Gathering Sun Rays

Today was a good day.

There was a lot on my to-do list. They were not all pleasant things. I had some emails to answer that I wasn’t looking forward to. There were minutes from a meeting months ago I needed to type and send out. I had work to do for a client that — although I do this kind of work a lot — I was suddenly worried I would not be able to do. Worst of all, it was a beautiful day outside and like all Minnesotans this time of year I am aware these days are ticking away.

Today was a day off, so all the things were mine to do, when and where I chose. Which meant temptations to avoid it abounded. It also meant I was alone all day, so there was no reality check. No one to laugh at the small mistakes with me so they didn’t loom large in my mind. No one to say “That’s OK, don’t worry about it” when I felt I had screwed up.

It was the kind of day that a few months ago would have sent me into panic mode. I would have shut down and none of it would have gotten done.

Thanks to the work I have been doing and thanks to what I have been learning about how I can be overtaken by fear and shame and how I can start to see accusers behind every bush — thanks to all that I managed to have a pretty productive day. photo (4)

The best thing I did for myself was to say “I get a break.” And after lunch I went outside to my front porch to read and soak up some sun. I didn’t take one of the books I have recently bought that I “should” read. I didn’t bring the book I borrowed so I could review later this month. I brought a paperback copy of the second Game of Thrones book and I put my feet up and read. And after I had read for a while, I closed my book and closed my eyes and just soaked the day — the heat, the sun, the sounds, the smells — just soaked it all in. For nearly 20 minutes.

One of my favorite children’s books is Frederick by Leo Lionni. In it, the little field mice hustle and bustle and work to gather grain and corn and nuts in their home in a stone wall. They are preparing for winter. All of them except Frederick. Frederick sits on the wall in the sun and stared at the flowers and the grass and the sky.  When the other mice ask him why he isn’t helping gather supplies for the winter, he answers, “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” And sure enough, in the dead of winter, when supplies are running low, Frederick tells them of the sun, and they are warm. He tells describes the colors of the spring and they can see them. He recites poems and entertains them.

During my most recent enneagram training my mind was blown by the idea that during times of stress we could use the memory of a happy, peaceful time to calm ourselves. We closed our eyes and thought of something that caused us stressed, that sent us into reactivity. We sat with that memory for a minute or two, noticing our physical reaction, what happened to our breathing, our muscles, our pulse. Then we thought of a time when we were calm and at peace, imagined the physical sensation of being there. Really tried to feel being there. Oh sure, cynic that I am, I have made my share of “happy place” jokes. But I was shocked at the change caused by those memories; almost immediately I was calmer and on my way to relaxed.

At the time, I didn’t think of Frederick. But the book popped into my head when I was lounging on the porch. Sitting in the sun was actually the memory I used for that exercise.

As a Six, it is easy for me to get wound around my axle, especially in terms of being prepared.  Even when I know I have no intention of “gathering more nuts” I will beat myself up for not doing it. The fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper always made me so anxious, even as I child. There is always more I should be doing, more I should have done. Frederick is the anti Ant and the Grasshopper. It reminds me there is a benefit to sitting and soaking it all in.

And you know what? I got a bunch of it done. Emails answered. Minutes done. Busy tomorrow scheduled. Handouts drafted. Kitchen cleaned. Best of all, it was done almost completely stress free.

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