What do you do that keeps you sane?
I’m guessing that a lot of us have things we do that would appear impractical and odd to anyone who observed us doing them (if we actually let anyone observe us doing them). They’d count as silliness were it not for one factor: the good they do us.
A “thing” I did this last winter was something I learned from Bodhisattva the cat. Over the years, my family has laughed at her for this practice, but she’s never seemed to care.
Late in the day, “Bo” (as we call her) will gravitate to west-facing windows in search of sunrays. She’ll search for a while during the greyest stretches of an Indiana winter. She’ll persevere, though, and when she finds even a hint of sun, she’ll stretch herself out in it. On carpets, in chairs, across bedquilts – she’ll position herself anywhere that lets her stretch that little body out and expose as much black fur as possible to the sun. Soon, her fur feels hot to the touch.
On cold days that feels wonderful. This last winter I was craving that kind of warmth for myself. I have a condition which worsened this winter and led me to give up outdoors exercise in the cold weather. No more walks during gentle snowfalls, no more bike rides on brisk days, no more getting out to take advantage of winter sunshine – I gave it all up.
If you don’t love that kind of thing, then that won’t sound like much of a loss. I loved that kind of thing, though. I counted those activities as some of my winter “mental health moments” that helped me change gears, de-stress, let go of whatever I needed to let go of on any given day. Those outings let me get moving and give my mind, body, and spirit some time to relax together, to work together, and to reconnect. I hated that, of all things, these outdoors activities were the very things that my body called me to give up this last winter.
Have you ever had to give up doing something that you loved to do?
It meant frustration for me. It meant winter stir-craziness to the nth degree. It meant agitation and discouragement. And, when I started paying a little more attention to Bo the cat, it eventually meant an opportunity for some creativity. At least, that’s how I began to reframe it.
Late in the days when we had anything that even remotely resembled sunshine, I’d join Bo by a west-facing window. With my body so much larger than hers, I didn’t always find a way to stretch out my entire self in a ray of sun. Instead, I focused on letting the last of the day’s sun fall across my face.
Some days I’d gaze out the window and watch light illuminating the lines of dull-colored winter brush, suddenly not quite so dull. Some days I’d lay on the floor, close my eyes, and bask in the vibrant orange-ish light of sun through my eye lids. Some days I’d take my portable, apartment-sized elliptical machine and push it right up to the window where I could exercise and feel, as much as possible, surrounded by the sun.
What can I say? I felt the brightness in my eyes and the warmth in my body. In my mind, I pictured smiles. For the occasional and briefest of moments, it would sometimes even feel as if the day, or the universe, or some beloved person was smiling upon me. From time to time, it even made me ponder the smile of God and what that would look like.
For those briefest moments, I could almost feel my body, mind, and spirit resting together in a place of wholeness, which is what I think I mean when I refer to “sanity.” I even started to think of these unorthodox winter moments as a spiritual practice of sorts. They changed my gears and let my insides settle. They helped me relax and listen to whatever I was needing to listen to at the time. Mental health moments and spiritual practices – both – can look quite different for different people, and this sunshine through winter windows was doing something very healthy and sanity-nurturing inside of me.
What about you? What do you do that keeps you sane? Like the feel of winter sun on my face, I’m wishing you your own sense of warmth, your own reminders of smiles, and your own pauses of wholeness and sanity these days.
The Beauty of Rest: Contemplative Essays* (Clay Patin Press 2023) is available for free on Kindle today (3/21/23 Pacific Time) only.