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Small World

Sometimes my life feels rich and expansive. I am engaged in creative projects, I get to have fun, inspiring conversations with my friends, I’m making plans to travel someplace interesting, and I’m reading a book I can barely put down. Then, in a split second, something changes, and my focus has to narrow for a while. Most recently, it was the birth of nine puppies. It wasn’t a surprise, but they came a few days early, and it threw us off our schedule. And that’s my point. The extenuating circumstances are relative. One day, we’re spinning along with a broad view of the world around us, and the next, all of our energies are concentrated in one, tiny direction.

I’m sure this is all part of some grand lesson in learning resilience and flexibility, and as I get older I’m more and more aware of the need for these traits. Maybe we need more constant reminders that life really is in the details and that floating around carefree is just the occasional prize. Whatever the point, I’m realizing these days—between cleaning out the puppy bed and making sure someone is here to feed the mom every few hours—that self-care has to be intentional. But it’s hard to remember.

I think about this when I talk to my friends who are caring for ailing parents, or still managing teenagers, or facing an illness themselves. When our worlds get small and narrowly focused—for whatever reason—it’s easy to forget the importance of taking care of our precious selves. To do it, we have to pull back the microscope, take a deep breath and remember to ask our selves what we really need. Even if it’s a walk around the block, or a nap, or a few minutes with that book I set down three weeks ago right before these puppies were born.

Maybe we need more constant reminders that life really is in the details and that floating

around carefree is just the occasional prize.

And I’m certainly not blaming my stress and anxiety on puppies. They are just a reminder of how quickly I can lose my equilibrium and how meaningful that balance really is to my well being. It also makes me realize how easy it is for me to put my state of mind into the hands of outside forces. During the lovely, lush days when life is easy and fun, I would say that I am good at taking care of myself, at finding stability when I need it, and at knowing what I need and when I need it. When my focus is narrowed for one reason or another? Not so much.

And it really does happen regularly. I’m keenly aware at the holidays, for example, of the growing sense of smallness attached to anxiety. Just after Thanksgiving, I might wander aimlessly through the holiday decorations section at Target, fantasizing about a lovely holiday. By the first week in December, I’ll toss around a few ideas for outside lights amid projects at work and remembering to exercise. By the week before Christmas, I have every spare moment scheduled for either a holiday event, Christmas shopping, baking, or wrapping. Big, fun life to tiny stress ball in less than a month.

This couple of weeks of puppies have been a great lesson, and a perfect metaphor. As adorable as they are, the change in schedule, the anxiety associated with their early birth, and the chaos in my living room has thrown me for a loop. I am a person for whom order and routine are a mantra. But I also get the ridiculousness of that given how few things in our lives we actually do control.

It certainly isn’t the first time I’ve considered this, but I’m reminded that I might feel a whole lot more substantial in the face of change and chaos if I spent more time in meditation or some other method of grounding. I see this week, as I race from puppy poo, to 16 loads of wash filled with dog blankets, to making extra food for the mom, that having practiced a way to keep myself a bit more centered would have helped. It’s also a reminder that the lessons never end. And that, I think, is good.

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