Maybe it’s time to close the window: Self-care and balance includes moving away from toxic people and situations

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted.  Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”–Hans Margolius

I love to sit at my desk in the flush of morning light writing with the window above my desk open.  Even when it is cold and chilly, I will often crack the window a few inches to enjoy the predawn air. There is something about the fresh air, the stillness, and the early hymn of dawn that fills me with a sense of peace and hope. The dawn air dissipates the frights of night that may have entered my dreams and nourishes my mind with renewed resiliency for whatever the day may bring.

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One especially hushed, predawn Sunday morning, as I sat, savoring the caress of fall air on my cheeks and hands, I noticed smoke rising from the yard beside mine.  It was my neighbor burning something.  I returned once more to my writing as the serenity of the morning continued humming its charming ambience.

Gradually, every so subtly, the scent of the air shifted. Wafts of acrid air began to drift in through the window screen.  Still, it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall freshness of the morning, and so I left the window open, continuing my writing.  

For 30-40 minutes, I continued my typing, pausing for moments here and there to gaze out the window and clarify my thoughts.  I noticed the dullness of the green leaves, a sure sign that Mother Nature is changing into her fall wardrobe. A single bird rapidly called in a repeated series of three trills, “Hello, hello, hello,” but earned no response. 

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Noticing the familiar tingling in my lower half, cued me into the fact my extremities needed a walk break.  I rose and walked outside to the newspaper box.  A cacophony of Canadian geese, singing their song of seasonal change, flew overhead towards the autumnal clouds.  

It was then I realized how strong the scent was.  Whatever was being burned in my neighbor’s yard had filled the air with a noxious haze that I had not noticed while at my desk with its slightly opened window. However, when I walked back into the house and returned to my desk, the insidious odor had indeed permeated the air.  How had I not noticed previously?

Perhaps it was due to the fact my window had only been partly opened or maybe it was due to my focus.  Regardless, the scent had gradually slithered through the opening of the window, changing the air in a subtle and measured manner that I had not noticed.  I began to reflect upon how often that happens in life, for better AND for worse.

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The seemingly piecemeal process of aging is but one example.  Our children gradually change. Often, we may not notice it in the day to day, but one day you will look at your child and suddenly it hits you how much they have grown and changed.  Likewise, we may not notice our own aging process until we happen to see a photograph of ourselves, and like a slap on the face, we are quickly hit with the awareness of our own aging.  This is all a normal part of the evolution of life.

However, what about other life events? For example, the progressive way in which computers evolved and changed the way I teach.  When I began nearly 36 years ago, there were no computers in my classroom.  The most technological advancement that I had was a rolling chalkboard and a box of dustless chalk!  Flashforward, and my current classroom uses Apple TVs, Google classroom, iPads, Chromebooks, and Macbooks, with all students using their own device on which they are expected to complete work.  For better or worse, that change is here to stay.

I think back through history, for example, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany.  It all started in a seemingly moderate way, but it progressively evolved and soon evil, incrementally, blanketed much of Europe, affecting/influencing much of the world.  This, along with countless other historical events, remains a cautionary tale of the way in which harmful developments, left unchecked, can crawl into our lives without our realization until they have fully enmeshed themselves into society.

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Back at my work area on that particular Sunday, I decided to close the window above my desk, and leave my writing space for a while, allowing the air to clear.  As I moved into other areas of my home, I could clearly observe the difference in air.  An hour or so later, the air in and around my workspace was cleared, and all it had taken was the simple act of closing the window.

There are certain ideas, concepts, environments, and even people–personally associated to us and distantly known by us– that are likewise toxic disguised in appealing and attractive soundbites, conversational style, and images.  Like the sweet lullaby of the break of dawn, they lull us into acceptance, or at the very least, acquiescence–better to play along or ignore in order to remain focused on our own goals. The problem is that, little by little, we begin to assimilate, breathe in, if you will, the poisoned atmosphere/attitude until it has permeated our being in ways we can’t clearly sense until we step away and gain a new perspective.  Only then do we fully feel the necessity of closing the proverbial window and stepping away from the baneful environment.

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The irony of it all, is once you close the window and move on, you begin to realize that there had been a small, still voice inside you all along telling you something wasn’t right.  For me, on that Sunday morning, my tingling legs told me to move since my sense of smell had been so gradually overcome by the slowly shifting air.  Therefore, it is important to tune in, listen for that inner guidance, to Divine Providence.  Perhaps, you may not be able to remove yourself entirely from certain situations and/or certain people, and if that is the case, determine what you can change, and then act.  Close the window. Move in another direction, and notice how much better you will feel with fresh air and a fresh perspective. 

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