Sensory Overload and a Harsh Taskmaster

Peg Mulqueen
Alhambra Ustrasana

Monotype, 1/1 Santoro

Model is Peg Mulqueen– you should check out her blog too!

My latest project is painting the interior of our house.  I should practice now but I’m drinking a warm cup of coffee and writing, so I’ll practice later.  I’ll be more flexible by mid-day and it will force me to take a break from painting the dining room, which is coming along but it’s a project that you just can’t really make go quickly.  Painting home interiors is about slow, steady progress.  I often approach it like I do a painting I’m working on.  I work for a few hours, then take a break, get something to eat or drink, and sit in the space and allow the next step reveal itself to me.  This house is currently my work of art.

If there’s one lesson that I seem to be absorbing lately it’s the lesson of don’t know.  When I acknowledge that I don’t know something, it opens up space for learning.  For example, in the mornings I struggle with anxiety.  Taking a shower helps, something about the hot water and steam soothes an overactive mind.   My mind rapidly spins out nets of thought while I endeavor to notice without identifying with them.  The next step is to turn my awareness to the spaces between the thoughts, and to inhabit those spaces a little bit, to notice the quality and timbre of no thought for the briefest of instants.  Then everything starts to settle, breathing slows, and I don’t feel so anxious anymore. 

This opens the door for a new thought:  that I am more or less constantly over-stimulated.  By mid-morning on a typical day I’ve gotten up early, written in my journal, practiced yoga and/or walked with my dog, gotten 3 children up and off to school which is quite a task let me tell you, returned home to clean up the detritus of the morning meal, and ingested breakfast along with a cup or two of strong coffee.  My mind whirls, a choppy blender full of tasks and projects.  It’s much easier on a day when I go to work for someone else, then the tasks are clear and the boss relatively easy to please.  But I am a harsh taskmaster and my to-do list for a day usually holds a week’s worth of tasks.  Impossible. 

So I’m overstimulated and for a break in the afternoon I sit down at this laptop computer and look at facebook and read my favorite blogs.  If I examine that habit there are these great nuggets of information that I find, it’s true, but after a while I’m just surfing from one wave to the next, not even reading complete articles but skimming the surface of a wide variety of things.  There’s no depth.  Finally I leave off this fruitless enterprise and lie on the floor and hug my legs to my chest. 

Ahhh.  There it is, what I really needed.  A brief pause, a reduction of sensory input. 

It’s easier to notice in others than in myself.   I’ve always been quick thinking and frustrated with people who can’t keep up.  Once in a while you meet someone who has the self-possession of a mountain and makes you question the value of a mind that leaps from one topic to the next in rapid fire succession. There is Catherine E, a fabulous artist with a strong, clear presence.  Talking to her made me feel  uncouth, as if I were sitting in the presence of the divine and all I could think about was my next manicure.  I have a friend like that, J, and while I rattle on and on about a million tiny things, she often says the one perfect thing that cuts through the static, revealing the knot in the wood. These women and others I admire exude a quietly profound wisdom that unravels pride in speed.  As if the hare has finally noticed that the tortoise embodies something of value, something heretofore barely noticed and poorly understood. 

This hare is working on heeding the lessons of the tortoise.  And while I’m at it, to come up with a realistic to-do list and remind myself that I’m doing a good job.  It’s amazing how much that helps.