“What color is your soul?” my dear friend commonly asks of people. It’s a wonderful trick, eliciting answers as colorful as her personality. With her question, she creaks open a doorway which allows people to get real about their lives. My partner and I have adopted a less abstract version of this tradition: as we are climbing into bed or embarking on a long car-ride, we might ask “how is your soul?”.
An answer that often wraps up the state of my soul is “scattered.”
I tend to answer this way when I can’t seem to catch up: when I don’t catch the bus on time, can’t get caught up on my to-do list, am unable to grasp fleeting but strong emotions that keep overcoming me, when I can’t catch my breath. I know I’m in this space when I start re-arranging the apartment to find that “perfect” feng shui. Or when I respond to the dishes in the sink by scrolling through bigger kitchens on a real-estate app. Even if they can’t communicate it, my daughters know I’m in this space when I sit down to play with them and don’t last five minutes before I get up again or have pulled out my phone.
Recently, the end of another day like this had arrived. The apartment was finally quiet, so I lit my candle and took a deep breath of burning wick and artificial evergreen. Making to-do lists and distracting myself with chores could only get me so far. I was ready to ask myself “how was my soul?”. I shut my eyes to the piles of unfolded laundry and let the day wash over me, first simply noticing, then thinking.
You’re feeling stressed about life in a cramped apartment with a toddler.
Taking a deep breath, I exhaled out the un-named anxiety I’d been holding all day. I inhaled in the gratitude I’d forgotten.
Remember that this urban, stay-at-home mom lifestyle also means access to so many walkable opportunities. Which you have more time for with less space to clean and property to maintain.
I felt my shoulders relax and realized how tight they’d been.
You spent the whole day inside because of a cancelled playdate. You know that makes you angsty. This was just one day; the rest of your calendar is full. Don’t get stuck in your forever- thinking.
I wondered where this wisdom has been all day when I needed it, but I fought back the urge to critique myself, not wanting to disrupt the calm that had been ushered in.
Not all of my scattered emotions are rationalized away so easily. Sometimes diving into them just makes me feel worse. Trying to analyze a tense relationship, I often end up in my own defensive monologue again, instead of a compassionate insight. Lack of answers twist my stomach into knots. The smell of my candle becomes nauseating.
When situations don’t have simple solutions, my only resolution comes from giving the problem a name. The mere recognition that something effects me lessens its power over me. I can better accept my situations if I can agree out loud to what I’m accepting.
As I settled into the end of my meditation on being “scattered,” an image came to my mind. I was back on the California beach from our summer vacation. There had been a few hours where I had to pass some time, so I trekked down to a nearby beach with my daughter on my back. Unlike the beaches near our apartment in Chicago, these beaches had rough sand and were littered with stones and oceanic debris. My 15-month old daughter delighted in this. She took off her shoes and waddled around in the wet sand, giggling every time the waves tickled her feet. She wobbled away from the shore, towards the rocks strewn across her path. Stopping at every rock, she scooped it up, looked at it, and put it back down, without tiring of this activity. It probably took us twenty minutes to go a few feet.
This normally would have driven me crazy and I would have eventually picked her up and kept moving, but I was in vacation-mode. I had no dishes or laundry to get back to. There was no schedule for the day. My mind was quiet as I just soaked up the sunshine and the precious moment with my daughter.
In the dusty, uncomfortable chair in the corner of our bedroom, all of the emotions of this memory floated back to me. My daughter on the beach and me in this chair, we had been doing the same thing: examining scattered stones. But my daughter saw it as an opportunity for exploration, while I felt the need to re-order. She was reminding me, in her toddler way, to deal with the chaos by simply being present in it. And she also reminded me that she’s the thing I wanted to be present to.
I know this peace is easier to muster on vacation and when you’re less than two feet tall. Regardless, I wanted to try to carry this energy into my normal week. I opened my eyes from my meditation. This week, the color of my soul would be the taupe hues of San Diego’s shores.