On Tension

When discomfort comes, relief is the only thing on my mind. I want to run away, to feel better, to avoid the tension.

But tension is neutral. It exists in our world like storms, swimming pools, and doctor visits. We may fear them, but fearing them gives them power and makes us avoidant to the steps we can take to strip their influence.

I want to embrace tension more, to live in it. It feels unpleasant, but there’s such a relief in inviting discomfort to dinner and making room for it to stay the night. There’s strength in knowing that my fear of the tension is far worse than the tension itself.

Tension is holding an uncomfortable yoga pose. Grimacing, clenching, and cursing through it doesn’t help the experience. But feeling without judgment how uncomfortable it is makes the release that follows restorative and relieving.

I listened to a talk recently by Tara Brach, who described her four-step mindfulness tool called RAIN. Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion.

My impulse is to relieve tension immediately; problem solve to feel better.

But it never solves anything. Any relief is temporary. Instead, I hope to recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture. Not change.

I want to invite tension in as part of the beauty of our lives.

Music in all major chords would be boring. We have minor and diminished chords to create a tension that can be relieved in the major chords to follow. Without the tension, there’s no soar to our music; there’s no emotion; there’s no soul.

So tension, I welcome you. Come sit down for a while.

Buying In Bulk

I shopped at a restaurant food supply store over the weekend, which sells food in bulk sizes ten times bigger than Costco.

When I eat one cookie, I don’t generally think about the grams of enriched flour and sugar that I put into my body. But when I look at a 50-pound bag of flour and a 75-pound bag of sugar, my perspective changes. Staring at the wide aisles, I thought about the totality of food we consume.

It’s interesting to see what sells in bulk: flour, sugar, soda, shredded cheese, tomato sauce, and corn meal. The selection provided a raw visual accumulation of our eating habits, in stark contrast to how we likely think we eat. How many pounds of sugar have I consumed, how many cans of soda have I drank, how many pizzas have I scarfed down? And how does it compare to how many heads of lettuce, pounds of nuts, or number of fish I’ve had?

What am I putting into my body in the aggregate and what am I buying in bulk?

The First Thing To Go

When life gets overwhelming, which behaviors stay, and which get cut?

Too often, I cut the things that make the other hours in the day more fulfilling: sleeping 8 hours, eating well, being with loved ones, walking, doing yoga, meditating,  journaling.

What if I instead saw these things as not self-care, but self-preservation? What if I held them as sacred? What if they were essential?

And too often, I keep the things that do not serve me: scrolling social media, reading the latest news headline, eating bags of M&Ms, cleaning my room again, watching TV on my phone. What if I instead considered these non-essential? Nice when I have time, but the first things to go when life gets busy.

When life gets hard, I need to ask myself: is this essential, or is this extra?

On Time

John Steinbeck in East of Eden wrote the best line about time I’ve seen to date. His character Samuel Hamilton remarks, “Lord, how the day passes! It’s like a life — so quickly when we don’t watch it and so slowly when we do.”

Observe your life, and you’ll have all the time you’ll ever need.

It’s Never A Good Time To Do Anything

As part of my job, I call and talk with attorneys and their assistants all day. And I’ve observed that it’s never a good time talk. It’s never a good time to do anything.

Here are common responses to my calls.

8 AM: Called too early, not at work yet.

9 AM: At court and cannot talk.

10 AM: Discussing another matter and not available.

11 AM: Left early for lunch.

12 PM: At lunch.

1 PM: Back late from lunch.

2 PM: Took a late lunch so not back yet.

3 PM: Just stepped out, want their voicemail?

4 PM: Had to leave early for the day.

5 PM: Just left for the day.

The stars will never align for the important work to be done. There will always be unexpected traffic, unforeseen cancellations, national injustices, international tragedies, familial strife,  personal illness, and lunch. The work will not just happen. There’s never a good time.

Thus, we make time for the important things. We prioritize, set boundaries, and nurture the practice, especially when times are hard. The perfect time to start does not exist, unless we create it.

The Work That Matters

…takes time

…will not be praised in the short run

…may not be recognized in the long run

…is easily replaced by more pressing, but less important work

…involves toiling when no one is watching

…involves caring when no spotlight exists

…is proactive not reactive

…involves a vision that others don’t see

…does not involve social media

…cannot be forgotten when short-term fires arise

…is hard, difficult work

…is within our control

Change And Acceptance

Yesterday, someone exclaimed that I’m “always trying to change people.”

This hurt since that’s the exact behavior I’ve been trying to change. Giving advice is something I like to do, but I do it more than I’d like and have consciously tried to say less. The comment cut deep because I wished I acted differently.

My reaction got me thinking about the delicate balance between change and acceptance. Yes, some behaviors don’t serve us and changing them would be good. But also, self-fulfillment requires self-acceptance. We need the wisdom to know that we already have everything we need, and that we are okay just as we are.

The balance is hard to strike. Change too much, and the change will never be enough. After all, change is never absolute since tomorrow is unknown. And acceptance is powerful, so long as we don’t conflate acceptance with cynicism, detachment, or resignation.

So I think the dance between change and acceptance needs lightness, an understanding that you’ll miss a few moves, but you’ll never stop dancing.

Quality Time

I used to define quality time as length of time. The more time spent with a loved one, the more I cared about them.

How misguided that was. The quality in “quality time” matters. Merriam-Webster defines quality time as the “time spent giving all of one’s attention to someone who is close.”

Far better to spend 30 minutes fully present with family than to spend 2 hours half-listening while watching YouTube. The time we take for ourselves to be present benefits everyone else. Each interaction we have leaves an imprint on the other person. What imprint do we want to leave?