It came to me as I was having my latte this morning, the very one pictured above that I photographed when I sat down here at my desk, that a very important thing to write about at the outset was about setting our intentions for the day ~ it is a very helpful idea ~ BUT, even more important is to be very kind to ourselves when we fall away from our practice. The most highly regarded Buddhist monks for whom mindfulness is a very deep spiritual practice have moments of falling away as they share in their books and teachings, and I don’t know about you but it was a relief for me to hear that!
Each morning when I get up, and because I am bi polar, I begin moving through my day in a very mindful way, and I mention being bi polar because for me in some ways it is a wee bit easier because of one of my main coping mechanisms. Being bi polar I have a very good doctor, I regularly see the nurse practitioner to have my meds regulated, but were it not for the self care practices I have in place the very difficult times would be very hard to find my way out of, and even the easier days wouldn’t be quite as easy. The central practice is what I call “Climbing The Ladder,” and with each rung I settle mindfully upon the task at hand, at least for a few moments, because it is the primary thing that gets me through my days,
I have discussed this many times on this blog and I want you to know, and maybe this will help you see the practice of mindfulness a little more clearly. (I have been asked by followers of some spiritual paths or religions if mindfulness was just a Buddhist thing and certainly it is not. It is a spiritual practice for me, but it is also simply a life practice for wholeness that has proven, over four decades, to stand me in good stead.)
Being bi polar a day can seem like an amorphous blob of endless hours which leaves me feeling panicky and full of fear. When my ladder is in place, my ritual and routines and tasks for the day lined up (each one of the rungs of the ladder) I feel more grounded, I climb one rung at a time and as I center myself in that task I take time to breathe and be very mindful about the task I am about to begin, no matter how seemingly small, because it helps me feel rooted in each moment, it makes me feel safe and secure.
For me there are things that are not variables that form the permanent rungs of the ladder…
* I wake up (This is more important than it might seem. We all wake up of course, but for me it means that I have made it through another night that might have been filled with nightmares, wakefulness, or insomnia.) Waking up first thing in the morning is the end of the night before and a start to a new day. A blessing, and sometimes a relief.
* I snuggle and cuddle and kiss my four pugs and this is very important for them and for me. It grounds me, it reminds me that I am not alone, that four precious little beings truly love me, are here for me and with me and I them, that in caring for them, and being responsible for them, I have a sense of purpose and meaning that gets me up out of bed. Historically this was very difficult for me. Now I get up with love for them and peace in my heart. They need me, I need them, and we begin our day together.
* We walk outside in the garden… As soon as we are up out of bed we head outside. They run about the woods that are the main part of the cottage garden and safely fenced in, and I practice Kinhin (Walking meditation), walking slowly and mindfully, being fully awake and aware in each moment, so much so that I might stop for a few moments to meditate, as this morning, upon a bumble bee on an orange sulfur cosmos blossom. Taken slowly and lived fully in the moment it was breathtaking. Sometimes I am moved to take photographs with my phone camera always in my pocket of something that just seems exquisite to me, but often it would break the even movement of my walk. The length of the morning’s kinhin might be short or long depending on how long it takes the dogs to do their business but it is a very good way to anchor myself in the day we have just begun.
* Once inside I get the five parrots up, turning on lights around them, and for the parrots who are a couple of rooms away from where I work I turn on the radio (Public radio. I tell them they are the most cultured parrots in the world!), each of them, all of whom I handraised, give me very sweet kisses as I bring them food and water. I love this time with them. Then I get my beloved Miss Scarlet up. She lives in the studio and spends her days with the pugs and I. She is an Africa Grey parrot that I adopted a year and a half ago. She came so badly plucked that she looked like she was ready for the stewpot! I get her out and we have many kisses. I say, “Give me some sugar!” And she will press her beak into my lips and kiss and kiss and kiss making big kissy noises. Often throughout the day she will say, “Gimme some sugar!” and make a whole string of kissy noises. I simply adore her, and if you listen to my podcasts you will often hear her in the background! With each of them as I feed them, first picking them up and holding and nuzzling them and giving and getting kisses, I stop and there is a suspended moment in time, a moment with tiny Emmy Lou, the green cheek conure, a moment with wee Thomas, a dusky conure, a very sweet moment with big Sol, Solomon, the blue crown conure, and finally precious Sierra, a Meyer’s parrot and the sweetest parrot I have ever known. He will go to anyone, is very affectionate, and he rides around with me as I do my morning bird chores, snuggling up to my neck, preening my hair, and whispering in a tiny soft little voice, “Kissy kissy kissy.” These are my tiny feathered babies. My moments with them are precious.
* After all of the animals are cared for, the dogs out and in, all of the parrots up and fed, I give the dogs all of their various meds and vitamins and get them their breakfast. I love to stand for just a moment and watch them eating. They all came from abuse and neglect through pug rescue, but they are different dogs now, safe, secure, well fed and cared for, and sometimes I get a little teary thinking what they went through, and amazed how, even at the start, too thin, very frightened, perhaps disabled or sick, they were so full of love, and now I receive an endless stream of unconditional love all day long. As I type this tiny Delilah, my most recent little one to come, was rescued from a puppy mill. She is very tiny, and at 5 had been used to produce several litters of puppies. She has to be on medication for severe separation anxiety and nervousness but she is much better now and she spends every day almost all day sleeping in my lap. If you look a couple of blog entries back you will see a long entry all about the pugs with lots of pictures. But when I watch them eat I thank God for bringing these sweet blessings to me, and for saving them from the horrendous abuse, and for blooming as they have under my loving care. They are little miracles, and I love them so. In this very moment I have looked from one to the other, my little boys in beds so close to my chair I have to get up carefully lest I step on one of them. They are so trusting they will sleep on their backs with bellies up. They feel safe now.
And so yes, after all of the dogs are fed I have the ritual of making and settling in with what I call The Sacred Latte.
* This is the time where I finally do something just for me. I don’t do anything until all nine animals have been through their morning routines and are up and cared for. Because I work very late at night and into the early hours of the morning we often don’t get up until 9 or 10 and it is between 11 and 12 when I make my latte and sit down with it.
The whole process is a very meticulous ritual that I follow, another rung of the ladder.
I fill the espresso machine with fresh water and wait for it to heat up. I grind fresh, dark, oily French Roast beans and tamp them down hard in their little holder. I put a very large latte cup filled with water in the microwave for 3 minutes to get the cup good and hot because with the large surface area of the cup the latte will cool quickly. While the espresso drips into the little stainless steel cups I get the pitcher out of the freezer and the organic milk goes into the pitcher, ready to froth. I take 3 shots of espresso and when the last one is almost done I turn off the brewer, turn on the steamer and let air blast through the wand until it has built up a strong burst of steam, and I froth the milk. The cup is removed from the microwave, the three shots poured in, the hot milk with a good head of foam goes in next, and it sits there while I clean the machine. I am meticulous about cleaning the machine.
Finally, I head into my studio, and the pugs who have been sitting all around me watching me make the latte follow me. Pugs are velcro sorts of dogs. They always want to be with their person — I love that. Once in the studio the boys settle into their beds, Delilah comes up in my lap, Miss Scarlet has eaten and gone back to sleep, her head turned around and tucked into her feathers, and I sit holding the large latte cup in my hands. I sigh a sigh of relief. I am up the first few rungs of the ladder and at a resting point.
I breathe the steamy frothy coffee in, enjoying the steam on my face while it is still too hot to drink. I melt into the moment with the latte and just feel it. I pray silently, and fervently, thanking God for all of my blessings, and asking for help through the day ahead. I set my intentions for the work that I would like to accomplish this day, and for me it will be two or three things at most because I have to guard my energy carefully, and stay on an even keel. Too much too fast and I am liable to become panicked and depressed or slip into a slightly manic mode. I breathe, in and out, slowly, consciously, rhythmically, and the day’s tasks find their own rungs of the ladder to fit into.
Finally, calm, at peace, and ready to begin, I start sipping the latte, and begin to read e-mail. I am ready now to begin my day and move into it slowly. Everything to this point is almost exactly how every day begins for me. As I write this I have climbed many more rungs and the day has gone well. The night is still before me, and I approach it with a sense of ease. It has been a good day.
I wish for you peaceful mindful moments, and gentle days…