My biggest obstacle to relaxation has always been something a very wise yoga instructor calls “monkey mind”. The moment I find myself in a silent space, my imagination starts swinging from vine to vine, activating a stream-of-consciousness conversation with myself that always ends up with increased stress levels and an oddly detailed grocery list:
Why am I afraid of getting old? – What is ‘old’ nowadays? – Is 50 the new 40? – Does that make 20 the new 10? – Is that roll of fat around my belly age-related? – Is it wine and cheese related? – Am I out of wine? – Am I out of cheese? – Should I have a friend over for wine and cheese? – Do I need to stop at the grocery store for crackers?…
See what I mean? Those damned mental monkeys always swing back to food.
Another obstacle is my need to do everything before I allow myself the luxury of doing nothing. On a sunny day, my husband has been known to plunk himself down on a lawn chair and read a book, even when the lawn isn’t mowed and the plants aren’t watered, and there’s a clump of petrified ketchup adhered to the patio table from last night’s BBQ. His ability to just take a moment and be still always blows my mind (and fills me with an over-whelming need to immediately provide him with a to-do list).
I prepare for lounging with a book in the same manner as I might plan for on an overnight excursion to a relatively isolated location. The house must be clean, dishwasher unloaded, and laundry put away. The refrigerator needs to be fully stocked, the plants watered, and the piano tuned (just kidding about the piano… I’m not a ‘crazy’ person).
After completing all of the preliminary activities, I will turn my attention to preparing the immediate environment in which I plan to perform my feat of relaxation. Lighting must be perfect, pillows must be plump yet firm, and there must be ready, right-hand access to both snack foods and liquid refreshment (tea or wine, with a strong preference to the latter). More often than not, by the time I achieve the end goal of opening my novel, the husband and the kids have returned from wherever I sent them and I am left to place my book mark in the same page and share my snack (though never my wine!) with the masses.
I have always loved the idea of stillness but the reality seems to rub against me somehow. I had more or less accepted that I would always be the person putting away the leftovers while everyone else ‘rested’ in front of the television after a big dinner, and my family seem willing to leave me to this fate.
But Buster, the family dog, refuses to accept my destiny. Night after night, he places his fourty-five pounds of shaggy schnauzer-ness across my legs the moment I sit on the sofa. And he stays there, solidly holding me down, even as my monkey mind struggles to swing me back onto my feet. Not wanting to disturb his obvious bliss, I find myself occasionally leaving the dishes in the sink (just for a little while). And my husband, equally unwilling to upset the dog’s Zen, will sometimes bring me a cup of tea (or better yet, a glass of wine), sensing that I may be ‘trapped’ for awhile and am at risk of dehydration.
I have started leaving a good book on the coffee table and today I was surprised to find that I had a stack of completed titles in the corner of the room (and not just ‘skinny’ Mitch Albom books, or large-fonted, trashy ‘teen’ reads).
I have gathered them into a bag which now waits by my front door. I am passing them along to a friend (also afflicted with monkey mind). She told me not to bother because the only reading she has time for is a quick glance at the magazine rack by the grocery store check-out, but I am feeling hopeful for her. Her family just got a puppy and although he’s only itty-bitty right now, he should fill out to a solid fifty pounds. More than enough dog to do the job!