Bob’s recipe for 3,000-pound cement.
(3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch) Use a ratio of 1 pail of cement (preferably Portland) to 2 pails of concrete sand. Add 1 pail of pea stones; mix dry with cement hoe (a garden hoe with holes), then add water, about a pail, ½ pail at first, then the rest incrementally, as you keep drawing in the dry stuff. Let dry 1 to 2 weeks before pressure test.
Dad loves cement. The process of making it for him is an art, but also a mental salve. Especially when he’s upset. He’s always kept busy, but when something is on his mind, there’s no other way you’ll find him. “When you’re upset, just keep yourself busy”, he’s said. I passed that sage advice on to my first-year students at SCSU this fall, and I live by it myself. It works. Mixing a batch of Portland cement is just one of the possible diversions.
When the mind is upset trying to mix ingredients to get conclusions that make sense, there is really nothing better than keeping busy. Coming from a meditation instructor, this may seem counterintuitive, but consider for example, the relationship between yoga and meditation.
Yoga has traditionally been practiced in order to tone down physical and mental restlessness, before sitting in stillness to meditate. First, stir the ingredients well, and then let them be still.
When the mind is a stinging swarm of thoughts, especially when the worry is beyond our control, activity works out the nervous energy in the body, created by the mind’s need to “do something”. Simple actions are best -- gardening, mowing the grass, scrubbing floors – because they allow us to work with our emotions at the same time. Mixing water, soap, and dirt, scrubbing swirling them together, rinsing the floor clean. All while letting worry float somewhere in that bucket of dirty water, getting it off the floor. At least for a time. Giving our mental processes time to slow and settle. To downregulate and manage our stress so that it doesn’t become chronic.
So, when Mom was hospitalized this month for COVID-19, Dad and I got to work. Cutting branches, clearing grapevines from the stone walls, and raking the yard. We were worried, but not worried sick. We kept busy.
Ultimately, this mode of self-care gives us the energy we need to continue to be strong for others. Because we can’t give to others what we don’t possess ourselves. Kindness, compassion, and deep understanding of our own process is critical. So, in sage advice from Dad, “Get to work. And it will work itself out.”