Recently I rediscovered mandalas. They have been a saving grace for me over the past two and a half months. They help me to counteract feeling anxious. Feeling angry. Feeling helpless. With choices being stripped or diminished, the world seems turned upside down.
One evening, looking for something else, I came across a mandala coloring book. Page after page of beautiful designs printed in black and white. A Christmas present forgotten. Ready to be rainbowed! A small package of pens sat nestled next to the book awaiting notice. Perfect.
I first saw a mandala at a Buddhist gathering. It was amazing to watch a monk prayerfully, carefully, directing handfuls of colored sand into a pattern of symbols. Then, it seemed, mandalas hit the mainstream. Every bookstore offers several coloring books filled with patterns inked out, ready for the artist’s pens to fill in.
Each evening I choose a design to color. It gives me focus and choices; two of the things I am wrestling with in other parts of my life. Here I find a break from anxiety. A break from the barrage of news that generates immense sadness and, often, anger in me. Before I knew it, my wife was coloring along with me. We print the same design, then go at it, not allowing the other to see our color choices until we are both finished. It’s not competitive. It is fun. And relaxing.
And, no, I am not using this new practice as a way to stick my head in the sand. I do keep up with what is going on locally, in my state and nation. I see the global picture too. Covid-19. Black Lives Matter. A would-be despot ruler masquerading as a president. There is so much going on that I know I need a brief respite. I don’t want to deplete all my resources, leaving me unable to function at the level of an active participant in our democracy. I need breaks. You need breaks too, I imagine.
I encourage everyone to find some time, each day for yourself. For your mental, emotional, and physical health. It does not have to be hours. It does have to be consistent. Here is a sample respite list-10 things you can do to stay calm and in balance. I’m sure you can add to it.
- Get out in nature. I take a walk every day. Birdsong, trees and plants, flowing water, and fresh air all do wonders for the spirit.
- Create something. Plant something. Build an engine. Cook something wonderful. Sew a quilt. Make a sign. Use your hands to give you a sense of accomplishment. My mandalas do that for me.
- Stay connected with friends and family. Zoom, FaceTime, and phone conversations all work. Visit in person when you can. We all are sustained by human contact.
- Meditate/pray. Tap into your spiritual resources. I choose to focus on “the highest good and best outcome” for any person or situation.
- Read something inspiring. (I have printed sayings posted around my home.) Read something that makes you laugh. Read something that stirs your imagination and holds it captive for a while. (Reading only the bad news is counterproductive.)
- Sing. Listen to music. My voice sucks but I sing because I’m happier while listening to music. It keeps my mind occupied and not fixated on pain, sorrow, anger and frustration.
- Dance. If you can. ha ha. Seriously, dance loosens up all the tightness we carry in our bodies. You don’t have to be Shakira or Fred Astaire. Just move to music.
- Watch something entertaining. We have dug into the closet for some old time favorite movies and are doing a walk down memory lane. Of course, there’s Netflix and all sorts of new stuff to binge on.
- Exercise: Walk. Run. Tai chi. Yoga. Movement, movement, movement.
- You fill in the blank. I’d love to hear what you are doing to stay sane right now.
This is how I see it. If I can keep myself on an even keel, then I have the energy, the space, to engage in the causes that reflect my views. My mind hasn’t run amok with noise and endless spinning. Racka-racka-roo. That’s what my teacher, Oh Shinnah Fastwolf, calls it. A mind spinning around with thoughts going nowhere, adding to angst and confusion. In these precious times it is necessary to find ways to turn off the racka-racka-roo.
Calming and restoring our internal balance is a most worthwhile endeavor. For me, it is a stepping stone, a rung on the ladder that leads to right action. In the long run, it is action that will count. Let it be mindful. Let it have intention. No knee-jerk reactivity, but rather, thoughtful choice from a balanced, calm self. Go do something. First for yourself. Then for the world.
©2020 Gail Ouimet