When the World Is Too Much With Us

Every morning at 8am, for the last two weeks, the construction workers doing a sewer replacement project in my neighborhood, now on my block, begin the day long jack-hammering, cracking asphalt, hauling dirt and gravel, beep-beeping as they do 180’s on their bobcats, rumbling equipment up and down the street heavy enough to shake the house, creating enough noise to deeply disturb my nervous system. As I write this now, I’m sitting in my home office with two doors closed, earplugs in, and the sound machine on simply to be able to think.

I know, rationally, cognitively, that this sewer replacement project is all for the community good. I know, consciously, that I’m not in any danger. But the bottom-line, primitive parts of my nervous system don’t like the noisy rumble and shaking one bit, and react with agitation and protest. My autonomic nervous system is doing its best to warn me of possible threat and is not listening to any reassurance from my higher mind.

My friend Lynn sent me a link to a BBC radio program on Noise, focusing in part on how our social and commercial environments have escalated noise to a level of harm to our bodies and our society, which I imagine might turn into another post at some point.

For now, I’m turning to a specific form of mindful self-compassion to help me accept my experience exactly as it is and accept my reactions exactly as they are, with kindness and soothing.

Behavioral self-compassion is a useful practice when the environment is so noisy or the tasks at hand so overwhelming that compassionate self-talk is being drowned out and it’s best to simply take a break from it all. I’ve been walking down to the corner market or watching a DVD (with earbuds in) or talking on the phone with a friend while sipping a cup of hot tea. Not compassionate self-talk but compassionate distraction, and compassionate distraction, when we know what we are choosing to do and why, can be a permissible, powerful, skillful form of being kind to ourselves in challenging moments.

You may already have tools of compassionate distraction in your toolbox of daily coping:

Going for a walk/hike/bike ride or working out at the gym
Soaking in a warm bath with soft music in the background
Cooking a scrumptious meal dish for a potluck with friends
Taking a mid-afternoon nap to refresh your mind and reset your nervous system

Relaxing in a meditation or yoga class
Playing with or walking the dog
Reading a new novel by a favorite author
Watching a movie that causes you to look at the human condition or the world in a new way

Planting herbs in a small patch of garden (yours or a community garden)
Bringing lunch to a friend shut in with a cold or recovering from surgery
Spending an hour in a museum or art gallery
Playing Frisbee on a beach or in a local park

Enjoyably inhabiting our bodies, moving with awareness and interest through our world, taking a nourishing time out, can soothe, reset, revitalize our nervous systems for better coping when we return to the demands of our daily life, sometimes faster and at a deeper level than the most comforting words.

Take a moment now to identify three behaviors of self-compassion you might practice in the coming week. Schedule at least one of them on your calendar. Savor the ease and goodness you experience when you offer yourself this form of self-care and self-renewal.