As the world continues to turn, and our societies continue to experience dynamic change and transformation, we often feel things are out of control. We need to remember that we have the free will to respond or react to what goes on around us just as we do with what goes on within us. When we are faced with challenges, the every day kind or the more dire and upsetting changes that happen, we need to remember who we are. We need to remember the power of our thinking, our words, and our actions. And how do we do this when we find ourselves in the depths of despair, frightened, or outraged over something that is beyond our control? We remember who we are, and begin focusing on and acting upon what we can do about our life right here in this moment.
This moment, not the one that is happening later, and not what happened in the past. This moment. For just the next moment or two, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and notice what is happening in your body. Do this for a several long, deep breaths, and if you get distracted, count your breath in and out. You don’t need to pick a number. Just begin breathing and count. When your breath is fully inhaled, notice that moment and then begin exhaling. Count out the exhale as well. If you have finished, do it again only this time, pay attention to what is happening in your body. Begin to release any tension you feel, for example, in your shoulders, or neck or feet or hands. Wherever you feel a tenseness or tightness, breathe more deeply and imagine letting go of that tension.
A simple experience of breathing in and out, of noticing your inhales and exhales, and noticing your body’s tenseness or tightness, can be done just about anywhere or at any time. This is a simple meditation. Our breath, our body, and yes, our brain/mind can all help us be more mindful of the present moment. We consciously and unconsciously are trying to regulate our emotional and physical reactions throughout the day. At night, our sleep helps us restore and bring ourselves to some kind of balance point. Our dreams and even our nightmares, help us cope with what we find ourselves unable to handle during our waking lives. When times are stressful and when you feel anxious, notice how your dreams are informing you about your sense of well being and equilibrium. Once you establish a picture of what triggers your anxiety, notice what you are doing that is working against your desire to be at peace with yourself.
Our patterns of behavior and thinking have a tremendous effect on our sense of well being and our levels of stress and anxiety. For example, when we watch allow ourselves to be inundated with non-stop news, media coverage, or television programs that are full of violence, doom and gloom, anger and hatred, or images that are disturbing or troubling, it will have an effect on us. Think about what you are letting in by way of media, electronics, music, or conversations. If you are addicted to violence, pornography, dysfunction, or end-of-the-world scenarios, you need to make some changes if you want to establish a greater sense of well being and inner peace.
Often we are drawn to disturbing images, music, or behavior because we feel we need some kind of escape. At other times, we are engaged mindlessly without regard for what we are letting into our subconscious. Take some time today to think of the ways you might waste time, become overstimulated, or be mindlessly lost in online activity, computer games or social media, news coverage, or violent or jarring types of music, conversations, or behavior. It may be something as simple as exercising too late at night and ramping up your adrenaline levels. Or it may be sleeping with electronic devices in the room that disturb your sleep (even when you’re not aware). I slept in the room with my husband a while back, and noticed how both of us were awakened repeatedly by his phone’s light coming on to signal an incoming call or message. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. He slept but his sleep was disturbed each time it happened. In the morning he complained of not sleeping. When I told him he did sleep, but kept getting his sleep disturbed by his phone, he was surprised. Some people watch violent movies or television shows right up until bedtime, and then wonder why their sleep and dreams are disturbed. There is a correlation. And we might want to ask ourselves, why we spend our time on mindless or disturbing activities rather than on something that is more uplifting, constructive, or pleasant?
We live in a fast-paced, high energy time. Technology floods our senses with information, images, and conflicts–more than we can possibly manage. We have to take some responsibility for limiting the amount of time and the quality and quantity of what we allow into our experiences. Some people listen to the radio all day. It’s background noise in some cases, but radio and music going non-stop still fills up our subconscious whether we think we are listening or not. Think about the songs you have memorized over the years. If you were like me as a child, I listened to a piece of music over and over, and even pieces I didn’t think I was listening to, are now stored in my memory. However memory works (and there is debate about that), it does nevertheless play a big role in forming a basis for our thinking, feeling, and behaving. We are programmed in so many ways–some good and some not so good. Spend more time mindfully paying attention to what you are letting into your experience.
Another thing that is happening in most of our lives, is the advent of having a 24-7 connection to anyone, anywhere, at any time. This has its definite advantages, but it also is a way to waste and abuse ourselves. Sitting with our faces glued to our cell phones (because we couldn’t possibly miss a call, text, or breaking news story), keeps us from being awake and aware of what’s going around us. Who hasn’t been with a friend or co-worker who as you’re talking, answers her phone and proceeds to have a conversation with someone else…someone who is far away. If it’s an emergency, of course it’s a blessing, but most times, it’s not. It’s just that we are allowing ourselves to be so easily distracted that it’s getting harder and harder for people to focus on what’s at hand, harder to be still and reflective, and harder to carry through with something that requires a high level of concentration. And besides, it’s rude and dismissive to have your time with a friend interrupted by something that could wait. Being mindful with the way we communicate with one another is now one of the areas of our lives that needs some attention.
While I have been online for many years, I do know people who still won’t touch a computer and who don’t readily adapt to new technology. While I don’t want to go back to the days of the manual typewriter, I want to modulate my use of technology so it doesn’t cause me more harm. Our bodies are beginning to react to all the hours we spend online with our faces glued to screens. The problems with carpel tunnel due to repetitive motion, and the muscular, skeletal, and circulatory problems we now have because of sitting at our computers too long, have become real issues for people of all ages, and will become a bigger problem as people age. So what do we do? Well again, it begins by observing how we spend our time doing what. Being mindful.
When we are mindful, we stop, spend some time reflecting or meditating, and we take a break in the course of our work. We set a timer to remind us to stand up, stretch, take a walk, drink some water, get outside, or simply rest. We can program this into our daily schedule as easily as we can make a list of all the things we have to do throughout the day. It’s a matter of making something a priority. Use your technology or egg timer or alarm clock to remind you to drink water or take a break. I programmed my computer calendar several years ago for the ideal writing times. Dont’ remember doing, it, but now every day at certain times, the messages come up on my screen to remind me “Writing begins in 10 minutes”, “Writing begins now.”. It works beautifully to keep me on schedule. We can do the same thing with our mindfulness and well-being practices.
The value of meditation increases the more we incorporate it into our routines. For example, let’s take a little break to meditate right now. And we will make this specific. Begin by going to a part of the house where there is a mess or arrangement that needs to be taken care of. Now usually we try to meditate in a pretty, organized, or inspiring spot. But for now, go where the mess is. Then for three to five minutes, just meditate on the space. Notice what is about the area is bothering you. How and what is draining energy or making you not want to use or be in the space? How would you like the space to look, and using your imagination or a sketch pad, consider what could be changed to make the space nicer and more inviting? How is energy blocked (piles of supplies or papers, disorganization or clutter, dirt or dust)? After a few minutes, meditate on what one step you could take to begin to change the energy? This morning for example, I wanted to give a plant a better place to get light. So I moved it into my entry way by a couple of windows. That left a space atop my bookshelf which had been covered by the plant. The space had a bunch of wires sticking out of the wall, so I went into my studio and found just the perfect framed photograph to place in that space. The space is a type of altar, and the photograph added to the sense of what I wanted the space to be. A smaller plant is next to the photo, and some special objects have made the space very nice.
Hunting for the right photograph allowed me to approach a bigger mess in my studio. My artwork and photography are stacked in boxes on, and under my work table. It makes me not want to use my studio. The big problem was going to require that first step. That mindful, thoughtful action to begin moving energy around. If you are like me, you may want to have everything done now. Not later, but now. That may work sometimes, but it’s not always feasible. Learning to move more slowly, appreciating each little step, is something I’m experimenting with. I’ve been in my new home for over a month, and now I have a sense of my patterns of movement and behavior. I know the flow of light and air throughout the day, and I am more aware of what is working and what is not. So I’m making little shifts to change the energy and make my home more organized, functional, and beautiful. Little steps make a difference. I have a couple of pieces of art hung, and I’m considering what I want to keep and what I’m ready to let go of. So I have a box of give aways started. Items I loved for a long time, that need a new home. Sometimes the item is connected to the energy of the past that is over and done with. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing tastes. The emotional connections we have to “stuff” can be draining and can block our energy in body, mind, and spirit.
Transformation calls us to release, let go, and shed some of the old skins that no longer belong in our lives. What we face in our outer world, reflects on old patterns of thought, fears, beliefs, or behavior. Having a meditation practice helps us pay attention each day, of the way we are feeling, the thoughts we are thinking, and the ways in which we may be changing or being called to adjust. Becoming more adept at living mindfully, can help us be more present with each moment of our lives. More living and doing what we are doing right in this moment, and less worrying and fretting about what might (but probably won’t) happen tomorrow. Stewing on how we shoulda, coulda, or might have is also something we want to get away from. And how we can work on doing that is to do something constructive to check out our perceptions. Make a list of all the things you’re afraid of or are worried are going to happen. Don’t censor yourself. Just write out your list. Then set the list aside. Put is somewhere you’ll remember. Now make another list of what you’re still worried about that is over and done with. Are you still stewing over something your Dad said or did 30 years ago? Are you wondering what someone meant by a look or comment last week? Write it all down, and then set that aside for now too. In a month or two, take out your lists and see how on target your worries and concerns were. And notice what you’ve done to cope with something or deal with something that is difficult. For now though, get busy right where you are.
Get active. Go make breakfast or wash the dishes. Vacuum, or take a walk. It doesn’t have to be a long walk. Just open the door, breathe some fresh air, and get going. Start writing the article you’ve been putting off, or pull out your paints and begin a new piece or add to one in progress. Unpack a box, or find 10 things to give away. Write a letter or post card, or call your Mom. If you have a Mom, you’re lucky. You can say one or two things she might like to hear or know. If you don’t have your Mom anymore, what would you like to say to her? She’s gone so if you never told her how frustrating she was, you can do it now and get it off your chest. If I could talk to my Mom, I would tell her how much I have missed her all these year. Every time I think of her, I realize how fortunate I was to have such a good Mother. I didn’t tell her near enough, but I tell her every chance I get now. We can use our mediation, reflective time, and prayers to make all kinds of headway, mend all kinds of fences, and move all kinds of stuck energy around–physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. We can turn negativity into something positive. Break up some old patterns that drain you, and shift your behavior so you’re doing something more enjoyable, healthy, and healing.
Meditation, mindfulness, and movement all work together as ways we can improve the quality of our lives, and to focus our energy, attention, actions, work, and behavior in constructive, transforming ways. We cannot fix everyone or everything, but we can start where we are with ourselves, to make us healthier, more productive, happier, positive, and courageous people. We may feel like we’re in a free fall with no hope at times, but we can still breathe, we can still focus our prayers and thoughts on positive outcomes, and we can still live a life that is fulfilling and useful. The more committed we are to being a healthy, well-balanced, knowledgable person the better we can serve others. We cannot make the world a better place if we are unwilling to work on improving and healing our own little corner of it. We each stand on a singularly unique place in time and on the planet. Look out from where you stand now, and decide what you can do to improve your own garden and what seeds you can plant within yourself today to improve the world for others tomorrow. Blessings abound. Recognize yours, and live a purposeful life.And remember, there is power, energy, and a Divine Source beyond our comprehension. We don’t see the whole picture; we have been given one single glimpse of life and one opportunity to use our lives to the fullest. Do some good today and every day.