I came across a Memory in Facebook the other day. It kind of took me back, in a good way.
I had left a job that was very stressful and taken a position as a clerk (more or less), as a way to get my foot in the door of another organization that I thought would be better for me. Barry had given me a hand-made leather-bound journal (pictured above) and I used it to help calm my nerves. I wrote in it, I did Zentangle and I drew. I more or less kept that journal with me wherever I went and sought out quiet time for myself, time to be with my journal and my thoughts.
I had begun the Zentangle a few months previous to that, as a way to help manage the stress. It works, if you approach it right. Slow, deliberate lines drawn in a small space can be very meditative. I listened to ambient music on YouTube (Chill music) and did everything I could to not have a meltdown. (It really was a rough period.) I usually spent some time each day tangling with relaxing music playing.
My new job has taken a stressful turn as we change software. Transitions are never easy, and this one is taking its toll on all of us. The other day I saw the picture above on a Facebook memory and I could feel the tingling of the physical effect of relaxing. I have spent so much time tangling and doodling that I’ve created an conditioned response for myself, without even setting out to do so.
Do you ever smell something that takes you back? Nutmeg and Christmas as a child, perhaps? Or, consider the beautiful way an old love song can make you feel the way you did twenty years ago. You’re minding your own business when a song comes on the radio and you’re suddenly in love with somebody again, feeling all the anxiety, inadequacy and elation that comes with young love. When I was a kid we always got fruit in our stockings at Christmas, so when I smell and orange or grapefruit being peeled I’m immediately a child on Christmas morning again, even if for just a moment.
It seems that in the same way I trained myself to relax by doodling, simply by repeating the exercise over and over for an extended period of time. I typically was in a coffee shop or somewhere I could be among people, but still be alone. I didn’t go into the practice with the idea of setting myself up a psychological safety net for the future; I simply wanted to learn to calm my nerves. (I still tangle and doodle, though not with the same frequency.)
When I think about it, I realize that this is not new, not even for me. I’ve read advice on how to learn conditioned responses, by rubbing your thumb on a polished stone in your pocket, for instance. Those things always made sense to me, but they were still rather foreign. Seeing this picture made it concrete. It produced a physical response in me – a relaxing of the muscles in my shoulders and a slowing of breathing.
I’m glad that I chose something that I can look at now. Meditation in any form can be relaxing, but it doesn’t really afford the visual cue that I had when I happened to see the picture. I suppose I could train myself to meditate while rubbing my polished stone and then the polished stone would give me the same cue, but the drawing seems a little stronger. The doodling and drawing were physical exercises. Meditation is physical as well, but it’s almost the opposite of doing something. I have meditated; we spent a great deal of time practicing that when I was younger. I’ve never experienced this sort of response from that time, though. I suppose, knowing what I now know, I could condition myself, but I have a lovely way to do that already that works very well for me. I think I’ll stick to my quiet doodling, but with renewed purpose.
I’ve moved on to mandalas, as well. I still tangle, but I spend more time drawing mandalas than practicing Zentangle these days. I’ll post some pictures of my mandalas when I have more of a collection. In the meantime, I’ll continue to come home, sit by myself with nice music playing and draw slow, deliberate lines, meditating and relaxing. I’ll continue to reinforce this auto-response for myself. I encourage you to try it.
And how about you? What do you do to relax? Have you found yourself at the end of your tether? If so, how did you get through it? I’d love to hear from you.