Beautiful young woman in a field on a sunny summer day.
Christy Gualtieri

A Leisurely Summer

I was having a conversation with some friends recently, and the topic of leisure came up.  I had assumed that the definition of leisure was something like “taking your time,” like a leisurely walk; or “relaxing without a specific goal in mind,” but I learned that it’s not always been defined in that way.  In the book “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” philosopher Josepf Pieper describes it as:

…not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation…it is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”

In other words, leisure is the state in which your mind is free to explore and contemplate things – to really think.  (Hardly seems like doing nothing!) And, to be honest, it seems kind of difficult to pull off in today’s current world.  We have so much information coming at us from so many different angles (this news site, this social media page, this neighbor, this radio station, this friend) that it’s hard enough to step away from it, much less stop altogether and think long and hard about what we’re hearing.  Not only do we have to know everything that’s going on, it seems, we’d better have a good opinion about it, too!

That got me thinking a bit: how much time do I spend in contemplation? Turning things over in my head, examining them, figuring them out? As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can tell you – I don’t do much examining…I’d rather just jump to the worst conclusion possible.  It’s definitely not a healthy way to live, and I know I’d probably be better off if I decided to live a bit more contemplatively.

But how do we do that, cultivate a more contemplative life? One thing I know is that I need a lot more silence. In my home so far this summer, we’ve instituted a “quiet time” for the kids each afternoon, an hour of quiet in which they can occupy themselves, and it’s really worked wonders for their attitudes (when we can stick to it, that is!) It really is a leisure time in a lot of ways, where they do have the freedom to learn more about things by reading, exploring the backyard or watching the neighbors work on their landscaping. And I try to do the same for myself, too: free up a little time to learn more either about something I’ve been curious about, or even to learn more about myself by journaling or reflecting on my feelings about something. It doesn’t always come easy – and we aren’t always able to fit in in the day – but I think it’s worth it so far!

I’m sure your summer is pretty busy with lots to do with family and friends and work.  How can you “steep yourself in the whole of creation” this season? Does the idea seem intriguing to you, or does the idea of quieting down our minds in order to free it up for other things scare you? How can you experience a more “leisurely” summer this year?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

The Mind Body Connection. Women with outstretched arms in front of a waterfall.
Christy Gualtieri

The Mind/Body Connection

One of my favorite movies – and one of a handful I can think of that still holds up after so many years of it having been made – is the first of The Matrix movies. In this sci-fi adventure-turned-philosophical treatise, the protagonist asks his mentor what happens if they are killed in “the matrix” (an alternate reality they can enter in and out of by the power of their consciousnesses).

“The body cannot live without the mind,” comes the answer.

A few weeks ago, I was really stressed out about a large number of things; and because my anxiety is like a muscle that sometimes gets pulled, it constricts and contracts and pulses out of my control, sometimes for hours – if not days. My entire upper back painfully twisted and stayed that way for days. I went to the dentist and had a wisdom tooth extracted, and the pain from my back was far greater than the dental work. I had been so nervous already that by the time I sat in the dentist’s chair, I was a wreck. After he pulled the tooth (a painless procedure – my dentist is seriously awesome) he lightly patted my hands, over and over, and I couldn’t figure out why.

“Stop clenching,” he told me. I hadn’t realized that I was still so tense, my hands stuck tight, holding onto each other. After days of feeling so uptight, my body was finally speaking up, and needless to say, it didn’t like what it was feeling.

Two days later I had an anxiety attack. I called my therapist right away and he counseled me about stress hormones and how they were affecting my body. The flight-or-fight response was flooding my veins with cortisol and adrenaline, and because my eyes could see that I wasn’t in any immediate physical danger the incongruency just kept taking its toll. Everything just felt awful. The physical was mirroring the mental. What had been working pretty decently was just calling out that things weren’t okay, but they needed to be addressed, and worked through, and quickly at that.

So I started working through them. And slowly, really slowly, the pain in my body lessened. The mind/body connection was so evident to me in those days, and it’s something that’s becoming more and more clear over time.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although I think as a society we’re doing a good job of researching, treating and diagnosing mental illness, it’s worth a deeper look at ourselves to see where our own mind/body connections are telling us. Have you been having any sleepless nights recently? Haven’t been eating, or eating too much? Has your stomach been in knots, or have your eye muscles twitched uncontrollably? Are you not sure why? This might be a good time for you to look at your physical body as objectively and without judgment as you can, kind of like a scientist taking notes. Observe what your body’s been telling you, even if you’ve been telling yourself you’re okay. If you’ve been uncomfortable or even in pain and think it’s worth reaching out about it, I heartily encourage you to do so. The mind/body connection is a strong one, and the healthier we feel mentally, the better we’ll feel all around.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.