Relax. Slow down. Be in the moment. Show up. Chill out.
There’s no shortage of buzzwords or phrases to assist us all to meet the challenge of living in a world that seems to be moving at warp speed most of the time. The problem is that embodying those suggestions is, in case you haven’t noticed, easier said than done, much easier. Ask any ten people if they feel that they have enough time in their lives to handle their commitments, responsibilities, and needs and chances are that at least nine will say “No”.
It’s not for lack of awareness that most of us feel that our lives are on overload most of the time, but rather it’s about feeling like we’re caught up in a whirlwind created by forces beyond our control. Feeling breathless, playing catch up, and breathless and feeling stressed out much of the time takes its toll on us. It affects our health, our moods, our relationships, and our general sense of well being.
Our sense of insufficiency (“there’s not enough time, money, energy, etc.) generates a sense of personal inadequacy, (“I’m not enough”–smart enough, beautiful enough, wealthy enough, lovable enough, successful enough, good enough, etc.). While the source of these feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency doesn’t lay entirely upon social and cultural forces, there’s no question that our perpetual “need for speed” and lust for more is amplified by technological innovations that condition us to increasingly expect immediate fulfillment of our desires and intensify our tendencies towards impatience and frustration.
Since there’s little chance that things are likely to slow down in the immediate or near future, does this mean that we’re doomed to a future of living in a state of overwhelm? Not necessarily. It depends upon whether we view yourself as a helpless victim in world spinning at warp speed, or as an active agent who has the power to influence the course, direction and pace of his or her own life. Making the choice is the easy part. Embodying the principles and practices of such a life is the challenging part. It’s difficult but not impossible.
A key factor in the process of taking charge of the rhythm of your life has to do with having at least one person in your life with whom you share a desire to move through life at a rhythm set by you rather than one that is set by others. Taking control over the quantity of content and the rate of movement of one’s life in the face of job, family, social, and other commitments can seem like an overwhelming prospect, but when you share that intention on with a partner it becomes much less daunting.
Here are a few suggestions that you might want to try that could make the process a whole lot easier:
- Check in. Most of us spend a lot more of our time attending to our thoughts, phones, screens, and countless other distractions than we do being aware of our current experience. This way of being amplifies the tendency to feel anxious and rushed in our lives. Like the sign in the casino says, “You must be present to win”. Checking in is about directing our attention inward and bringing a non-judging awareness to what shows up in our field of experience, which includes thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions. When we bring this quality of mindfulness into our experience and simply note what we are experiencing without reacting to it, clinging to it, resisting it or judging it, the world seems to slow down and feels less out of control. The simple act of bringing awareness to the moment and acknowledging what’s going on within us is sufficient to slow things down as we relate to our experience, rather than from it.
- Checking in with others. When we’re caught up in trying to catch up with everything on our to-do list, we generally have little motivation or energy to check with others, particularly those with whom we have the closest relationships, to inquire into their well being. Our primary relationships can be the greatest source of support for us and paradoxically, they can be the ones that we are most likely to neglect or take for granted. The act of checking in with our partner or close friend needn’t take a long time but merely inquiring about how they are doing (with a genuine interest in actually hearing their answer) is an expression of sincere interest and concern that is itself beneficial to both of you.
- Breathe. Yes, I know we’re all always doing this naturally, but 99.99% of the time we’re not aware that we’re breathing, or more accurately, that our body is breathing itself. Simply bringing consciousness to our breath, even for a moment or two is enough to center ourselves in the present and disengage from the chatter that fills our mind most of the time and activates anxiety and distressing thoughts with which we can easily become preoccupied. Becoming conscious of our breathing is an effortless and nearly instantaneous means of interrupting the grip of negative thought cycles.
- Turn off the TV, laptop, tablet, cell phone and all electronic devices. Create an inner sanctuary. Make your internal world a place that offers a respite from the external visual, auditory, and other sensory stimuli that are so prevalent in our world. Choose to focus only upon the kinds of thoughts or mental images that promote feelings of peace and well being. This doesn’t mean that we go into denial or ignore legitimate and actual concerns that need to be tended to, but that we set boundaries around chosen times in which certain activities are off limits.
- Practice humility. We can remind ourselves that we are more than this bundle of desires and beliefs encapsulated in a body. We can remember that although we have a physical presence we are much more than that. Remembering our true nature and affirming our relationship with all of the other beings with whom we share this wondrous planet is a powerful antidote to the state of forgetfulness that we fall into when we lose sight of our interconnected relationship with the cosmos.
- Report out what you are experiencing to your partner or companion, emphasizing what you are feeling in the moment. It’s a good idea to do this on a regular and frequent basis, although it needn’t take a much time when you focus primarily on the nature of your experience rather than explanations or other forms of commentary. Sharing your experience with another who can receive it without judgment or unwanted advice often helps to validate and legitimatize it. It also deepens the experience of emotional intimacy between the two of you.
- Have fun! No, this isn’t a excuse to be irresponsible, only a reminder that it’s not only O.K. to experience pleasure and fun, but it’s as important as anything else in your life when it comes to restoring balance and well-being. If your experience of life generally feels grim or oppressive, you not only won’t have much fun, but you’ll find it difficult to manage the commitments that you have chosen to take on. People who feel victimized by their obligations rather than at choice about them tend to burn out much faster than those who know that they have not only chosen their commitments but they have the power to choose how they feel about fulfilling them.
- Practice gratitude. No matter what is going on in our lives, no matter what the circumstances or conditions are, there are always things for which we can be grateful. Choosing to focus upon what we are grateful for rather than what we wish were different can have a profound impact upon our mood and our sense of inner peace. This doesn’t mean that we ignore or choose not to attend to legitimate concerns, but only that we don’t allow ourselves to become consumed in feelings of resentment, self-pity or resignation. It’s simply a matter of where we choose to direct our attention at any given moment.
This list is by no means complete, but it’s a good starter kit. Remember that the greatest gift that you can give to your loved ones is your own happiness and you won’t have much of that to give if you’re feeling stressed out. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind and practice self-care by checking in. Often. Do it for yourself. Do it for your loved ones. Just do it!