Life Lessons from Bucket Bathing

life lessons from bucket bathing

I recently had a small, then a big, then a huge leak in my second-floor bathroom drain pipe. This resulted in not just mold and warped walls in my kitchen but also the inability to use my shower and bathtub for about two months. It took me that long to find the right contractor and get the job completed.

I usually shower every day, even though it dries out my greying hair and aging skin. Not having access to a regular flow of water was a bit of a gross out for me. In addition, it limited my activity a bit. I was reluctant to do anything which might result in perspiration, like excessive yard work or going to the gym, as it would have been difficult to get clean.

Without a shower, I had a few options. I could have joined a fitness club, one with a shower as my low frills club has none, especially since many of them offer a free introductory month. I also could have asked friends or family to use their shower. Another option would have been to stay in a hotel. And because I live very close to not one but two rivers, a final option would be to bathe riverside.

In the end, I decided to bathe the old fashioned way, though not quite as old-fashioned as river bathing – by using a small bucket, soap, and washcloths next to my bathtub.

My time spent bathing in this way was actually quite delightful. Everything was quiet and slowed down. Instead of hearing the rushing water by my ear, I heard the sound of birds singing nearby and the hum of children playing in the distance. I noticed things that would otherwise have escaped my attention during those moments.

Yet, I would not want to bucket bathe forever. This experience helped me to appreciate having an in-home shower so, so, so, so much.

In the city where I live, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 175 occupied homes that have incomplete plumbing facilities. That means that hundreds of my neighbors need to, on a regular basis, accommodate this structural deficiency by bucket bathing or whatever method they have devised. In addition, toward the end of my bucket bathing experience, Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas. How could I possibly complain about my lack of access to water when so many lives were lost and disrupted due to this deluge?

My short bucket bathing time helped me to put a lot in perspective. It made me realize how fortunate I am, due to geography alone, and how much I take for granted on a daily basis. I am grateful to have had this experience, but I am also relieved that it is now over!

Yoga is Free!

Yoga is Free

I went on my first yoga retreat in the 1990s, to a somewhat stoic place in the majestic Berkshire Mountains. At the time, I was a recent college graduate who earned little money working at a shelter for women experiencing homelessness. Yet, through yoga all things seemed possible — not just travel to not so far away places, but also a deeper sense of connection to my purpose and desires.

Today, about twenty years later, I have mixed feelings about the growth of yoga in American society. While its now commonplaceness makes it, in some respects, more accessible to people in multiple life spectra through proximity, it has also become a huge industry. Like its sister mindfulness practice meditation, yoga also has, to some extent, become an elitist practice that makes the uninitiated feel uncomfortable and excluded through profuse use of Sanskrit without adequate translation, expensive accessories, and the removal (disconnection) of spirituality or even personal transcendence for the less spiritually inclined from its teachings.

Because I have practiced yoga for more than 20 years, to one extent or another, I find myself on many mailing lists for products and services related to mindfulness practices. One such mailing list, which thankfully I have been removed from — probably because I was found to be an unwilling customer — was a meditation supplies catalog. Now, I understand that there are many specialty items that can be used to enhance meditation practice and that these items aren’t found in every corner store. Yet, seeing all of these things for sale in one non-renewable energy guzzling mail order place signified to me a shift in understanding yoga and meditation as a space for commerce in addition to a space for connection and transformation.

This shift is a divergence from the true meaning of mindfulness practice. Yoga is free. Meditation is free. They are practices that we perform do at any moment, not avenues to promote consumption. They are about connection — both inward and to all living beings, an integration of our minds, bodies, and spirits both individually and collectively. Yoga and meditation are immediately available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Good yoga teachers are wise sages. Like artists, they inspire beauty, bring out the best in us, and build community. We should support them, including with our precious resources, because they add value to our lives. We should also support people who create safe spaces for us to practice yoga and meditation. And yes, we should support the companies that provide products and services to complement our practice. We can practice awareness by noticing when we use our mindfulness practices as opportunities to overconsume and the ways that we unintentionally exclude people, people who might so greatly benefit from this knowledge and participation, by how we talk about and present opportunities to practice yoga and meditation. The intent of yoga and meditation has traditionally been to unite, not to divide.

Like punk rock, all good things eventually become commoditized. Such was the argument made — not about punk rock specifically but about music in general — by political economist Jacques Attali in his awesome book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. We can resist this tendency by focusing on what is most important to our yoga and meditation practice – awareness, rootedness, connection, unity, and well-being.

Intentional Carelessness

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Intentional carelessness is the act of purposefully choosing not to attach ourselves to what happens or to what happens as a result of what happens. It is a stance that promotes curiosity and openness to experiencing life as it is lived without judgment or regret. It means that we do not take ourselves and our preconceived, rigid ideas about the world seriously; however, the fate of the world, and our actions or lack of action that contributes to its status, remain worthy of our reflection and commitment. We care about what happens but long to understand it through the hue of multiple, interchangeable lenses that together form a more comprehensive yet mysterious snapshot of reality. We effortlessly move on when we fail, and we are humbled by this experience. This is both our choice and our undeniable privilege because we choose to care about what matters most and to not care when caring becomes a hindrance to our humanity.

Mind = Action

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What happens in our minds and our actions are mutually influential. Our minds offer us the freedom to be open, continually metamorphic, and generative. What we think or feel is followed by what we do. We respond and react to what we do with our thoughts. Actions are more permanent than thoughts as they impact or are observed by other people, or, if they aren’t, involve objects if only the molecules in the air that we breathe — and therefore have a broader consequence than our thoughts. Our actions are often based on methodical, careful, purposeful deliberations that occur in our minds; however, they represent a closure to our thoughts — they are the result what occurs when what we have mulled over in our minds within the context of our environment and identity leads to some movement, some word, some formative engagement with the world. Our minds offer us the opportunity to explore without the constraints and finality of our actions. So mind itself is detached action that will, in some way and at some time, manifest in some type of expression that has transformative potential. To think is to take action, and to take action is to invest in our thinking.

40 for 40: All the Rest

Last year, I made a pact with a fellow friend, who shared with me the momentous occasion of turning 40, to do 40 things to celebrate this life event. I further pledged to do one more thing every year, a total of 41 things to mark my 41st birthday, etc., in future years.

As the lack of posts on this topic demonstrates, I have somewhat abandoned this approach to marking my year. Any undertaking truly worthy of turning 40 would likely be too private to fully write about on this blog, and the list seemed like a chore rather than a celebration.

So instead, I am focusing my attention on living in the moment and being grateful for the opportunity to continue doing so day after day. It is these virtues that will enable me to get the most out of what will surely continue to be a splendid year. Rather than checking items off of a list, I am generating new interpretations of my life which enrich it beyond measure.

A Fine Appreciation of Underrated Things

The humble dandelion is one of my favorite flowers. They joyfully brighten up otherwise ordinary lawns, offering visual variation through texture and color. The dandelion is also rich in many nutrients, such as vitamins K, A, and C, iron, calcium, and riboflavin, and they can be used medicinally to treat many ailments. They can even be made into wine.

dandelion

I recently subscribed to Wine Spectator, a magazine I first heard about while watching a PBS telethon; ironically I got it at no cost by using points from a recycling program. Despite my profound appreciation of fermented fruits, I hesitated to subscribe for years because I thought it would be a bit like my first visit to a winery when I was told by a snooty sommelier that I was not yet “ready” to try a certain wine. Instead, I have found it to be a lovely celebration of exceptionality, nuanced beauty, and delicacy — many of the ideals that I most cherish. It is also about agriculture, geography, food, and family stories. With each issue I travel around the world and have the opportunity to learn something new. While some of the profiled wines are out of my current reach— for consumption but not necessarily for investment if I had both proper storage and the ability to resist opening an intensely mysterious bottle — there are reviews of wines that are a good value, and even of those that from the label alone I had previously considered to be an inferior choice even within a limited budget.

Every day, we are surrounded by people, animals, natural objects, smells, colors, and other things that subtly add something unique and precious to our world. But too often these people, places, and things become background noise or are even dismissed because of their perceived irrelevance. Even I, as a naturally appreciative person who tries to intentionally be even more so, am often too quick to be apathetic or judgmental.

Like one of my favorite children’s storybook characters, Ferdinand the Bull, taught us — we need to just sit among the trees and smell the flowers. It is there that we will find the rarest beauty both in the world and inside ourselves.

Heartfulness

heart

The concept of mindfulness has become popularized in recent years as a result of the work of many teachers, writers, and practitioners. And I am very grateful! Being more aware of who we are and what we do, living in the moment, and being intentional about our thoughts and actions are all integral to leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

But it isn’t enough. Without a full and open heart to center and connect our mind to something greater than ourselves, whether it be communal or spiritual or both, the practice of mindfulness can become esoteric, and sometimes egocentric.

I don’t think many mindfulness practitioners would disagree with me. At least I hope not. Indeed, the way mindfulness is typically taught and practiced, at least in my experience, promotes the fluid integration of mind, body, and spirit.

But something about the term mindfulness seems deficient to me. It begs for a companion to demonstrate that the mind alone does not fully represent our human experience.

Heartfulness is a complementary concept that builds on the idea of mindfulness. It focuses not on the thinking and feeling of mindfulness, but on being and doing instead. It is a process through which we can create resilient hearts, leading to more peace and love in the world. Heartful means to be full of curiosity, acceptance, understanding, responsiveness, forgiveness, and hope. It is to be our most beautiful selves despite the challenges and turmoil we face. When we practice heartfulness, we don’t need to think about being intentional because we consistently connect with and express the pure love in our hearts. It is to be who we are meant to be, a continual expression of our deepest desires and dreams.

A Day in Bed

a day in bed

I sometimes have days where I feel like I just don’t want to get out of bed. How nice it would be to have the time to just think and reflect, maybe read good books, write poetry, and drink tea, without any expectation of productivity. But I never do. While a day resting at the beach seems to be a perfectly acceptable means of relaxation, a day in bed comes across as somehow slovenly and pathetic.

Although I intellectually realize how important rest is to physical and emotional health, often leading to improved productivity in the end, I have a difficult time allowing myself this indulgence. So even on those days when the bed and the precious gift of time for me is calling my name, I wake up no later than 6:30 a.m. (weekends included) and pack my day with sensibly constructive activities—many of which I enjoy, and others which merely feel obligatory.

I do allow myself the occasional nap, though I find it difficult to wind down and relax. I’m always on edge, always thinking about what I ought to be doing, always considerate of the great need in the world and how I can in some small way be making a difference. Naps can be refreshing, but they can also provoke unnecessary anxiety when they detract from fulfillment of my purpose. Or so it seems.

A few years ago, I created a t-shirt that simply stated ‘my dharma is to breathe and to be.’ While I sincerely believe this mantra in my heart of hearts, I so often have a difficult time embodying this fundamental belief through my daily actions. My purpose is complex and intertwined with commitments to myself and others.

But if only I would focus on the breathing and the being, I believe I would be a better servant. A more fulfilled human being. I would contribute more in the end.

So while a day in bed may seem, at first, to be a totally unproductive waste of time, I think it can instead be a form of radical resistance to the chaotic monotony of always doing, striving, and pushing forward. It is a way to be still with myself, restore my spirit, enjoy life and the moment at hand, and appreciate connection to life through the simple beauty of my breath. Perhaps I will try it one day.

Delighting in Disappointment

My life has been filled with disappointment. I’m sure that you have experienced a lot of disappointment as well. We all experience times when things don’t work out quite the way we expect or would like them to happen, like relationships that end unexpectedly, project proposals that are unfunded, job opportunities that are offered to another candidate, and betrayals of our trust. There are many, many more things that can potentially cause us disappointment in any given day.

Disappointment usually occurs when we give our power away to other people and plan our lives around an outcome over which we have little to no control. This is something we do because it makes intuitive sense to expect the best, or at least for things to continue as they always have. Disappointment is a part of life. If we fail to experience disappointment, we have probably also failed to push ourselves hard enough to explore new opportunities that could potentially infuse our lives with more meaning and joy.

Disappointment is an opportunity for learning and growth in disguise. But too often we react to disappointment with self-indulgent reeling rather than radical self-healing. Dismissal by others can be interpreted as rejection of our ideas, our projects, our work, or even the core of who we are. It hurts our feelings, and makes us question our value. Maybe we think that we are all that when we really just plain old suck.

But maybe other people are not yet ready to cross the boundaries that we find beautifully exhilarating. Maybe the world needs what we have to offer, but not the whole entire world and everyone in it. Maybe there are better opportunities waiting for us. Maybe there are people counting on us to continue on and come forward with whatever it is that we have to offer that could dramatically improve their lives. Disappointment reminds us that we have the freedom to organize our lives around those things that are most closely aligned with our hearts’ desire. One no means one million possible yeses.

Self-Deception

sunlight

Inauthenticity is a faint, futile fugue that robs life of its mystery and meaning. Yet, social survival compels us to hide, to shift, and to manipulate who we are for ironically what we perceive to be our own benefit within that system. Yet it is us who suffers, our spirits depleted and our dreams unfulfilled. We have doubly deceived ourselves.

Eventually, sooner for some and later for others, we come to a point in our lives when we recognize that self-acceptance and genuine self-expression are preferable to shadowing our most special and unique characteristics. We find that doing this not only brings about a sense of personal satisfaction, it also contributes greatly to the world around us. Our self-deception slips away to make room for our true selves, those selves that yearn to shine through all of the darkness in the world.