Coastline Pilot/LA Times
12 November 2004
Chasing the Muse
What I know to be constant is change.
The colors of deciduous trees have shifted from greens to red and gold, and a slight chill in the air declares the season of the sweater. Clocks have taken their annual leap backwards, and morning has regained her early light, making high tide beach navigation not quite so treacherous. Christmas decorations festoon the fronts of local restaurants, and gifts already fill the shelves of hungry retailers. The 2004 political campaign has ended and a new round of policy discussion has begun to entrench the media.
Change bears the chance to set aside the differences of yesterday and put energy and direction into today’s agenda. What can I do to make my day? How best shall I fill my hours?
Beyond the obvious, which is the work that each of us has selected as our life’s avocation, the question bears more on the elements of our perception and the energies that we create. I hold the practice each morning of choosing my emotional state before leaving the sanctuary of my bed. I consciously roll my thoughts around, pressing negativity to the edges, and proceed to select descriptors such as joy, compassion, or kindness. This might sound ‘namby-pamby’, to use a term of my grandmother’s, but intention has power, and to create and set an emotional state is the work of the mind.
It takes no real skill to select a positive state as a context in which to experience the waking hours before me. I could just as easily let the grumblings of an over-filled schedule dictate irritation, but that would follow me like a bad rash, and I’d likely spend most of the day scratching, until raw and uncomfortable.
I am fully aware of the likelihood that somewhere between the hours dedicated to sleep, I’ll be confronted by an event which challenges my choice. I’ll be forced to re-evaluate my position, and choose again, with greater intensity and focus. An unkind word, spoken callously, with little regard to its outcome, can undermine the best intentions. News, which burdens the heart, also challenges a framework grounded in an opposing emotion. Think -love/hate, war/peace, joy/sorrow.
The opportunity arises to explore the full range of human responses. Science and extensive medical studies have proven that one of the greatest health risks we face is that of stress. As an observer of my reaction to outside influences, I become more aware of my ability to process negative information, yet remain internally unaffected.
My friend, George, says that, “Stress is when your head tells you to do something that makes you feel sick to your stomach.” Seems as if he’s discovered a simple mechanism to measure the power of personal choices. How often, you might ask yourself, does an expression of kindness or compassion create an aching gut? I would venture, rarely.
If I select compassion as my guide for the day, I am able to apply it not only to externally driven experiences, but also to myself. The driver who cuts me off at the corner might be under great pressure. I have the ability to not internalize an angry response to their bad auto practices. The client who overreacts in a screaming rant, may in fact, be struggling with unseen issues. I have the choice to listen, apply necessary solutions, and not become embroiled in a heated exchange.
Outside, the bamboo sways, the high school band plays yet another chorus of their Beatles medley, while the crows squawk and chase the redtail. I pull my sweater a bit tighter, watch a small fishing boat troll along the coastline, and notice that the sun’s trajectory has shifted dramatically to the south. Seasons roll through, both internally and externally, and change is the watchword. For this day, and all its beauty, I select joy.
Catharine Cooper can be reached at email@example.com
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