The month of September was the seventh month of the early Roman calendar, thus the origin of its name from the Latin word septum meaning seven. The calendar was changed in the sixth century from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, at which time the first month of the year was moved from April 1st to January 1st. And though September then became the ninth month, it nevertheless kept its name.
In numerology, the number seven is seen as the number of completion. It is an interesting coincidence that as well as being named for the number that represents completion, September is the month of harvest – a time when summer’s crops complete their annual cycle and are harvested for the purpose of providing nourishment. In this vein, the month of September is a good time to think about how to harvest your life – how to make the most of what you have, and use what you have to nourish yourself, your family and your community.
It is important to reflect on this as modern life becomes increasingly complex and we are in danger of being overwhelmed by the many aspects in our lives. Instead of taking time to follow our natural rhythms, we rush from family to work to an array of requests, obligations and commitments – which separately might enrich us, but taken together become just too much. In the face of this abundance of opportunities and obligations, the central question is – How can I live a life of fulfillment and impact without sacrificing my health and personal life in the process?
The answer to this question involves catching yourself when you begin to feel driven or overwhelmed, then stopping for a second to quiet yourself until you’re able to move forward with more ease. A familiar saying that many of us learned as children is helpful in this regard. Stop. Look. Listen. Stop what you’re doing – try to catch yourself when you find yourself anxious or driven. Look at what you’re doing and notice how it feels. Listen to your deeper instinctual self and hear what it is trying to tell you about how to proceed. As children, this saying was helpful in getting us to pay attention to the flow of traffic so we would know when it was safe to cross the street. As adults, it’s equally helpful in monitoring the many things that come at us on a daily basis, so we can move through the flow of traffic in our lives without harming ourselves.
With this in mind, on this first day of September find a time (preferably at the beginning of the day) to take ten minutes to practice stopping, looking and listening. Find a place that is quiet where you won’t be interrupted. Sit down on something comfortable. When you’re seated and quiet, say the word Stop to yourself. Then, as your body begins to slow down and ease, stop your thoughts. When you feel your body relaxing and your mind clearing say the word Look. In that moment notice what you feel in your body. Notice the specific sensations that you feel. Take time to locate and experience each. Is it knotted or blocked? Is it a pain or an ache? Is it sharp, throbbing, tangled, dull? Bring all your awareness to bear. Is there an emotion, image or sensation that arises when you direct your attention to that spot? If so, experience it as much as you can. Now focus on your breath. Direct it to the spot of tension or pain. Let its soft warm stream begin to soothe and dissolve what you’re feeling. As the sensation eases, say the word Listen and listen to what your deeper voice is saying.
This third step of listening is the most difficult. We are so accustomed to overriding our inner voice in response to what we think we should do, or what others want us to do, that it takes real concentration to hear what our inner voice is saying. Physical sensations or “symptoms” are one way this voice tries to get our attention – different emotional states like depression are another. Such “symptoms” are easier to hear, particularly if they’re strong, but it is more difficult to hear the deeper part of us and what it wants to tell us. In this third listening stage, after stopping and looking, attune your awareness to whatever impulse you feel. It may be something as slight as the impulse to shift positions or redirect your gaze. It may be more emotionally pronounced, such as the urge to cancel a meeting you’d tried to fit in to an already busy schedule – or the desire to meet with a friend, after rationalizing you didn’t have time to see her. Whatever it is, these inner promptings are rarely wrong. There are exceptions – impulses of addiction, reactive emotional outbursts – but if you stop and really look in the way I’ve described above, the impulses that arise won’t misguide you.
As you move through the day, every hour or two take a moment to practice stopping, looking and listening so it becomes second nature. A moment or two is all it takes. People routinely imagine that they have to have a formal meditation practice or take a lengthy break in order to slow down. But, as the new science of decision-making has proven – too big a step activates the “fight or flight” chemicals in the brain and has a paralyzing effect – the reason why time-consuming programs for dieting, exercising, meditating often fail.
In addition to practicing the momentary stopping, if at any point during the day someone extends an invitation or makes a request – again, stop and look. Listen to your intuition. Notice whether you feel yourself going forward or pulling back. It is important to catch the split second you are presented with something – the second before the mind kicks in with its endless rationales. Your body has a deeper wisdom than your mind. Take time to listen to what it has to say.
As you enter the month of harvest, pay attention to how you harvest your life. Stop rushing mindlessly. Look where you’re going. In the silent space before acting, listen to the subtle inner promptings. Let the abundance in your life nourish instead of drain you. Align yourself with a more natural flow.
Rather than give examples that reflect what I’m writing about, as I usually do, I want to offer an image from a recent personal experience that has stayed with me. I find that images can be helpful in stopping mindless activity by reminding us of something more essential.
A week ago I returned from a visit to a lake in Northern Wisconsin – a lake I have gone to almost every summer of my life. Over the years, its wilderness has been encroached on by an increasing flurry of speedboats, jet skis and people looking to have fun (in this case, fun equals speed). But at night, when the activity stops, the lake returns to its essential timeless nature.
The last night of our visit, my brother and son took down one of the ancient canoes from its perch on a canoe rack in the boathouse – its weathered canvas worn in places, its wooden gunnels and cane seats still intact. The sun had set and the full moon was rising over the pines on the eastern shore of the lake. Wisps of mist threaded through lily pads and rested at the edge of the shore. The water was still and smooth as glass. In the rising moonlight it looked like liquid silver, molten and thick.
As they lowered it in, the bow of the canoe slid silently into the water. My son helped me onto a small pillow in the middle, then took his place in the stern, my brother in the bow. We set out, the canvas cutting through the stillness – slish, slish – the paddles tracing silent circles on the glassy water. As the full moon crested the tips of the trees, silvery birch emerged from the darkness, their illuminated trunks like silent sentinels guarding the lake. We glided through lily pads, passed through pockets of dampened peat, pungent fungus, sweet pine. For a while, the only sound was the drip-drip from paddles as they arced above the water. Part way out we entered full moonlight, and resting our paddles on the gunnels, we let the movement of the boat carry us on. For almost an hour we drifted, watching reflections and shadows along the shoreline, smelling dark watery smells, listening, in the distance, to the faraway call of a loon.
After a time we turned back. As we neared the shore, heat from the day radiated out from the bank like some elemental heater. In front of me, my brother’s paddle rose and fell rhythmically in slow silent arcs. Rising up, it flashed in the moonlight, dipping down, a trail of circles fanned out. In that moment, as the canoe glided forward, I felt connected to a more basic flow – beneath the day’s flurry of activity, beyond my own tangled thoughts. Since returning home, that image comes back to me again and again. Whenever I see it, something about it quiets and slows me down. Perhaps a reminder of another way to be. The effortlessness, the silence, the expanse.
STOPPING; How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going by David Kundtz. Just as I was about to write the Books section of my newsletter, a friend wrote to ask if I had heard of this book. A happy coincidence, as I hadn’t told her the subject of newsletter, I immediately looked it up. I haven’t read it yet, so the description that follows is from promotional material. It looks valuable enough to include. Kundtz offers three kinds of stopping: “stillpoints” (little pauses), “stopovers” (longer times of stillness), and “grinding halts” (life-changing periods of stasis). According to Kundtz, “stopping” is a simple, straightforward, contemplative system of “doing nothing, as much as possible for a definite period of time, for the purpose of becoming more awake and remembering who you are” so you can get going again in a purposeful and centered way. This book shows how to achieve stopping and become peaceful in even the most hectic of times.
QUIET MIND; One-Minute Retreats from a Busy World by David Kundtz. In researching Stopping, I came across this book, also by David Kundtz. Again, I haven’t read it, but was intrigued by the description. In this book, Kundtz suggests using the moments between activities – which he calls “stillpoints” – as opportunities to focus on becoming more present in your life. “These times are the ‘spaces in between’ the events of your life,” writes Kundtz, “spaces often lost, or worse — filled with anxiety. And these spaces in between are just waiting to bring you the calmness and clarity that an over-demanding schedule steals from you.” A welcome respite for anyone whose gear shift is perpetually in overdrive, Quiet Mind is an invitation to rest, find peace, awaken, and remember. It offers deceptively simple wisdom to help readers sharpen their senses and make room for life.
FIVE GOOD MINUTES AT WORK; 100 Mindful Practices to Help You Relieve Stress & Bring Your Best to Work by Jeffrey Brantley. Brantley offers a collection of mindfulness exercises, positive visualizations, and affirmations that he believes can be a powerful force for change in your life. He suggests that it only takes “five good minutes” to transform the mundane into the extraordinary and renew vitality and passion for life. Jon Kabat-Zin says of this book: “”The real gift lying at the heart of this book is the surprising discovery that so much change can result from small daily investments. Anybody can find five minutes most days for dropping to the present moment and touching what is deepest and best in oneself. If you do it lovingly and regularly, those five minutes will be good and good for you in more ways than you can imagine. The resulting sense of purposefulness and balance is priceless. ” This book reflects my experience that it takes much less time than one imagines to reconnect with oneself. All that’s needed is “five good minutes” – or as I suggest in the text above, to stop, look and listen.
ENCLOSURE by Andy Goldsworthy. I am including two books – this and the one that follows – that contain images that invariably help quiet me. Goldsworthy, an internationally renowned artist who creates site-specific environmental works, has used sites throughout the world as his inspiration. In “Enclosure,” he was invited to Cumbria in Northern England – a place where the landscape has been molded for centuries by the agricultural practice of sheep-farming. All of the work in this book relate to sheep in one way or another. Among the pieces: slate works and balanced stones embedded in walls; serpentines of frozen wool threaded through rocky gorges or hanging down from rocky outcroppings, large sheep paintings made by the hoof prints of the sheep themselves, the reconstruction of sheepfolds into haunting and ephemeral tributes to sheep. The images transcend any particular subject matter and become a kind of existential dialogue between what is inside and what is outside – between inner and outer reality.
HONEY HUNTERS OF NEPAL by Eric Valli and Diane Summers. This is an extraordinary visual document of the Gurung tribesmen’s bi-annual trek into the jungles of the Himalayan region of Nepal to raid the nests of giant black bees for honey and wax. It follows one of the men as he negotiates high rocky cliffs on a handmade bamboo ladder until he reaches an enormous hive. Calming the bees – some of the most aggressive in the world – with ancient mantras, he breaks the hive from the cliff wall and lowers it to his fellow tribesmen far below. Until this book, the universe of the honey hunters was totally unknown to the rest of the world. The images in it are breathtaking, and communicate – far beyond the stated subject matter – something about the tenuous link between the human and the divine. Archetypal and anthropological at the same time, the images have the power to connect one both to oneself and to what lies beyond.
My latest retreat, “Developing Balance,” is for you if you want to make a meaningful impact, but to do so without sacrificing your health or personal life in the process. If you feel fragmented by the many demands on your time, or somehow unfulfilled and wanting something more. I help you simplify by cutting through to what is most alive in yourself and bringing increased presence to whatever you do, so that you can feel more balanced and effective (especially in the area of decision-making) and able to sustain what’s important to you.
This six-hour retreat takes place in a charming cottage outside the town of Occidental on ten acres of rolling meadow, oak, bay, redwood trees, only minutes from the ocean. The retreat is designed to be scheduled at your convenience throughout the year. There is also the option to stay at a nearby in, dividing the retreat over two days, so that you can take advantage of nearby Russian River, Bodega Bay, and the area’s spectacular hiking trails.
For more information go to http://www.adelaidedonnelley.com