Last year was a year of Big Plans: books and articles, essays and novel ideas, plans for travel and home improvement, and plans for becoming a better mother and so on. Man was it a busy year. The kind of busy that leaves a trace in the muscles along my spine, from their excessive scrunching upwards with concentration and stress. My fingertips keep going numb with inflammation in my shoulders. Headaches persist. I also can’t deny that it was the kind of year that left a trace on the world and my career– stuff got done. But at the end of all that making and doing I found myself on the other side of the holidays flat and fatigued. Health suffers, sleep suffer, relationships suffer.
I realized I suffer from a mild case of SAD as well…you can read my article on The Blues HERE
To quell this state I’m in, I have begun to listen to meditations at night, and stumbled across the work of a grounded, kind author and teacher named Tara Brach, who leads Buddhist-based mindfulness meditations that I download as a podcast. Last night as I lay on the edge of sleep she talked about “Selfing”–a term in which we identify with all of our thoughts and feelings so fully that we forget about the larger picture, and cause ourselves much suffering, we separate the “self” from all the rest of being. We can return to a greater sense of connection and ease through mindfulness–slow, careful, embodied awareness of the moment.
“Stepping out of the busyness, stopping our endless pursuit of getting somewhere else, is perhaps the most beautiful offering we can make to our spirit.” She writes in her book True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.
So on this first real official day back to work–my son back in school, husband at work, I decided to work more on opening to possibility (instead of beating it into being as is my tendency) and allowing opportunity to find me, as well as letting all the seeds I planted flourish. This means not working so hard to control things, but more on deepening what I’ve already created.
It goes against my best coping skill to just let things be, and stop judging myself as not enough if I’m not constantly overwhelmed, which is how I know I need to do more of it. This doesn’t mean stop working or shirk responsibilities, but do both of those things more consciously, more slowly.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about mindfulness it’s that it can’t be done quickly. Busy-ness is anathema to mindfulness and presence.
So, here are a few tricks for stress-reduction and mindfully approaching your workload, which you may find helpful too:
1. Power Breath: When you catch yourself yourself doing anxiety breathing or feeling the pressure of moving from one project to another, take three long, slow deep breaths before you do anything more.
2. Give up Multi-Tasking. It doesn’t work anyway--you get a ton of things half-finished. Pick one thing to finish. Then another. Finish each before moving on.
3. Feel your feet and your hands. I mean really stop to feel them, inside and out–do they feel tiny or large? Is the skin soft or callused? Do you feel the blood pulsing through them? Are they warm, or cold? The awareness it takes to focus on them will help you relax.
4. Write it Old School: Try writing something down with on paper, with a pen. Even if it’s just a list of what you have to do, or maybe something nice you wish someone would say to you. You are forced to go as slow as your hand, and you also connect crucial neurons between hand and brain that don’t get triggered through typing.
5. Step outside (if weather permits) and smell the air. Really smell it. Then listen: what do you hear? Whether it’s the roar of trucks on a freeway or the chirping of birds, simply notice what sounds come in.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. For a dose of optimism, read my column, The Persistent Optimist, at Sweatpants & Coffee.
Photo, “Mindfulness,” by Darragh O’Connor, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.