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.
Mindfulness can help us cope with intense social, political, and global issues to prevent overwhelm and burn out. It can also help feel our interconnectedness and cultivate compassion so that we’re ready and able to be a force of good.
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.