On getting to know my baseline

Trees at dusk

I recently listened to a wonderful podcast interview of the great yoga teacher Annie Carpenter. Annie is often referred to as a teachers’ teacher, and it so happens that last October, at the tender age of 45 years old, I became a teacher myself, having completed my 200H yoga teacher training. As many new teachers experience, I worry that I don’t know enough, so I have been following Annie and a few other well-respected instructors in order to supplement my knowledge base, in particular practicing with her on Glo.

Despite the fact that Annie calls herself as a closeted birdwatcher, I have heard her discussing her passion on a couple of other shows. Not so closeted perhaps? Towards the end of that particular interview, she offered a lovely story which has stayed with me ever since. She tells of how she was taught, years ago, by a seasoned birdwatcher, about an effective way to start learning about birds:

“Find a place and go at the same time, everyday. Just sit and watch the birds for 20 minutes. And learn the baseline.

And the idea is that in being in one place at the same time, when everything is peaceful, there will be a certain kind of chatter and movement in that area. When, one day, a little fox comes through or a hawk looking for breakfast,[…] then there will be this whole response that’s not the baseline.

It’s only through knowing the baseline that we know that something is awry. ”

Parakeet on an antenna on the roofs of rome
Green parakeets sighting across from my meditation spot, when I lived in Rome, Italy

Beyond birdwatching, Annie was offering a powerful metaphor about formal, seated meditation practice.

In sitting at the same time, daily, we get to know ourselves, we get familiar with our inner landscape, thoughts coming and going (kind of like birds).

By choosing to observe them, and by building upon the habit and showing up at the same place for a set amount of time, we come to know our natural habitat.

Mindful and aware of our inner weather, or inner patterns, we get a sense of our baseline, aka, what normal looks and feels like.

That becomes useful when something big comes up, when our emotions start to run wild, whatever the reason. Then we can see and feel, ‘oh, that’s different from the norm.’ And we also have a sense of what we need to get back to.

As human beings, we can be pushed in and out of balance, as happens to pretty much everything else in nature. Trees are moved by winds and storms, but remain rooted, their core anchoring them in place despite external forces.

But like them, when we remember our core, when we feel grounded in knowing ourselves and our baseline, we have something to centre back towards.

Now would be a good moment to tell you that I have been in self-isolation — as many of you might be — for 14 days, by the time I publish this story. My confinement is happening in a small, if very comfortable and neatly decorated studio apartment. I do feel cooped up though. Who wouldn’t.

Thankfully, my studio overlooks a park, I can see mountains in the distance and my direct view is of large trees, inhabited by various birds, which I can observe more closely because the branches are still pretty bare, this being March.

Not being a bird watcher myself, I couldn’t really give you specifics about my winged neighbours, aside from the fact that I have been distracted by a loudly bickering group of crows. What they are fighting about, I don’t know, but it’s impossible not to notice them. (And funny story: the one asana that eludes me still in my yoga practice is… crow!)

Another few things about me: I am not a morning person. I love the sun. I am slightly introverted. I meditate twice a day. And I do a lot in my life. Even though I also love to sit and do nothing. Go figure.

Even in this strange state of isolation, I keep busy: I am doing several online courses, meditating, writing, yoga or pilates daily. I work from home anyway, so I am used to this, in parts. And I read, cook, clean, talk to friends, etc.

What I don’t do is watch the news: I just read the headlines and listen to the radio for 30 minutes in the morning. I think this helps my morale a great deal.

A lot of my friends and people I work with have expressed in the last few days that despite the stress generated by the virus and aforementioned news coverage, they have felt some relief at having to slow down their pace of life. Their frenetic, unbalanced lifestyles are suddenly halted. Obviously, none of my friends are doctors or nurses. Or postmen. Or work at Amazon.

Being a freelance consultant, working from home, my own rhythm hasn’t changed much.

Three years ago, I went through the emotional rollercoaster that comes when one stops working 80h a week and is not employed full time. The guilt, the shame, the anguish of not being busy 24/7, which then, surprisingly, leaves room for opportunity to do deep work, to learn new things, to experiment. To breathe. To do things that are important but not urgent. This very useful concept was introduced to me by Tony Robbins. Instinctively, I knew this was something I needed to delve into.

For me, this came about by playing music every day, moving every day, learning every day, loving (a pet, a friend, a parent, a lover) every day.

And sitting, observing my internal landscape, getting to know my baseline.

Self-quarantined, I have seen my state and my emotions change daily, hourly. I’ve cried a bit, probably also being premenstrual a few days ago. My mood and my capacity to work have been going up and down, though I am grateful to report my procrastination levels are under control.

Despite all my activities, through the introspective nature of my writing and meditation practices, I had to admit to myself this morning that I am starting to slow down too, in some ways.

Because my apartment’s great big windows face northeast, the only time I can enjoy the sun’s rays is between 7am and about 9h30am.

This makes me get out of bed earlier; I need some sun and I know how important vitamin D is. I have always wanted to be a morning person. Ta dah…

Short of actually sticking my face out of the window, I just sit, enjoying the rays caressing my skin. I look at the trees and let the sunshine hit my retinas.

I don’t write, read, or listen to a podcast. I forget productivity and simply gaze at the burgeoning fresh green leaves in front of me.

I listen to the choir outside my window.

It’s just starting to feel okay.

While my circumstances have changed, I am getting to know my new baseline. I might still feel sad, but I can bounce back. I know what to come back to.

This post was originally published on Medium.com

Woman sitting in reflection