image by W2 a-w-f-i-l
“The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart.” ~ Julien Green
Most people I talk to aspire to living a more conscious and purposeful life. Yet, no matter how high their aspirations, they all seem up to their ears in commitments.
In this post I’ll be sharing ways to clear space for reflection and personal development even when you feel you have too much to do to give it a second thought. It won’t take any extra time out of your day and you will soon feel the benefits of a quieter, lighter mind.
Cultivate Emotional Awareness
Do you get tired or grumpy if you don’t eat? Does noise drive you nuts? Do you feel rushed by the pace of others, or are you the one who’s rushing and wishing everyone else would step up the pace?
If you feel irritated or sad, do you give yourself a moment to think about your feelings and deal with them? Most people don’t feel they have time to explore their feelings, but it doesn’t have to be a time consuming indulgence, self examination of your emotions can be a smart management practice that helps you run more smoothly.
Start paying attention to what irks you and ask yourself what you need to feel more comfortable.
Techniques that can help are journaling or a simple breathing practice where you sit with your thoughts for a few minutes and take slow deep breaths. Imagine your thoughts drifting by like leaves on a stream and watch them as you keep breathing slowly and deeply.
Create Check Points
Check your breathing and posture regularly. How are you sitting, how are you breathing, are your shoulders hunched up around your ears?
Make a point of checking in with yourself several times a day and allow yourself a moment to stretch, drop your shoulders and take a deep breath. By doing so you can discharge tension before it builds into obvious physical discomfort and you start feeling stressed or snappy.
Give Peace a Chance
Many of us spend a good deal of time every week travelling, or waiting in queues. At such times we can’t get anything majorly productive done, and knowing that can make these times feel frustrating. But there is a way you can transform "dead time" into an opportunity for introspection and relaxation.
When I was doing a lot of driving around teaching workshops, I grew to love that time as thinking time, or learning time. I had a collection of educational and inspirational lectures in the car, and enjoyed some alone time to listen without interruption.
I know several people who have transformed their commute time with breathing practices or thought provoking reading.
Next time you find your self on a bus, train, or plane you could take the opportunity to practice a simple mindfulness technique like counting your breaths:
- take a deep breath in and feel your chest and stomach expand and count “one”
- release the breath through your mouth slowly
- take another deep breath in and count “two”
- then release that breath through your mouth slowly
- repeat for five full deep breaths
Waiting in queues is a great time to practice these techniques too, since you can do them without anyone noticing, you can appear to all the world like you are in line like everyone else, but instead of feeling impatient and checking your watch you can feel relaxed and check your posture. The amount of time you spend in that queue will be exactly the same, but the experience will be completely different.
Take a moment to think about other time spots in your day that you could upgrade to be a more reflective and supportive experience for you.
The Busy Person’s Guide to Mindfulness
You are no doubt aware of the benefits of meditation, but did you know you can practice meditation without stopping to sit down? Here’s how:
Start giving your full attention to the simple tasks you perform throughout the day. This simple shift in awareness is the basis of mindfulness meditation. All you need to do to experience mindfulness for yourself is to play with giving your full attention to one small activity at a time.
For example, if you are eating a sandwich, just eat. Focus on chewing, on tasting, and forget trying to read, talk or watch the news. Just eat. Your digestive system will love you for it.
You can practice mindfulness while cooking. For me, cooking can be a very meditative experience. I like to immerse myself fully in washing rice, cutting vegetables, grinding spices, etc. Try it, and transform cooking dinner from a chore into an act of relaxed awareness.
You can practice mindfulness while walking by paying full attention to your feet connecting with the earth, watching yourself move across the ground step by step as you rest your gaze on the path a few feet ahead. Country walks are ideal, but walks to and from school, the supermarket or your office are also an opportunity to let your body and mind relax and simply be aware of where you are and what you’re doing.
You can practice mindfulness when folding laundry, or washing the dishes. You can practice mindfulness when reading by giving your full attention word-by-word to an inspiring book or article and be fully and completely present with it. You can be mindfully present with your children by stopping everything else and listening to them with full awareness, forget emails at story time, forget tomorrow when they’re trying to tell you about today. Just explore being right here, right now.
By noticing step, by step, every stage of what you're doing and breaking tasks down into tiny steps, you can stop stress and mental overload and keep sight of yourself no matter how busy you are.
The Benefits of Getting to Know Yourself Better
By developing awareness of what you need to feel healthier and happier you can begin to notice signs and symptoms that you are heading out of balance when they are still a whisper, rather than ploughing on until your body roars at you with a headache or you fall into bed tired but too wired to sleep.
By noticing your needs and adjusting the way you look at your daily commitments you can begin clearing space to help you step off the treadmill and live your life by conscious, careful design.