So, it’s a new year. Are you excited? Are you ready? Are you full of hope and inspiration? Have you set goals and made resolutions? Are you also, perhaps, a little overrun with the energy of newness and new beginnings? Perhaps, like me, you’re still wrapping up 2018, processing, and preparing for new things to come. January marks the beginning of the Gregorian calendar, which has been around since the late 1500’s. It carries a lot of cultural and historical weight, giving January 1 some real significance, but it’s not aligned with the cycles of nature. In the natural world, the time of new beginnings is the Spring Equinox, falling on March 20 this year. For this reason, January can be a kind of long pause. It can be a time to continue to reflect and essentially “put away” the prior year as we also look ahead for what’s to come. If jumping into all things new doesn’t feel authentic for you, it may be that you’re more aligned with the natural cycles and that come spring you’ll be ready to blossom. Meanwhile, enjoy the space in between and make time for silent reflection. Take long walks in nature, meditate, or curl up in the warmth of home with a good book. Fill your space with candlelight, or bask in the winter sun. One year is behind us, and another is ahead. Give yourself the gift of a mindful transition. May your year be filled with peace and ease.
Our instinct is to avoid pain and suffering, and chaos is certainly something that we all know can lead to both, so it makes sense that we’d like to avoid chaos as well. There are times, though, when we can’t avoid the craziness of life. That’s when our best bet is to allow it to be. Here’s how:
Choose to let a few things go. For example, I recently bought a house and am not fully moved in and, because of some home improvements, it will be awhile before I’m settled. In this case, I choose to let some things just be as they are. The house is messier than I’d like, but I choose to let it go for now, knowing that in time I will make this house a home.
Notice that you are not the chaos. Whether it’s drama or stress created by others, circumstances beyond our control, or even fall-out from our own mistakes, we can choose to be the observer. Take a few mindful, centering breaths. See the situation from a distance. Notice all of the facts. Allow emotions without attaching, and remind yourself that you are not the chaos. The chaos is moving through; it’s not who you are or the totality of your life.
Practice self-care and boundaries. Probably one of the best things we can do for ourselves when the shit hits the fan is practice self-care. Do loving and nurturing things for yourself with presence and intention. Some examples are: eating healthy food, getting extra rest, taking a warm bath, being in nature, and spending time with friends and loved ones who uplift you. Practice self-compassion by directing loving kindness at yourself through words and actions. Also, set boundaries around the chaos. If it’s a particular person, take breaks from communicating with them. If it’s the news and current events, go on a media diet.
It’s easier to gain our footing in a changing and uncertain world when we’ve first attended to ourselves, calmed our nervous systems, and fed our bodies, hearts, and souls. Allowing things to be as they are is a gift to oneself. By releasing our resistance, we reduce tension and open up to new possibilities, solutions, and outcomes.
As a native Floridian and also as someone who lived in the South Pacific, I’ve been through many hurricanes and a few typhoons. They are frightening, to be sure, but they are also fascinating. Just last week I watched hurricane Micheal through the windows of my new home as he tore through Tallahassee. What I noticed is how the storm ebbed and flowed. It reminded me of giving birth: between intense contractions there are moments of peace and rest. The strong gusts would come, and then the wind would slow down. There were even moments of stillness. At one point, the sun shone through the clouds and for that brief moment it seemed that there wasn’t a storm at all.
In mindfulness meditation, we often talk about the still point within, or the inner refuge. It’s a place we cultivate through our practice and that we can retreat to at any time. It’s the stillness within the storm. Even as the world around us is in chaos, we have this inner resource that becomes a place of calm and comfort.
Our breath is the gateway to our inner refuge. We can enter it anytime, anywhere, by coming into the present moment through mindful breathing. During the recent hurricane, I meditated as the wind whipped branches and pinecones at my house and a tree snapped in half outside my window. Doing so was more than mindfulness practice, it was recognition that even amidst great uncertainty and duress I have a choice in how I respond and I always, always, have access to the calming stillness that I’ve cultivated within, as do you.
Through mindfulness practice, we can learn to be with our emotions, to allow them space, and to also allow them to move through our awareness without becoming attached to them. In this video, I share how to mindfully work with repressed emotions and/or attachment to emotions. I also explain the concept of emotional back draft and how, once we learn to allow emotions to pass through our experience, we make more room for the good to grow.
In mindfulness meditation, we always have the option to begin again. Mindfulness isn’t a practice to master, it’s one to explore and it’s best explored with an open and pliable mind, much like the mind of a beginner. When we’re meditating and become distracted, we return to the breath and the body, and we do this with the humble awareness of a beginner. Every time we begin again, we create an opportunity to learn something new about the practice and ourselves. We set aside our attachments to figuring this mindfulness thing out, and we allow our curiosity to lead the way. How might practice be different this time? How long will I be able to hold my attention on my breath before it’s swept away with thoughts? Will a dormant memory or emotion surface? Will I start to get all numb and tingly and annoyed? If so, how will I respond this time? To be a beginner means to accept that we are learning, which is the optimal state of mind when approaching mindfulness mediation, for it has something new to teach us every time we sit.
Learn to connect with your heart with heartbreathing meditation from the HeartMath institute. It’s shown to improve heart rate coherence, and I also find that it’s helpful in approaching life with more compassion and heart energy.
This is a 7-minute guided meditation that I recorded to connect feelings of compassion with your body.
Find a quiet and comfortable spot. It’s ideal if you can lie down for deeper relaxation, but sitting is also okay. You may want to try it more than once and see how each session is different for you. Enjoy!
One of the benefits of a meditation practice is that you’ll begin to experience an overall increase in feelings of calm and ease. This doesn’t mean that you’ll become indifferent or numb to life, but that you’ll be more skillfully responsive and less momentarily reactive. You’ll notice some space around your thoughts and emotions in which you can pause. You’ll likely turn to the practice in moments of chaos, stress, and emotional upset as a way to move through the difficulty. Instead of getting knocked off center and spinning out into fear, doubt, or worry, you’ll maintain a feeling of being grounded and sure even as you are overcome with difficult emotions. There will be a still point within you that you can return to as often as needed. You can take refuge there to regain your strength, cultivate compassion, or rest your mind. Cultivating this still point is the work of our practice.
1. Start small with 2-8 minutes of sitting practice each day.
2. Orient your practice around something you already do each day, such as your morning cup of coffee, afternoon snack break, evening walk, etc.
3. Begin again every time. Embrace the fact that you don’t have to be an expert at this. Allow yourself to start fresh. There isn’t a wrong way to practice.
4. Keep trying. Keep trying, Keep trying. Day after day. When you feel the most discouraged is when you know you’re on the right track.
Mindfulness isn’t new. In fact, it’s ancient. It doesn’t require a lot of resources or any gadgets. It’s simple, yet profound. It begins with the breath and our attention and leads to a complex unfolding of awareness. Basic mindfulness practice sounds like it should be easy. So easy that many people disregard it, but it’s actually quite difficult and the results of practice can be surprising. There’s a good chance you’ll discover parts of yourself you didn’t know were missing. You may see something that’s been right in front of your for years in a revelatory new light. You may find that you are actually, truly, and deeply okay just as you are, which may be one of the most compelling reasons of all to practice mindfulness.