Yesterday I cleaned the stove. Spritzed some cleaner on the stovetop, and reveled in cleaning each speck of grease off it until it shone, reflecting the light from the window in its dark brown surface. The countertops too, running the sponge over them, I gave them a light scrubbing, wiping food debris into the sink, which then also got a polishing. I stood back and admired the clear clean surfaces.
What I’ve found is that the cleanliness of my stovetop is directly linked to my spiritual fitness. To my well being. It’s more effect than cause, although it can go the other way too. There are a few other things that are also signs of my well being – how often I’m flossing my teeth, and how long my bed remains unmade after I get up. When my well-being is strong, I make my bed as soon as I get up, my stove gets cleaned each day, and I floss twice a day. When I’m not quite as fit, mentally and spiritually, there is some delay in these. In times past, when I had a lot of depression, these could go perhaps months. Nowadays it might be as long as a few hours for the bed, a few days for the stove, and a few days for flossing. Not too bad of course. But I’ve noticed that these form a really good indicator for me of how I’m doing.
And what I notice is that my attitude towards these so called chores shifts to one side or the other, like the flow of rivers on either side of a watershed. When I’m not so much in the flow of well-being, these feel indeed like chores, and I resist them. When I am in well-being flow, I experience great joy in doing each of these.
For the past week or so I’ve been feeling what I call apathy. It’s a sort of cousin to depression. It’s a lack of motivation to do much. I think it’s my reaction to the combination of feeling some overwhelm combined with not moving forward on projects. This grows into more not-doing, which forms a vicious circle of stagnated energy.
To keep this in perspective, these days my lows are higher than my highs used to be, so dishes only stay at most a day for example, the bed still gets made every day, I do my work. I’m highly functional. But, relatively speaking this is still a very noticeable difference for me.
Over the years of working (and not working!) with this pattern, I have found what works for me to move out of this pattern and shift back into the flow of well-being. I’ve found the following four elements to be the most valuable:
The first two are attitudes, the last two are actions.
1. Faith. In oneself, and in the entire situation. For me this came with a lot of time meditating and with a lot of willingness to practice even in storms. What I mean is the understanding at a bodily level that this too shall pass. That every feeling and situation is impermanent. In my times of depression, I didn’t know this. Intellectually I did, but in the middle of a storm, it felt like this would last forever. Developing a full-body awareness that each situation, whether wanted or unwanted will change, has led to a strong faith and trust in myself. That I’m ok, no matter what. This resilience is very valuable in the tougher times. And the good news is that you can very much improve your ability to handle uncertainty and difficulty (reach out to me if you want help with this).
2. Non-aggression. Each year that I practice I get a little more understanding and insight into this quality. You could also call this friendliness. There are so many levels to this and I know I’m only scratching the surface. I recently went on a 7 day silent meditation retreat, and one of the things I discovered there was a much deeper level of non-aggression towards myself. It has manifested in all the simple daily tasks – just how I walk around the apartment, how I cook, how I clean, how I open and close doors. How I treat myself. Gentleness to self and others is a lifetime practice, and I’ve found it to be immensely helpful in making difficult situations workable – both with oneself and others.
3. Vulnerability. Here we have to cultivate our willingness. Willingness to be emotionally authentic with others, some other human being. With apathy or depression, one of the most harmful aspects is that it brings along a tendency to hide. We don’t want others to see us how we really are. We don’t want to burden others. We don’t want to bring them down. And we don’t want them to try and fix us. But until we are emotionally authentic with another qualified human being, a path forward will remain elusive, that’s my experience. I say qualified, because not everybody has the right approach, capability or desire to be there in the way we need them to be there. So you need to find someone that knows how to listen skillfully, and is dedicated to your well being.
In my recent experience I was lucky to have two such people – a close friend who has shown himself to be qualified many times over, and my coach. With my friend I could share my difficulties. He knows how to listen, providing the space for me to open up without needing to be fixed. With my coach I could be seen and heard, and also move into discussing solutions. Both aspects are invaluable. Thank you my friends!
4. Journaling. This is a magic bullet if ever there was one, for me anyway. A few nights ago I took out my journal that I hadn’t used for a little while, and started to write. I kid you not, within about 10 minutes such a sense of ease, well-being and crucially – action – came over me it was magic. I continued on to organize all my projects and stepped right into action. And as soon as I had moved forward on some projects, before I knew it – my stove was shining, my bed made, and my teeth flossed 🙂
I think of my journal like the scene in Harry Potter where Dumbledore is extracting memories from his head using his wand, and puts them into a giant cauldron in front of him where they can be fully experienced. Slowing down our thoughts enough so that they literally move from our minds into physical reality – ink strokes on paper – is immensely beneficial. In our heads we are largely unconscious to the speed of our thoughts, how often we think the same thoughts over and over, around and around. When we slow them down enough to get onto paper it clears out enormous space in our minds. It creates clarity, often shockingly suddenly.
And then, with the help of these attitudes and actions we must move into doing – decide on something and do it. No matter how small. And begin to move again. And my experience is that immense joy – the signal that you are aligned with your heart – is the outcome.
Do you have signs that you’ve noticed that are your barometer for your spiritual fitness, or your overall well-being? Stress indicators? Self-love metrics? Let me know whether the four antidotes above that are my path back to well-being resonate with you and whether you can put these into practice in difficult times.