the personal cost of living on high alert: wringing out the sponge that is my self

I have a million things to do. Writing deadlines, research to review, thank you cards to write, parties to plan, news to catch up on, causes to research, and, and, and. It’s all a lot and it’s all things I’ve promised myself I’ll do or things I’ve promised others I’ll do or things I feel as though the-world-and-everyone-in-it NEED me to do. Seriously, there are so many needs right now. Needs that pull at my mind and my heart. Needs to feel and to process and to know and to act. So, a bit ago, I closed my laptop, went into my kitchen and roasted a squash. I went in to get a glass of water but the squash was right there and slicing it brought me close to the earth. While it was cooking I lit my favorite candles and got out old calendars to cut and fashion into valentines. I tossed some nuts and spices and quinoa in with the soft flesh of the roasted gourd and taped and glue sticked and sharpied the most rag-tag valentines ever made. I feel a lot better now.

More than any other time that I can personally remember, we are all on high alert. With the world feeling topsy turvy and fear, anger, and grief all around and within us, we stoke the fire of our overwhelm by trying to make sure that we are informed and active. We put ourselves to sleep with the news and wake up with it. We scroll through endless Facebook posts, finding ourselves falling down rabbit holes of discontent and disagreement, even though we’ve promised ourselves we’ll stop. Out of a sense of powerlessness and insecurity we buttress our weary selves by clinging to the few things we feel that we can control or we become hyper vigilant, being sure that our call is to attend to whatever need we see.

Let me remind us: The need is not the call. The call is the call.

What I mean by this is that every one of us has a unique part we are made to play in this world. We are who we are by intention. I choose to believe that came to be by a Creator in whose image ALL OF US are made. Even with radically different how-we-came-to-be stories, however, I believe that we can universally hold to the idea that each of us has specific and special resources that we are to invest in this crazy thing called life where ever we happen to live it. The trouble is, when we are tired, scared, overwhelmed, under-informed, in denial, or rushingrushingrushing from one thing to the next, we have no way of being with our selves intimately enough to hear what our unique call is. We know what we wish we were good or skilled at. We know what seems most important based upon that which is in front of us (or that which we put in front of ourselves). We attend to our surroundings and the news and our friends/family/neighbors in hyper vigilant ways, trying to ascertain what we should be doing or thinking or feeling in order to make change in the world/be liked/get by. So we keep researching, doing, acting but we never really feel we’ve arrived on a meaningful or sustainable path.

When we feel like this, and there is no break on the foreseeable horizon, it is likely time to step away from the information, the constant updates, the pull of everyone else’s voices, the gas lighting and fear mongering, and even the enticing call of numbness provided by our engagement with addictions of all kinds (to things, to money, to power, to chemicals, to attachmentless sex, to Facebook, to video games, to….). 

It is time to step away. For just a moment or two. The fear of the quiet and stillness is understandable. It is also manageable. It is time to step away.

I know how loud the world is right now. I understand the pull for your attention, the competition for your focus. Facebook and Youtube work diligently to keep you in their spaces (trust me, this is real). Algorithms created by every click you’ve ever made, combined with credit card purchases and gps location trails, lure you in with moremoremore of what you already can’t resist. Things are changing rapidly and values central to your core are being challenged or, perhaps, advanced, and you feel a need to be up to date. To be current. To not be surprised. Your mind keeps reminding you that this is happening there and the other thing is happening then there’s that article and that blog and that meeting and that action and and and…

I often think of a sponge when I think about living in this kind of climate. To be effective, a sponge needs to be damp, then wrung out, before going to work. After cleaning up a spill or two its saturation point is reached and trying to clean the third and fourth mess results in a much bigger puddle. When wrung out, however, after the second clean up, it’s ready for spills three, four, and five. The important part of the sponge’s effectiveness is in the wringing out.

We are all a bit like sponges.

The world (of information, needs, people, thoughts, feelings, actions, etc, etc, etc) today (and every day) will saturate us in mere moments.

It is time to wring our selves out. Time to step away. Time to roast a squash, light some candles, and cut some paper. Time to leave our phones in the car when we’re at home and at home when we’re in the car every once in a while. Time to take an hour (or two or twelve) away from media. Time to breathe fresh air and look people in the eye and find some quiet. Time to eat food and taste it, to look at art/beauty and see it. Time to take a nap or stare into space or sew or build something or write a poem or sing a song. Time to do anything but chase the needs. They will wait.

In times like these, where tensions and emotions are high, news shocking and plentiful, and communities split along highly conflicted lines, we need times of respite in order to discern our call from the more than plentiful needs. These times will not present themselves on their own. They must be made and, sometimes, fought for. They must be planned for and protected. Further, they require us to soothe ourselves as we step away. To remind ourselves that the news and information and need will still exist when we return but that if we don’t wring out, we’ll make a bigger mess when we act.

So, today, right now, how can you create and protect a time for wringing? Don’t believe the lie that it is impossible. In order for you to accomplish all you want/need to accomplish you must make space in the sponge. If this analogy isn’t working for you, in order to give withdrawals to the world, you must refill and reinvest in your self.

Find five minutes then commit to making it ten. Better yet, find an hour. Best of all, create an entirely new rhythm where you change a daily pattern that keeps you so saturated that you are a mess waiting to happen (not having your phone with you in bed might be the best new pattern ever). 

Start where you are with what you have. You don’t need anything especially pampering or distracting or new. In fact I’ll load you up with ideas below. For now, create the space. Make in happen within this day, better yet, within the next few hours. Turn off your notifications or power off your devices altogether. Use the ideas below or come up with something all yours but wring out the sponge. Tune in to the call*.

Some ideas for wringing out the sponge that is you:

Go for a walk or a run or a bike ride. Don’t worry about getting to the perfect place to explore just go for the outing.

Breathe deeply, inhaling through the nose (smell the roses) and exhaling through the mouth (blow out the candles). Lie on the floor and pretend that there is a penny on your belly. When you inhale the penny should rise, when you exhale the penny should drop down.

Color, draw, sketch, do a sudoku, or work on a puzzle. Make a collage by tearing pictures out of the catalogues or magazines in your recycle bin and tape. Don’t worry about the outcome. The goal is to let your mind rest and wander.

Use your coffee grounds from your morning pot of coffee to make dough and play with it for a while. Click here for the recipe.

Make a paper airplane and fly it. Make several and notice what works and doesn’t. 

Learn to fold an origami crane by clicking here.

Find a traditional foot reflexology place and try it out. Most of these offer full body, fully clothed acupressure/massage with special emphasis on the feet and very affordable prices.

Practice a mindfulness meditation or contemplative prayer. Click here and here and here for some good resources.

Prepare or purchase a food or drink item that is filled with smell and texture and color. Eat it slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the sites, smells, tastes, and feels of it. Indian food is my personal favorite for this kind of experience.

Find a paper book that has been pleasurable, comforting, or “escapist” for you. Read it. If you can, read for as long as you possibly can without tending to any devices.

Go to a library or bookstore and linger. At some point, make your way to the children’s section and look at a picture book or two.

Soak your feet in a tub of hot hot water or take a bath or shower that is longer than normal.

Put on a favorite piece of calming music. Position yourself between your speakers. Do nothing but listen. Lie on the floor and feel the vibration if you can or want to. 

Print a finger labyrinth here. Sit and trace your finger along the path, letting your mind release thoughts while you move toward center. When you arrive at center take several deep breaths and try to embody peace. Try to “take” the peacefulness out from the center with you.


*  The things that you are “called” to in life are things that you are meant to do. They are things that, while difficult or costly at times, give you life when you do them. They are things that make you feel as though you are “in the groove” or “in the flow.” Things in keeping with your call are things that fire you up, that interest you, and that pull your imagination and energy toward them. Some people find the phrase “Only do what only you can do” to be helpful in discerning a call. For instance, I often tell people that I’m happy to clean toilets, decorate, or emcee at their events…whatever they need. In reality, lots of people might like behind the scenes work or would be much better decorators from me but few folks are comfortable talking in front of a group.