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Avoidance and Writing: The Roberta Mickel Method

March 3, 2017

This is a method I will be trying … beginning today.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz-040By Judith Sornberger

You would not believe how many things I’ve done today to avoid beginning this essay. (Except, if you’re a writer, you probably would.) I say writing means more to me than just about anything, but I would do almost anything some days to postpone putting pen to paper (including going shopping for a new, magic pen), especially when it comes to breaking the ice on a new writing project. This morning, for instance, I called a friend to commiserate on how little we’ve been writing. Then I scrubbed a pan that had soaked overnight in the sink, grocery shopped, stopped in at my local bookstore to check on a book I’d ordered (knowing full well it couldn’t have arrived yet) and, of course, had to browse. Then I went through my closet, wondering if it might be time to donate everything below size sixteen, my current size, which…

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Waiting. Not Waiting.

May 12, 2015

I’ve just returned from a two-hour visit to my doctor: 10 minutes of interaction with the doctor, one hour and fifty minutes waiting to be seen. I am glad I was not feeling sick and miserable, or the wait would have felt intolerable. Mine was just a routine check-up to see how I’ve been coping with my allergies this spring. I am in good shape, and the long wait was tolerable.

There was a time I would have spent my long wait fretting and feeling anxious. I would have become increasingly irritable, and my crankiness would have left me fatigued and frustrated. Not a good state of mind for a meaningful office visit. I’ve learned over the years that waiting time is better spent keeping occupied by either diverting my attention (perhaps by reading a few chapters in a detective novel or by writing notes to friends). Sometimes, however, instead of diverting, I choose to focus my attention through meditation.CantignyBuddha

Meditating during a long wait in a doctor’s examination room may seem difficult (it is, at first), but it can be calming. Anger and frustration torment only me. They do not affect the circumstances that have triggered the emotions. And so I acknowledge my feelings, and I meditate.

When I meditate, I begin with simply being. I sit quietly and focus on my breathing.I notice when I inhale and when I exhale. I count my breaths, and I try to exhale longer than I inhale: breathing in 1, 2, 3, 4; breathing out, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Somehow, making the exhalation longer than the inhalation is calming. I might repeat to myself “breathing in, I know that I am breathing in” and “breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” My breathing soon slows, and I notice that my busy mind grows quiet. I notice my body relax, one part at a time from top to toe. And, I comment to myself with each stage of relaxation that “breathing out, I feel my jaw relax,” “breathing out, I feel my neck relax,” breathing out, “I feel my shoulders relax,” and so forth, with each exhalation, relaxing from arms, fingers, hips, thighs, calves, feet, and toes.

When my body grows still, I begin to notice the air around me and how it feels on my skin. I see the carpet, the walls, the ceiling, and I acknowledge them and my place within their embrace. I notice the furnishings: chairs, table, desk, every item on the desk, one thing at a time. And I contemplate how each thing I observe has a purpose in the room. I think of how each thing is made, and I reflect on those who made those things. I reflect on the makers’ lives and on the origins of the materials gathered and used to build each object.

From inward observation to outward reflection come peace and acceptance. Waiting ceases to be an annoyance to be endured. With quiet meditation, waiting becomes a welcome opportunity to enjoy peace, a respite from care and worry. And so I become grateful for the respite in my day that waiting has given me. Through meditation, I am no longer waiting. I simply am.

May Day

May 1, 2015

May Day coneToday is The first of May, a day on which we children used to surprise our neighbors with small bouquets of spring flowers. The posies were plucked from our mothers’ gardens and tucked into small paper cones made with ribbon handles. We made the cones from colored construction paper covered with springtime decorations (usually crayon-drawn tulips because tulips are easy to draw). We’d punch holes in the tops and tie ribbons or string across the top of the cones. The bit with the ribbon was tricky — you had to make it long enough to loop over a doorknob without it smushing the flowers, and you had to tie it to the cone loosely enough that it wouldn’t tear the paper. Sometimes it took a few tries to get the cone and string just right.

After we’d made enough cones, we’d sneak over to each neighbor’s house (sneaking was important because the whole operation was meant to be a surprise), hook the flower-filled cone over the doorknob, ring the doorbell, and then hide around the corner of the house. When our neighbor opened the door to answer the bell, we’d leap out and yell, “Happy May Day!” The neighbor would pat her chest and exclaim “Oh, my! What a surprise! Happy May Day to you, too.” We learned quickly not to offer our May Day surprise to the house where the husband worked nights and tried to sleep during the day.

I am pretty sure this sort of May Day celebration is a thing of the past. Mothers have jobs and are no longer around to answer the door. Children rarely move beyond their yards without a parental escort. Amateur crafts have become major projects involving military-like strategic planning and trips to Hobby Lobby for professional-grade supplies. In my memory, May Day was simple. Paper, crayons, scissors, and string. And, most importantly, it was a day of kindness. Neighborly love extended and accepted in a sweet springtime ritual.

Happy May Day to all of you. May your day be full of special surprises.

Blustery Day

April 21, 2015

“The wind was against them now, and Piglet’s ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along, and it seemed hours before he got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood and they stood up straight again, to listen, a little nervously, to the roaring of the gale among the treetops. ‘Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?’ ‘Supposing it didn’t,’ said Pooh after careful thought.” ― Milne, A. A.

Today is a very blustery spring day here in southern Indiana, with flowering trees tossing their slender branches back and forth like bright scarves fluttering in the wind. Cherry blossoms lie scattered like snow on the sidewalk, and the bright buds of the crabapple tree are doing their best to hang on. When the gusts come, the house makes mooing noises and frightens the cat.

I am planning a visit to my parents’ house, and I worry, much like Piglet worries about a tree falling on him in the gale. I worry that I’ll pack the wrong clothes for the weather and that I’ll be too cold or too hot. I worry that I won’t pack the right shoes. What if we go out to a nice dinner? What if we go for a hike? What if it rains? Is there room in the suitcase for an extra pair of shoes and a raincoat?

I worry about the drive. Will there be road construction and detours? Will I get lost? Tired? What if the hotel loses my reservation? Where will I go? What if I can’t handle the traffic and get into an accident and die? Will my husband remember to water the plants?

A lot of “what ifs” plague my thinking, and when that happens, I need to remind myself that I am really not thinking at all. In reality, I am reacting to something that may never happen. I am allowing myself to get sucked into the future – into a space and time over which I have no control. On a good day, I will catch myself catastrophizing and will remind myself that the only time is the present moment. I can deal with a moment. I am here. I am now. If I breathe deeply, I become calm, and I feel free from worry. I can even smile.

Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?’ ‘Supposing it didn’t,’

I’ll suppose the tree will not fall, and I will pack my suitcase — one moment at a time, and I will breathe.

Feeling Blue

April 19, 2015

I woke up this morning in a blue mood.

imageNot the down-in-the-dumps despair sort of blue, but blue skies blue. After a long spell of gloomy weather, the sun shone at last in a sky of postcard blue. The grass – as exuberantly green as only spring grass can be — sparkled with morning dew. I pulled on my favorite blue t-shirt and ventured out into the warm day. I stepped onto a lawn carpeted with violets, and noticed that my little woodland garden was filled with blue flowers.

imageAlthough the squill and anemone have already spent their blooms (or been eatenby deer, take your pick), today’s garden boasts an abundance of Virginia bluebellsbehind the birdbath and Jack Frost near the serviceberry tree. Even the blue hosta peek out of the damp soil, ready to unfurl their large ribbed leaves. My walk through campus this morning was lined by gardens filled with pansies — many of them blue.image

It is a blue morning indeed – the kind of blue one only sees in spring.

On Writing

April 16, 2015

My plan this week was to write. Something. Anything. That has not happened, at least until now. I have myriad excuses – funeral, meeting, new class at the Y, visit with a contractor, weather too nice to stay inside, and too engrossed in a new cozy mystery series. These are not really reasons for sloth – just excuses. The truth is that I have plenty of time to write, but not much will to write.

pWhat is the will to write, anyway? I’ve read countless motivational quips and quotes and stern advice from various authors over the years, things like “If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter (from Dan Poynter), or this one from Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Ah, that faucet. If I turn it on, the writing will flow like water. And so here I am, faucet on, waiting for the words to flow.

I think one of my problems with writing is stopping before I even start. I cast about for ideas, believing that I need a plan, worrying that I have nothing to say. The truth is I am scared to begin. I am worried that the finished product won’t be any good.My teacherly self scolds my writerly self to just write. It’s easier to fix something than it is to fix nothing. Enter Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, who explains that “this is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

“Until it’s done,” he says. Clearly, Gaiman is interested in a finished product. Again, my teacherly self argues that a finished product is one that can be revised, rewritten, and improved to the point that the writing is, finally, worth reading, if only to myself. What counts, after the faucet begins to flow is to finish what I start. Again, Neil Gaiman: “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” And I have written, and I have finished writing – at least for today. Tomorrow, I will write again, and I will continue to write “until it’s done.”

Qigong Exercise

April 9, 2015

I have been practicing qigong (sometimes spelled chi kung, pronounced chee–gong) since 2002. It is a health practice related to tai chi. I find the practice to be both relaxing and energizing. Practitioners find that the quiet, meditative aspects of the practice are refreshing to mind, body, and spirit.

There are many types of qigong, some more complicated than others, some energetic, some quiet. None is better than others. Kenneth Cohen, in his book, The Way of Qigong, refers to the varieties of qigong as many tributaries of one great river. The “tributary” I practice derives from the lessons of my teacher, Jody Curley, now of Madison, Wisconsin.

As I prepare to lead qigong exercises at an adult day center for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, I have been exploring several of the tributaries of the great river qigong. One practice that is similar to my own can be found in the video below. It demonstrates an energetic qigong exercise session, but many of its movements are similar to the slower, meditative movements I practice.

The video lasts approximately 47 minutes, and if you follow along, you will find yourself energized and refreshed.

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