Initiating Rest Sequence 

The following is an extract from the unwritten self-help manual ‘Regulation and Maintenance of Wellbeing’ 

Rest Mode 
To acheive Rest Mode, the Rest Sequence should be employed. This must be initiated after a period of sustained physical or mental effort, and/or whenever tiredness is noticeable by evidence of irritability, confusion, inability to focus, and the persistent tendency to perform current tasks faster, despite resulting in increasing fatigue, lack of efficiency and rapid decline in wellbeing. Whenever the need for the sequence is recognised the protocol is obligatory and should be observed without delay or inner discussion.

To initiate the Rest Sequence:
1. Notice what’s going on, how you feel and what your body’s telling you about it. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening, because it is. Don’t think things will just get better in a minute.

2. Stop whatever you’re doing and if possible lie down. A bed is good. So is a sun-warmed patch of grass, or a soft carpet.

3. Lie with your hands on your stomach and feel the up and down motion of your breathing. Count backwards slowly from fifty to one.

4. Feel the pull of gravity and sink softly into the ground or the bed beneath you. Quietly resist the thought that there are things that need doing; this is the only thing that needs to be done for the next few minutes.

5. Go on doing this for a few minutes more. 

5. If you’re not already smiling a little, smile. And notice what happens. 

6. Gently stir yourself a bit at a time, and then get up slowly. 

7. Return to whatever it was you were doing and do it with care, noticing everything. 

Repeat the Rest Sequence at least once daily or often as needed. 

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Letters to myself (5)

Attentive

Attentive


When I go for a walk I prefer to go alone, not because I don’t like company but because I can’t concentrate on noticing things. It requires letting go of thought, and it sounds like an odd contradiction that what we call mindfulness needs to be acheived by thoughtlessness – but it requires stepping off the endless loop of jibber-jabber that goes on and on inside my head all the time. Like leaving a room full of manic conversation and closing the door for a while. 

Paying attention means noticing. Animals do it all the time, constantly. But as a species we humans have become monumentally forgetful of the way it feels to just look, and listen, and sniff, and feel – and notice. I can’t believe how often I forget to do this myself, and I need frequent reminders to bring me back to it, again and again and again. 

It’s easier to do it in the presence of animals, or birds, or even insects. Words fall away. What they do, by paying attention, simply can’t be done with words. 

Little unknown insect in the sun

This is the fifth post in a series of letters to myself at the beginning of the year – the first one is here. I’d thought I would post one a day until 12th Night, and I’ve reached that point – but now I find I still have more to say to myself by way of nudges and pointers and so I think there may be more to come – just not quite so frequently. 

Last year I posted here only once in a while (being rather occupied with writing posts on my sketching blog) – but this space is special for me, and I’ve felt the lack of it. Writing and posting here again feels like coming home. It’s good to be back. 

Letters to myself (4)

Beech Tree with spreading limbs, in summer

Grounded


There’s no springing into action without first being grounded. A spirit of adventure will fizzle into nothing at the first wobbly bound. I know this by experience because I’ve tried it too often and come unstuck, simply by forgetting to pause and take a slow breath…..

A tree is such a powerful reminder of balance, strength and stillness – a flexible stillness, because on days like today when a gale is blowing, the branches that in summer stretched up motionless into the green canopy are whipped and bent and thrashed in the wind – but the tree remains. It abides. 

This beech is a favourite of mine, one I pass frequently and often stand under. The simple act of standing under a tree helps me do what I try to do when I practice hesitant Tai Chi moves in the garden every morning before breakfast – an attempt to be at one with myself, and still.

There’s also a way in which this is a listening, a paying attention to what we already know deeply in our bodies, and what we can learn there. As children we were all more naturally able to do this (- just watch small children standing, running, playing) and it makes me smile just to think about it. I take a long deep breath, and remember….

This is the fourth post in a series of letters to myself. If you haven’t already read it, the first one is here) 

Letters to myself (3)

Extraordinary clouds, lit by the sun

Adventurous

Every now and again, something stirs me to remember the feeling at the beginning of a holiday. Setting off on a journey at sunrise or even earlier, or the very first glimpse of the sea….. 

Now that I don’t go far from home, a sense of adventure is something I need to cultivate. The remarkable thing is that seemingly boring or irritating tasks become quite different when you see them as adventures. Unpacking and re-packing a carton of cardboard boxes with my husband this morning became an exploration of skills (or lack thereof) and an exercise in letting go of my desire to do everything my way and investigate his approach instead. As an adventure it was hardly bold or colourful, but it was fun.    I’m nowhere near as adventurous as I’d like to be. 

Drawing of Will Geer as Bear Claw/Chris Lapp, in the film Jeremiah Johnson
I often sketch while watching films on TV. This is the actor Will Geer as Chris Lapp the trapper, or ‘Bear Claw’ – in the film Jeremiah Johnson, a story full of adventures if ever there was one. That’s also him on the badly drawn horse that looks as if it’s got one leg shorter than the other and no hind legs at all. Drawing can also be an adventure.

(Part 1 of this series of posts started here if you haven’t read it already.) 

Letters to myself: (2) 

Glass of clear water with bubbles

Clarity   

Too often, I find myself reacting without seeing something for what it really is. 

It only takes a moment to pause and look at what it is I may really be facing. It may not be what I imagine it to be, at all.

*
(This is the second in a series of letters to myself – the first is here.) 

Letters for the twelve months to come

Small white feather fallen on dry leaves


Softness

Standing at the doorway of a new year and just about to put a foot forwards, I realise there are certain words that I wish for myself during the journey through the next twelve months. Pausing and reflecting (a good time to do this, today, with a pale grey light in the window and the sound of rain on the glass) I know there are things I want to embrace and other things that I want to let go. These are not resolutions exactly, nor even intentions – they’re more in the way of senses, feelings, perhaps ways of being, and to write about them or try to explain them in anything more than a whisper would be to bring them under a harsh spotlight that will not help me remember them any better.

I don’t set goals. But I like the idea of way-markers, or torches to light a gloomy bit of path, or firesides to come home to. 

So here for the next few days I’ll share a handful of these – whatever you like to call them. They’re like one-word letters addressed to myself, to carry with me on the next bit of the journey, and at the end of the year I’ll be able to spread them out and look at them, and gaze at the way I’ve come, and ponder…. 

 Enchantment and Confusion 

The world of the imagination lies behind a door that I rarely open. Rich lands populated with who-knows-what stay hidden because I’m reluctant to go there; perhaps I’m afraid of what I might discover, but what’s to fear? Mostly I suspect it’s for fear of not wanting to come back. I stay in the real world (though what really is that?) because I would often like to escape it, and to go into that world of enchantment would be to risk getting submerged, sucked in and stuck….. 

Then of course there’s always the danger I might find myself in a place that I’d very much rather not be, like the town of Bad Kettle, and so when I draw from my imagination I don’t explore. I simply interpret. And this is not imagining, at all. This is simply thinking on paper, thinking, what is a Bad Kettle, anyway? 

Watercolour drawing of a rusty pot with handle
Is a bad kettle a rusty thing full of holes that wouldn’t hold water? Something with a fragile wire handle that burns your fingers, or worse, snaps off? A wobbly thing, more like a can than a kettle? Or is it something proverbial – as in the saying ‘You’ll never make good tea in a bad kettle’? Or is it, in fact, a place? 

If I dared, if I were bold enough to enter that world I’d find myself so out of practice that I’d lose my way completely, or so I tell myself. Probably get eaten by a dragon. Like Violet in Bad Kettle I assiduously avoid the path that will bring me into the unknown. 

I put my pen down on the paper and draw a face, one that I’ve never seen (though I can see its provenance). This is a start. 

Watercolour drawing of imagined face

Perhaps stories will emerge, or follow. Perhaps I’ll begin to feel more comfortable with exploring a world I’ve shut out for too long……. 

Little forays into the forest from time to time begin to seem less worrying. Maybe I’ll try a few cautious explorations and see how I get on, and as long as I don’t get pulled into the dark river, or fall under the spell of rocks that open their eyes at the quiet hour of dusk – if I get back with anything interesting to report – you’ll find it here. 

Author’s note: (I’ve always wanted to write that, it sounds so real). 

The words Bad Kettle arose out of an accident with predictive text that my friend and fellow WordPresser at Puffofsmokepoems.com and we became so delighted with that we resolved to let it have its way. Read Violet in Bad Kettle (if you haven’t already) and you’ll see what happened. It’s amazing what can unfold when you let yourself follow a red herring….and even more so when you can share the pursuit. Here’s to happy accidents and creative collaboration! 

Add to Basket

We are receivers. Every day, every minute, we are collecting, whether we know it or not – images, sounds, stories. Ideas. And we react to these things, because it’s human to do so, and some make a deeper impression than others. 

Drawing of little red insect

But just because we’re picking things up all the time, it doesn’t mean we have to stow them all away and keep them – it is possible just to notice some things and then allow them to leave, even if at first this sounds improbable. It requires practice. 

I don’t have any difficulty knowing which things I should keep and which to let go – but negative things stick more readily and tenaciously than positive ones. It’s how we evolved. It’s said that you need the conscious awareness of five positive things to balance out one negative one, because the negative is so much more powerfully drawn to our attention.  

Drawing of coriander

I’ve started keeping an imaginary basket that I collect things in. I choose these things, and at the end of each day I can take them out one at a time and look at them again, and feel the same sensation I had when I first encountered them…. like the red and black flying beetle that landed on the garden wall, and stayed for a few moments in the sun before flying off before I could identify it. Or like the smell of coriander when I was chopping it at lunchtime. And the children I watched one afternoon running around in the playground after their karate class while older people walked their dogs, or just stood around in the sunshine. 

Sketches of karate kids and man with dog

These are the things I can draw. There are other things that can’t be sketched, like the wood-pigeon and the blackbird that I hear when I’m sleepily awake at 6.00 am, and the taste of the melted dark chocolate sauce I made yesterday with brandy mixed in it to pour on vanilla ice cream. 

These are just a few of the things in my basket, and writing this I’ve tasted them all over again – but I realise what may be even more important is that now I’ve shared them as well. Good things are meant for sharing. 

The idea of a basket of collected memories is not my own. I wish it were, but I first heard of it from my mother, who inherited it in turn from a dear friend of my sister, so it kind of runs in the family. 

In the UK, when you shop online and choose your purchases you collect them by clicking ‘add to basket’. In the US this would be ‘add to cart’ which to me always sounds mildly hilarious because it conjures up images of a chunky wooden wheeled horse-drawn sort of a thing. In supermarkets in England we use a trolley…….or a basket. 

Learning How To Be A Beginner 

I’ve often wondered why it is when I draw something or make something, my first effort is often good, and later things go downhill. I know this sounds all contradictory and upside-down, but I’ve noticed it happens time and time again; the first drawing or whatever it is might be inaccurate, the proportions off, a bit wonky – but essentially it’s good. The trouble is that from then on I’ll continue in a different frame of mind. I’ll be thinking, ah, here we go, I know how to do this now – and my drawing will be worse. 

It was especially obvious when I did the #1week100people sketching challenge. Along with lots of sketchers all over the world, I sketched lots of people – around about a hundred – and not much else for a whole week. It was an exciting, freewheeling exercise and I was looking forward to seeing an improvement in my drawings. I was hoping – well, actually, expecting that. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Or at least, so it seemed to me at the time. I noticed as I went along that things weren’t going as I’d hoped because as I complained in my previous post, ‘every now and then I’ll find myself drawing with ease and fluency and suddenly it’ll all go right, and then the next minute I fall off the edge and lose the flow, and do something that’s completely off’. I thought I was going to learn and advance in an obvious way, and I thought at the time that this definately wasn’t happening – but in the end I discovered the answer to something that’s puzzled me for a long time, something more interesting and more valuable. 

I have Susan McCulley and her latest post, Revisiting Beginner’s Mind to thank for this insight, and it’s going to pop up again and again in everything I think and do for the foreseeable future. What it is, in simple terms, is that I need to stop thinking that I know what I’m doing and learn to be a beginner. Or rather, I need to think like a beginner, with all that freshness, openness and excitement about the unknown, because as soon as I start to think ‘I know all about this’ I’m no longer really looking, or not looking with a spirit of enquiry. I’ve boxed myself in and closed the door on all kinds of possibilities. 

There are all sorts of ways to do this, none of them comfortable. Like shaking things up and switching materials. Drawing with something uncompromising like a sharpened stick can be a good way. Drawing fast, drawing people in motion helps. But it all requires letting go of what I think I know, trusting my eyes and my hands and the mysterious process that happens when I really look at something as if I’m seeing it for the first time. 

None of this is easy. It’s not just about drawing, either – it’s about the way to approach everything. Beginner’s Mind is a concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, which refers to “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

If all this seems rather obvious, perhaps it is – but the implications are far reaching. If I slip into the habit of thinking the same way about something simply because I believe I know all about it, I’m never going to learn anything new about it. In the words of the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”