie “American Beauty”, when the plastic grocery bag becomes a thing of beauty as it floats in the breeze, and the character named Ricky, teaches us that this is proof that “there is an incredibly benevolent force at work in the world”. It is good to allow yourself to believe that if you can find beauty, you can find benevolence. Of course, then go pick up that plastic trash and give it a proper burial in your closest recycling bin.

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Which brings us to:

8. Turn trash into beauty. This is a hard one for me, because I want to destroy trash, not find its beauty, but sometimes you can’t. However, I also find that allowing the trash to defeat my own peace of mind and inner beauty, allows both the real trash and my mind-trash, to defeat my inner fight for peace and joy. I sometimes can not stop my mind-trash from winning the immediate battle, but I can stop it from winning the war.

 I have two friends, both of whom take old things like broken furniture or shards of pottery, and they take what would be trash to anyone else, and restore and remake it into beautiful, functional, and artistically joyful new things. I need to do more of this “turning trash into beauty” of the things in my mind, heart, and soul that weigh me down, give me anxiety, or stress me out. Turning trash into beauty also can work to get rid of stress when someone is trash talking; when you can’t turn off someone’s voice that fills you with pain or anger, or you can’t turn off in your mind what someone said to you or about you or on the television or whatever. The mind is a powerful tool and can be used to turn ashes into art, and trash talk into poetry.

We should not do this by ignoring the truth of the dents, mars, holes, or big “boo-boos” in situations, jobs, choices, or relationships. Sometimes, you have to see things for the un-fixable messes they are, cut your losses, and choose better and more wisely next time. But sometimes, you have to realize that nothing — absolutely nothing — from a piece of furniture to a job to a human being — is perfect and without blemish. We simply can not keep hoping for perfection and throwing stuff out or blowing things up until we find it, because perfection is an ever just- out -of- reach goal, not a gift to hoard or a trophy to claim. Perfection is a motivator and a dream, not an accomplishment or historical achievement. Recognizing this in the wee dark hours or the irritating or fearful or angering ones, can go a long, long way towards finding honest but benevolent ways to replace a desire for perfection with a desire for joy in the journey.

And sometimes we should remember that one woman’s trash, is another woman’s treasure. To accept the imperfections of others, myself, and the planet itself, means that beauty is in the eye of the beholder if the beholder is focused on finding beauty. Creating and retaining a cesspool or nuclear waste dump of thoughts in my beautiful mind should be no more acceptable than creating and retaining them in our beautiful world. Once I recognize a thought as trash, I should find a way to clean it up and clear it out.

“American Beauty” — Thomas Newman

 

Not a day or night goes by, usually, that I do not have to “give myself permission” to de-stress and practice habits of finding ways to re-join myself to all that is positive and valuable in being alive and in being human. We all need to take more time and more thought to restricting the bad and re-joying the good.

It’s a funny old world we live in. Perhaps it is especially a wacky-world for us who are privileged and yet confined by being First-Worlders; humans who live here, with not just great stress from without made by those who rule us, but stresses from within, and those, often of our own making. There is much to be done about all the things out there that make us fearful or angry or stressed-out, and we should not take our hands from the plows as we work to make the world a better, kinder, more beautiful place for everyone.

 I long for a world where we are surrounded by people who automatically and quite naturally follow that universally admired but eternally just-out-of-reach Golden Rule; and by human beings who freely and joyfully treat other people with love, as they would like to be treated themselves. I yearn to find that kind of love within myself, not as a rule, but as a naturally occurring, deep-within-me, daily phenomenon and life-style.But to truly care for and act on behalf of others, we must practice habit-forming pro-active self-care and find practical, functional, as well as emotional and spiritual ways to “love ourselves, as we would like others to love us.”

Take the time, spend the energy, honor the Good in yourself, and as quickly as possible, clean up whatever is marring your beauty, peace, and joy in the journey. Love others today, by giving the gift of love to yourself and by practicing self-care. Then play it forward to some else.

Today, right now, wherever and whoever you are, Re-Joice in the best in all of us, past, present and future, and Re-Joy in the Journey.

“Cincinnati Sunrise” by Raymond Castro is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0