I haven’t posted about the Brene Brown course because I’ve been swamped, which is ironic because last week’s lesson was on Play & Rest, and this week’s was on Calm & Stillness.
Once again, I looked at the topics and thought, “Well, duh,” and then read the chapter and did the exercises and thought, “Well, hell, she’s right again.” I would have told you that I had play and rest down, no problem. I make up stuff for a living, and I make things all the time, so I definitely know how to play, and I sleep when I’m tired and I wake up when I’m not tired, so I have the rest thing covered. But Brown has much tougher guidelines for play than I do, including the big one: “Purposeless.” One of the things I hadn’t realized is that while I do things that are like play all the time, they always have a purpose. They have to do something: make my living space better, make my house look nicer so the neighbors don’t throw stones, make money in some way. I do a check before I do anything: Will this produce something useful, something needed, can I justify this?
Once I realized that, the other shoe dropped: I’d whored out all my creativity to that pimp, Usefulness. And that made me go back and look at her seven-part definition, taken from Dr. Stuart Brown’s book on play. We were supposed to take the seven parts and then put them in our own words:
1. Apparently purposeless: I don’t have to monetize or publish this.
2. Voluntary: Nobody’s making me do anything, I can stop doing this any time I want to.
3. Inherent attraction: This is something I instinctively want to do.
4. Freedom from time: No deadlines; I lose track of time when I do this.
5. Diminished consciousness of self: This is not to prove I am worthy; this is not about being Jennifer Crusie.
6. Improvisational potention: There’s no wrong way to do this, no benchmarks, lots of yes.
7. Continuation desire: I want to do this again and again.
And then the hard part: I had to list the things I could do as play, the things I wanted to do as play, aka my playlist. For somebody who has justified every single thing I’ve done for as long as I’ve lived, it was hell at first, but eventually, I got into the swing of it:
That page really needs a frumpy bunny, but I didn’t have time. ARGH. Play, Jenny, you need play, and Frumpy Bunny is definitely play. Also I’m not sure I can ever really watch movies just to watch movies; I’m always figuring out the writer did something while I watch. But I can damn well try.
The last assignment was a Joy and Meaning list, the things in your life that give your life meaning, that bring you moments of pure joy. Mine turned out to be making things and teaching, no surprise, but also hugging my daughter and playing with my grandchildren, and going outside and just being.
Which led to the next week’s lesson: Calm and Stillness. As some of you know, I tried meditation once with mixed results, but I cowgirled up and got ready to try it again, which is when I realized that cowgirling up was the opposite of letting go, so I started over. My big Ah Ha moment in this lesson was breathing.
I don’t breathe right. That’s not self-criticism, that’s an observation. Over sixty years of asthma and allergies have altered any healthy breathing patterns I might have. I gasp a lot. And that deprives my body of oxygen and makes me tense. I have to learn to breathe better. I looked up breathing exercises (and these), but they usually have you inhaling through your nose, and that’s never much of a possibility for me. I do remember the basics: breathe slowly and exhale for longer than you inhale. I can do that, and I’m working on the nose thing, too.
Oddly enough, the place where my breathing is slowest is outside, which is where all the pollen is. If I walk out onto the back porch, I can feel my pulse slow. The little lake is calm, the breeze blows through the trees, the dogs potter around, birds sing, and my shoulders relax. So clearly, along with “breathing” is “go outside,” even though they’re at cross purposes.
Back to the coursework: The first assignment was to find a picture that represented calm and stillness to me and then answer the question, “What about this picture makes you think of calm and stillness?”
I love that picture. It’s my desktop wallpaper now. The little fox reminds me of Milton, but mostly it’s just that he’s so one with the moment, that perfect moment, so still and calm in the moment. I want to be that fox.
The second assignment was to make a calm map, starting with a map image and then listing things that help you stay calm, putting the map legend or main thing at the bottom.
And finally, we were supposed to write three things that we can do to create “tiny pockets of stillness” in our lives, and then do one of them for five minutes every day. I slipped up and did four, but I’m on it:
Also, Lifehacker has a lot of stuff on meditation; this page is a good place to start, and if you search the site you’ll come up with other articles on it. And then because when I get really overwhelmed, I play solitaire, I found a new game, Monument Valley, that I think is going to be more calming. It’s not difficult after the first time through (and really not that difficult the first time), and it only has ten levels (I am currently stuck on the 10th level, but I’ll get it), but it’s so soothing once you know how it works, that I think it’ll be better than solitaire, walking Ida through all those beautiful Escher landscapes, avoiding those obnoxious black birds:
All of this has far-reaching effects on my life in other ways. I’ve looked at the chaos around me and realized it’s killing me; I’ve looked at the chaos in my finances and realized the uncertainty is dragging me down; I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I’ve gained weight and I haven’t been eating right and that’s taking a toll. None of this feels like guilt for once; it feels like a recognition of the things that I can do to make my life better, chief among them not working so hard to make myself crazy.
So I’m organizing my house with renewed purpose, I’ve looked at my finances in detail and made a plan, and I’m taking a common sense approach to my health, putting “take your meds” into Things because I always forget and ordering an under-the-desk cycle to see if that will help me get my blood pumping better. I can do all of that because I’m actually pretty calm about it. As Brown advises in her book, I looked at the way I was stressing and beating myself up with guilt and thought, “Is this making things better? Easier? No? Then I’m not going to do it any more.” Deep breaths. I can do this.
I really do love this course.