Forced hibernation…

With palms together, I wish you all a good evening.
It’s almost time…
When you live in the Northeast you don’t need a weather report to understand winter is around the corner; accepting the fact that winter is around the corner is something altogether different. It’s almost time to hibernate. There are those times and this week is forecast to be one of those times where winter plays hide and seek with fall. The temperatures forecast for the week are expected to be in the high sixties; unseasonably warm for this time of year.
Halloween has past. The trees are almost completely bare of their wondrous cover which has been shed after changing to brilliant colors not usually seen in nature. A glance up to the branches overhead identifies a few stragglers holding on in the hope winter will not arrive and the cooler temperatures are in some way a joke. Piles of leaves adorn the front yards of neighboring homes being blown about by the wind which is an almost constant companion this time of year. In addition to the change in clothing, lawnmowers are put away and exchanged for snow shovels and snow throwers. Leaf blowers and rakes are seen and heard throughout the neighborhood. I prefer the latter as they allow for less disturbance and allow me to maintain some semblance of solitude.
For me, the most difficult part of this transition is the change to daylight savings time.
I wouldn’t actually refer to this period as “hibernation”, that period of time from late October through April and sometimes the end of April as “forced.” Many people make a choice to remain indoors and wait out the long cold months to follow. This time of year is unique, not simply for the obvious. Three years ago, while having lunch at a nearby rooftop restaurant, my daughter remarked how we in the Northeast have just a few precious months in which to enjoy the activities enjoyed year round in warmer climates. As depressing as this may be, I see the seasonal changes as an opportunity to slow, become increasingly introspective and enjoy the changes which are brought by fall and winter.
slow down
The temperature outside is 56-degrees yet I sit outside and write. My accompaniment is a fine cigar and a glass of whiskey. The decision to sit outside was a relatively easy one. The sun plays hide and seek behind the cover of clouds. The dull yellow rays play with one’s memory, a memory of the warmer rays of summer sun. These rays do not warm the body but do offer warmth to the soul. A light breeze plays with the leaves, moving them to and fro across the driveway. Those leaves whose time has come and from which all moisture has gone skate across the driveway propelled by an invisible force and sound as though they are skating across invisible ice. I sit outside and type I am wearing a knit hat and fingerless gloves.  Jeans, sweaters, wool hats, and fleece have replaced shorts, sandals and t-shirts as the dress of choice.
My soul belongs outside. Outside is where we were meant to be.There are many things which I enjoy about Fall. The lack of warmth is not one of them. The sounds and sights which, in the Northeast are seen and heard at only this time of year. A friend who resides just 90-minutes to the south of my location has already received several inches of snow. The snow which has fallen on Whiteface Mountain giving proof to it’s name as it is one of the first peaks in the majestic Adirondack Park to receive snow.
There are things I enjoy about the coming winter months, things which I have forced myself to like and even come to enjoy as location, at least for the foreseeable future, is my home. When the snow accumulates to the amount it makes sense to don a small backpack and snowshoes, the beauty and silence afforded one who seeks both of these things is amazing in its restorative powers.
Go outside and explore. One does not need to  travel far to see the hidden treasures which are often closely held secrets within the outdoors; one simply needs to go outside and open one’s eyes. Once open, one needs to see, without judgment the beauty which surrounds us and for me and others like me brings a level of happiness which cannot be found indoors.


With palms together,

I wish you all a Good Morning.

I woke with my alarm…4:00 AM. I briefly debated with myself, not about running but about getting up to run. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with my early morning runs. One one hand the cards are few and the ability to be left utterly alone with my thoughts are great. The downside, it’s 4:00 AM.

There are nights when I collapse into bed, exhausted from the day’s efforts. I push myself to the limits throughout the day, so much so my physical health has been negatively affected and I have questioned whether or not I need to look for other employment. I think about my private practice and if I am going to put this much time and energy into one activity, it should at least benefit me more directly. There are those days when my satisfaction cannot be measured as it is off the charts with happiness and satisfaction. There are also those days when I question why I am working so hard. It is these times when the run seems uphill and endless.

I enjoy pushing myself to the limits and enjoy the days when a feeling of tired envelopes me like a warm blanket and refuses to let go. Recently I found myself in a downward spiral, a feeling of sadness which I could not shake. When these times arise I find myself feeling sorry for myself. I focus only on the negative and when I attempt to pull myself out of this downward spiral, I find that society at large also focuses on the negative and the spiral deepens making my attempt to pull myself out more difficult. It is times such as these that I begin to resent myself and my profession. The catch-22 is when I find myself in this dark place, emotional exhaustion takes hold and reigns supreme. My running, I allow me the opportunity to revisit these dark places and confront the fears which they contain.

I recently began a new job, one which felt exciting at the time until I realized the interviews with which I was enraptured were to hold more pitfalls, more disappointment than they would excitement. I find myself not wanting to rise early and to participate in the one activity which has helped me cope and helped me to come out of this dark place. Rising at 4:00 AM only reminds me of the start of the day which brings daily disappointment closer to reality. The emotional energy which is drained resurfaces from time to time throughout the day offering a glimmer of hope which is usually broken down within hours.

I have been working on a project and it has been difficult to make the time necessary to continue to move forward. My days have been tedious and filled with activities related to my work which have caused the loss of my love for my career. As a social worker, I help others manage the stressful life events which when not managed well can contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

My time rising and running at 4AM has often been a lifeline of sorts for me. Contrary to popular belief I often have more energy throughout the day than when I do not rise to run. Those same runs also help me to manage the inevitable stress which arises at some points within minutes of my arrival at the office. My runs have become a popular coping mechanism

Many of the barriers which I face throughout the day are self-imposed. I enjoy this concept and the eye rolling as many readers refuse to accept that not everything with which we are confronted is the cause of someone or something else. The self-imposed barriers are a result of our perceptions that our life is not going in the direction which we would like. It is beliefs such as these which lead to self-destructive behaviors and attitudes. When I allow myself to become fixated within the narrow boundaries of these thoughts and beliefs, my struggle with depression becomes increasingly difficult to manage. It can be difficult to remain focused as we navigate through our lives. My strength has been to approach these times with patience, persistence and perseverance which offers a gentle reminder that everything will be alright.


It has been difficult…

With palms together,

I wish you all a Good afternoon

I woke this morning feeling physically and emotionally drained from a work week which left me, or should I say “I allowed the week to drain from me the energy which I need to live a happy, joyous life.” My weekly long run has moved from Saturday to Sunday more out of necessity than of choice.

My new job has left me with questions. There have been more questions than answers. This I can live with as I know the answers are there. Perhaps I am looking to hard and my expectations too great.

The biggest question has been “Do I want to do this anymore?”The first question is “What is this?” This is my career in Social Work. I LOVE meeting with patients and I LOVE the art of counseling and therapy. This job, not unlike others in the past is purely administrative. What I have been exposed to so far has left me speechless and wondering. Like the Seven Wonders of the World, I have been wondering if I want these responsibilities any longer.

My new best friend, in addition to the increase in stress and general unhappiness, has been a blood pressure monitor. While high blood pressure genetically runs in my family and despite running 30-plus miles every week, my blood pressure has been of concern; so much so I have been contemplating contacting my doctor to discuss medication. Medication is not a choice which I wish to pursue but experiencing a stroke is even less tasteful.

I want to believe I have a solid self-care plan which, in addition to my running includes daily meditation. These items in my plan have not been enough to counter my concerns. There appears to be no end in sight for the stress which I have been feeling. The coming week should if my prediction is accurate should bring with it an increase in stress levels which may force me to make decisions or at least a decision.

As I write this piece, I sit in one of the places where stress cannot reach me. It is the one place which actually energizes me and helps me to recharge my batteries and balance the scales. This is a place where finding joy is an easy task. If anyone has guessed, it is the outdoors. I have been walking for over an hour and thoughts of writing have been pouring out of me, so much so I found myself stopping, pulling a notebook from my pocket and writing down these thoughts. I am also reminded that there is no stress with me. My posture has improved as has the weight on my shoulders.

I reached my destination, remove my pack and begin to furiously scribble my thoughts. Happiness returns. For fun, I remove the blood pressure monitor which I allowed to accompany me on this hike. I place it on my wrist and press the start button. The whir of the electronics causes the cuff to tighten and begin to measure my blood pressure. The unit beeps indicating it has completed its task and I cautiously look at the results; well within normal ranges. The only other time during the week has been upon waking and upon returning from a run.

The thought of resigning flashes through my head as it does several times each day. A letter with Thoreau wrote to Harrison Blake on November 16, 1857, said, “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about? This resonates with me as I feel once the key has been retracted from the door of my office and I have entered my office that I have stepped upon a treadmill not to get off until the workday has come to an unofficial end. I say “unofficial” because we reside in a society where leaving the office by 5 PM is often frowned upon and sometimes viewed as a weakness. This belief, in the past had left me with pangs of guilt. It now leaves me with a smile as I speed away from the building which houses my office and to leave it for another day. This treadmill of which I speak seems as all treadmills are to be never ending. Many days pass by with me wondering what I have even accomplished as most days there is nothing measurable but the deep waters over which I have traveled.

Almost as if on cue, a dark cloud passes overhead; the breeze which was cooling now increases and raindrops begin to fall. It’s not going to rain but it is enough to ensure I have cover. Within minutes, the sun begins to again make an appearance. This is my typical workday; cloudy with a chance of sun. The moments of sunshine are synonymous with the time during the day when stress feels less and I find myself smiling and thinking, “This isn’t too bad. I can do this.”

None of us ever wants to admit we are powerless over what happens throughout the day. We are however not powerless over our responses. Choosing to react or respond requires energy. It is this energy which we so willingly choose to give away to others by blaming them for our life situations and life stressors. None of us accepts it is the behavior and attitudes which we choose to respond which will indicate the energy which we have remaining. Amazingly, none of us would be willing to share a morsel of food or a few dollars with another but we are all willing to give others complete and total control over our minds, our responses and more importantly, our happiness.

Decisions will need to be made. My health and happiness are far too important to be impacted by a paycheck…

In Thoreau’s last letter to Myron Benton in 1862, he says, “You ask particularly after my health. I suppose that I have not many months to live; but of course, I know nothing about it. I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing. My desire is to regret nothing and herein lies the decision which will need to be made.


Rain and Introspection

I haven’t written in over a month. It’s strange because I miss writing but at the same time I don’t. 
I’ve been sitting with my laptop for over an hour having typed just 2-3 sentences. I abandoned the laptop and went outside with my iPad, thinking a change of scenery would spur my writing. It did not. I left the iPad for my journal and fountain pen. Instead of thoughts streaming the way they usually do, they felt stuck; not in a bad way. It wasn’t a constipated feeling but one of emptiness. I placed my pen back inside it’s leather pouch, closed my journal and placed these items on the top step. As if I he knew I needed or simply wanted some company, Jack rose from his place laying in the cool grass and walked over to sit by me. He gently placed his head between my arm and torso. Instead of writing we sat in stunned silence as we soaked up the nature around us. 
My writing is my therapy so I hope my lack of writing is an indication that things in my life are in greater balance. I write daily in my journal but nothing from those sessions jumped out at me and said, “This would make a great blog post.” My meditation practice has been consistent and has been helpful managing the feelings associated with the foot injury which has kept me from running. My lack of running secondary to what I believe to be tendinitis in my foot has been easier to accept than I would have ever expected. That alone lets me know I have been doing what I need to do for myself.
In an ongoing effort to maintain balance in my life, I retreat outdoors. Jack sat across the room, his face gently resting on his paws. He was not sleeping but watching; his eyes tracking my movements. I capped my fountain pen, slid it neatly into the leather pouch which cradles it so safely. Jack raised his head. He stood and stretched, never taking his eyes from me. He returned to a sitting position, continuing to watch me. He  anticipated going outside. He loves the outdoors as much as me.
We both stood simultaneously as if we read each other’s minds. I reached for his leash and my umbrella. Jack normally doesn’t like the rain. He won’t venture outside on his own, but once he realized I would be joining him he walked agreeably toward the door. We headed toward the front porch where an umbrella would not be necessary. 
Rain pours from the sky drenching everything it touches. I sit with Jack who sniffs the air. I watch him and smile. I love the fresh smell of the air after it has rained. The ferocity of the rain begins to decrease until eventually it stops. I close my eyes and tilt my head backward. I take a deep breath, one of those breaths which fully fills my lungs. I become aware of the fresh smell, that same smell which hovers in the air when fresh sheets have been placed on my bed.
The memories linger for I know the freshness will not last. Memories continue to flood back. I sit with my eyes still closed, my ears more aware of the nuances of every sound. Rain water drips from the leaves high up in the trees hitting other leaves and the drop what they hold until the additional weight becomes too great and those drops also descend toward the earth. Those drops which are more reluctant to be released from their perch hang on as if fearful of the fall. Their combining weight, forces the boughs onto which they grasp to bend under their combined weight. For a moment, the sound made by these drops leads me to believe the rain has begun again. 
Many of us complain when it rains. We allow ourselves to become frustrated by the unknown gift. We deny the memories most of us have created during our youth when we played in the rain. Rain is now a nuisance; a thing to be avoided. We run from our house to our cars and from our cars to whatever our destination is for the day. Our thought is, “If I run I won’t get wet.” I use rain to reflect and slow down. 
My thoughts during the rain are not what I cannot do but what I can do. It is this process of slowing down which allows reflection less common than when the weather has been “nicer”. It is this perception of the rain which leads us to frustration. This rain, this beautiful life-giving rain is a thing to be cherished and accepted. If only we used the opportunity to be increasingly mindful of this and other situations around us; the situations over which we have little or no control but we allow to control us and ultimately our mood.
As I sat outside with Jack I watched clouds begin to thin and finally part. Slivers of blue began to peek through the parting clouds. Since returning from Florida we have been swamped with rain…17.5″ in the past month. 

Grey skies accompany the rain and rapidly my mood sours. Being mindful of this I look for the opportunity to embrace the weather and all that goes with it.

Why do you want to be (so) unhappy?

I walked to the store this morning in temperatures approaching -1. The sun was shining gloriously through a maze of multi-colored clouds. The snow crunching beneath my feet and the tip of my moustache beginning to freeze as I exhaled. I stood in line with my paper and when it became my turn to pay for my purchases I greeted the clerk with a warm hello and as I left, I suggested she “Have a nice day.” This comment, when it leaves my lips is meant as a soulful gesture; a gesture meant to remind the individual who has received this response that they have the power to “have a nice day.” Neither of my comments was met with a verbal response. There was a response at one point which although audible, was also unintelligible. In fact, it sounded more like a grunt.

I left the store looking forward to the walk home, losing myself in the sound of the snow as it crunched beneath my feet, looking skyward to see the sun breaking through the clouds and thinking, “I’m happiest person on the face of the Earth.”
I have learned many things through my practice of Buddhism; things which were not encouraged through the practice of other spiritual beliefs in which I was forced as a child to participate. One of the most important thing I have learned is that I am responsible for my own happiness. I do not need to be surrounded by others to be happy. I am in fact more happy when I am alone, enjoying the solitude which I have created. Often when around others the chore becomes listening to the litany of complaints. Our society complains about everything, things over which we have no control. Yet we complain as though we have the power to change them. I know an occasional vent releases some of the built up pressure, but there are so many other more proactive ways to release this stress. For me, my meditation cushion beckons. It is a practice with which I look forward to completing at various times during the day. I do not rely on others to meet these needs. In the past I have and have found myself disappointed.
In my work with my patients, I use the metaphor of our daily life being similar to that of a rechargeable battery. If I do not take care of myself and fail to recharge my “battery” I will not have enough energy for those activities which demand my attention. I take care throughout the day to set limits with others and to ensure I am not needlessly spending energy which I do not have; ensuring I have energy remaining for the rest of the day.
Save your energy for the things which you can change and can control. In that space, the space which the Buddha referred to as the “Middle Way”, you will find intrinsic happiness.
“We suffer, then that suffering passes and we feel relieved of it, until suffering returns again, and we suffer, not having learned from the suffering. We’re always thinking, “if this changes, if that changes…”, then something will be different inside, in other words, we’re always thinking the outside shapes the inside. But we’d have much greater joy, satisfaction and deeper meaning if we understand that on the inside, with the mind, we can shape our happiness.”
-Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche