Two of the things that help me come back into myself and calm down are meditation and imagery. I often use these tools when I feel stuck and do not know what to do with myself. In this blog, I will walk you through one of the guided meditations that I find helpful. It is a combination of various teachings I have experienced in mindfulness meditation, qigong and somatic therapy.Read More
One of my recent practices has been to pause in between things. Rather than go right from one activity to the next, I stop and pause. I notice the pull to be full speed ahead and I notice what it feels like to simply be and breathe for a few moments. Sometimes it only takes a few breaths for me to begin to slow down.Read More
Yesterday I was out in the woods in the snow. I was hiking with a small group of people and we paused on the side of a hill to catch our breath. As we stood there, we heard the knock-knocking of a woodpecker on a tree. It was as if there was a hush over the forest and we could hear everything. We stayed and listened for while. It was quiet and still.
The coming of winter in New England seems to invite stillness. The days become darker and colder. The snow comes, perhaps forcing us to slow down even if we are in a hurry to get somewhere. December can be a time of pausing, reflecting and waiting. Waiting for the winter solstice when the days begin to lengthen once again. Waiting for the holidays, the new year.
December can also be a time of busy schedules, family obligations and holiday get-togethers. Depending on your traditions, it can feel like too much, too much stuff and too many things happening. How do we find stillness in the busyness? How do we nourish our souls in the midst of the dark and cold?
Embracing the Quiet Within
For me, finding stillness comes from pausing, noticing what I am feeling, and practicing bringing kindness to each experience. In those moments, my body relaxes, something shifts and I slow down. Stillness also comes from setting aside time to simply be. How often do you allow yourself to be still with no agenda? How often can you give yourself permission to not have to do anything? All of this feels nourishing to my soul and connects me to a place of deeper quiet within.
Here is the thing about stillness and quiet: it is not always easy. Sometimes it feels unattainable. Even in those moments, we can practice meeting ourselves with kindness. We can say to ourselves something like, "Here I am. I feel rushed and busy. My head is spinning and I feel restless. I can be gentle with myself here, too." As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it is this kind of gentle attention that brings about subtle, beautiful shifts and opens us to the possibility of stillness and quiet.
In the words of Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman in their book, Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit & the Heart, "Our growth as conscious human beings is marked not so much by grand gestures as by extending loving attention to the minutest particulars of our lives. Every relationship, every thought, every gesture is blessed with meaning through the wholehearted attention we bring to it."
We cannot force ourselves into stillness. We can gently invite stillness to come and wait for it to arrive. When stillness comes, we can gently welcome it to stay awhile.
In these dark, cold days, we can pause. We can pour ourselves a cup of tea, light a candle and sit quietly in the dark. We can embrace the stillness of winter, with its invitation to slow down. We can notice when we are rushing around and set aside time to breathe and be, even if it is only for moments at a time. We can practice returning to ourselves, listening and waiting.
Do you ever feel like you want to give up, like you are waging an uphill battle that you cannot win? Sometimes I do. Sometimes the world seems so dark and hopeless. It can feel like whatever I am facing is insurmountable and I am all alone.
Feelings like this can be scary. What can we possibly do when we feel hopeless? It can feel like nothing makes a difference and nothing matters.
In my experience, my body reflects what I am feeling. When I want to give up, my body feels heavy and weighed down, every small movement takes incredible effort and I have no energy for anything.
What can we do?
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the first thing we can do is to make room for our feelings. What does it mean "to make room" for what we're feeling? Well, to start, we can acknowledge that we feel like giving up. Once we notice those feelings are present, we can say to ourselves, "oh, I feel like giving up right now."
Part of making room for our feelings is to greet them in a gentle way, as if we are speaking to a small child who needs tenderness and care. This can take practice, especially if that is not the way we were treated as children. I encourage you to give it try and see how it feels.
Getting to know our "unwanted feelings"
The next thing we can do is to take the time to sit with our feelings. I mean this on an intimate and body level. Can you feel in your body where hopelessness lives? Where are the edges? Does it have a sound? A color? What would it be like to sit with the physical sensations that are present? Can you bring an energy of curiosity to your exploration?
If this seems silly to you, no big deal. If you want, you can suspend judgement for a few minutes and simply notice what you feel as you explore your experience. Alternatively, notice the part of you that feels silly or does not want to try this.
If you are feeling open and interested, you could even have a dialogue with your experience. You may be surprised by what comes up. Ask a question right into a feeling state, such as "wanting to give up," or into a physical sensation in your body. The question could be "do you have a message for me?" or "what do you need?" or whatever else you feel compelled to ask.
The idea is not to try to come up with an answer. Rather, sit and wait and listen and see what comes to you. For example, you may receive an answer in the form of an image, words, or a sensation. You may also receive no answer or it may come to you at some later point. This is an experiment and an exploration. There is no right or wrong answer. It is an opportunity to be with yourself in an intimate way and see what is there.
Feelings vs truth
Whatever you are feeling is simply that, a feeling. The nature of feelings is that they appear for a while and disappear again, flowing from one to the next. As adults, we often interrupt this process. We have learned that some feelings are better than others (and more socially acceptable) and we have all kinds of ways to hold on to what feels good and avoid what feels bad. The practice of befriending all of our feelings helps them move more freely within us.
Think of a small child who is upset and angry one minute and happy and playing the next. That is what it looks like when we let our emotions flow. I am not necessarily suggesting we as adults should throw tantrums in the supermarket. However, can you sense how free you might feel if you did? To me, it feels incredibly liberating. It can be enough to imagine the kid in you throwing a tantrum without having to actually do it outwardly.
In the case of feeling hopeless or like you want to give up, there may be an inner voice contributing to that feeling. I like to call this voice "The Defeater." It says things like, "What's the point? It's not going to work, anyway. You can't do it."
It is important to identify this voice. As convincing as it may seem and as tied to it as we may be, it does not speak the truth. It has an agenda that is all about bringing us down and defeating us. Being able to see and know it, helps us to detangle ourselves from it. We do not have to believe it.
Bringing love in
Remember when I said part of making room for our feelings is to greet them with care and tenderness? This is perhaps the single most important thing we can do. When we feel hopeless, we can imagine ourselves wrapped in a blanket of love. When we want to give up, we can picture ourselves resting in a meadow of wildflowers or floating in a stream, held by the earth or held by the water.
Whatever it is that feels warm, light and comforting, we can bring to our experience. This is what allows our feelings to move on and then something else will come. I like to imagine and sense a drop of love going right into the center of whatever I am feeling. Then I don't feel so alone and something within me begins to shift.
There are plenty of times when I am not able to do this on my own. I try to picture something comforting and nothing comes or I can't feel it. This is when I need help. We all need help sometimes. Perhaps that is why we are all on this planet together, to help each other find love and to care for one another. I do not know if that is true or not. What I do know is this: there is love in the world and we all deserve to be met with love.
May you know you are loved
This is week I have been wanting to pause time. I kept finding myself racing ahead to the next thing and the next. My mind was consumed by thoughts of the future and my whole body felt tense and on edge.
I wanted to slow down. I wanted my body to relax. I wanted to feel and believe that, somehow, everything would be okay and my world would not come crashing down if I put down my to-do list. I wanted time to be doing absolutely nothing and to not feel guilty about it.
How do we pause time? One simple way is to breathe, or as I have heard it said in yoga class, let you body be breathed. You can try it right now. Let the air come into your lungs. Feel the air going out. Witness your body breathing. You do not have to do anything, it happens on its own. Your body knows how to breathe.
Even as I type, I feel more relaxed and less rushed. I am coming into the present moment. There is nothing more to do here than to breathe for this one moment. We can rest in our breathing for one breath, two, maybe three or four. That is enough to slow ourselves down.
Perhaps you are like me and you notice your mind jumping ahead to the next moment. Not a problem. That is what our minds do. They are busy and incredibly active. That is their job. We can thank our minds for doing what they know how to do and we can return to our breath for another moment. In this way, we cultivate slowing down. It is a slowing down that happens on a body level. We are inviting our body into another way of being.
Okay, so that was nice, you may be thinking, but now I have to go...make dinner, get the kids, go back to work or fill in the blank. I understand the reality of our daily lives is that we have a lot going on. We are busy people. What if we can take the feeling of slowing down right into the middle of our full days? Even as we are doing whatever task is at hand, we can remember that we are also breathing. We can invite a sense of slowing down and pausing in the midst of our daily comings and goings.
We can also find time in between things. I suspect there are plenty of moments each day when you have pause points. The next time you are waiting in line or stuck in traffic, feel your breath in your body and notice if anything shifts.
Taking a Break
It can be challenging to simply pause. Admittedly, this week I had a hard time doing that. I was restless. I kept internally badgering myself. That happens sometimes.
What did I do? I got outside. I gave myself permission to take a break from all the things on my mind. I carved out time in my days so I could walk in the park. That is where I found my stillness. I sat on the trunk of a tree that had recently fallen. I lay on the grass under one of my favorite oaks. I let the earth hold me. There I felt my body and mind slow down. That is what sustained me through the week.
It some paradoxical way, when we slow down and take breaks, we have more time. That has been my experience. Everything that needs to happen still gets done. Somehow when we have more space for us, there is more space for everything.
I invite you to try it today. Pause to feel your breath. Take a break and get outside. I trust there is enough time in each day for us to slow down.