Slow down and enjoy life

Children always ask: “Are we there yet?” and we call them silly and tell them to have some patience. At a certain age we stop asking that question, but as adults we still want to get everything done as quickly as possible.

Why?

I asked myself this question when I started the huge task of painting a 10-foot wide mandala on an outdoor wall in front of my house and business. It is an oversized project, and I have never done such a thing before. I have no idea how fast I could finish the whole thing.

Once I started painting, I realised that I could not go fast, because every time I put in a bit of colour, I have to wait until it dries before I can put in the next round, to avoid staining everything.

This huge project will have to go slow by default. It was a confusing realisation that I was forced to allow myself to go slow, not to feel like I need to finish this as soon as possible. I had to shift my mind away from the familiar urge to rush, and reset it into a slow-but-steady mode. 

We always feel rushed, don’t we? We always want to do things fast, get it over with, because there is so much more that we shoulda coulda woulda.

So many chores to do, so many tasks to accomplish. So many needs to be met, and so many desires to fulfil.

We always want to get things over with. We’re forever rushing through things to get to the end. We seem to have an aversion to really experience the actual task. We tend to stay out of touch with the things we do all day.

We either rush through a task, plowing through it and getting it done, or we never start it, overwhelmed and intimidated by the sheer vastness of it. Both attitudes are coming from that aversion.

In our rush to get as much done as possible, we forget to savour the moment. Things only get done as a sequence of little steps. Each step is a moment, and experiencing that moment consciously is what makes life worth-wile.

“We come to life and our energy soars when we join that moment, rather than standing separate from it—when we rise to the occasion rather than sink into the pit of resistance.” ~ Donna Quesada

If I would have given in to my sense of overwhelm by the sheer size of that mandala, I would never have started, I would have sunk into that pit of resistance. But I have chosen to allow myself as much time as needed to finish this mandala. Actually, I have started to think of it as an intentionally never-ending project, where I can keep adding and altering little details into eternity.

By now, instead of feeling overwhelmed by its vastness, I am excited about the endless field of possibility that this wall-painting is offering me.

We tend get lost in busy-ness, and often use that as an excuse for not doing something, for not being able to meet someone, help them, do something for them.

Too often we also have that excuse ready for ourselves: we don’t have time to exercise, to meditate, to write, paint, garden, to take care of ourselves in a nourishing and nurturing way.

Basically, by letting ourselves get sucked into this false precept of busy-ness, we don’t have time to love ourselves and do what inspires us, what makes us feel alive, what keeps us healthy and thus energised.

Stop the rush, slow down! We can do each thing with attention, enjoying each little moment of the chore, of the challenging task, the tedious job. In every moment there is something to observe, to enjoy and to marvel about, to learn and to absorb, as an essential part of life.

Let’s try and not miss out on all those special moments!

I don’t have two or three months to paint that huge mandala in one go. But I have a little bit of time almost every day to work on it.

Every day a moment to decide on a new shape or another colour.

Every day an opportunity to tackle a little obstacle, meet a small challenge. Every day the opportunity to get into a short bout of high meditative focus.

For the next year or so, or maybe for as long as I live here.

It’s great practice for life!

 

 

 

How to start the New Year in a mindful way

 

I never make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t believe in them.

Saying that you want to do something is very easy. Doing it is the hard part, and most of us fail.

Especially when our brain is still fogged with heavy alcohol clouds, the intention we’re trying to set with our resolutions might not register in our brain as a non-negotiable new behaviour.

Many people say that the way we start our day is crucial to how our whole day will evolve. I’ve experimented with it quite a bit and firmly believe it’s true.

For years now I’ve been in the luxury position of having about four hours each day between waking up and starting work. Four hours which I can use exactly as I like. No kids, no partner, no commute either, just me and those 4 hours.

By trial and error I have learned that the way I spend those hours can make or break my day.

The things I do each morning, set the pattern for the whole day and make me do more of it during the rest of the day. If I indulge in rolling over, my whole day seems to be lazy and I don’t find energy for anything. If I first read for an hour, I end up reading all day. If I get active straight out of bed, I run around full of energy doing things all day. If I find my focus and inspiration with meditation and writing early in the morning, my whole day seems to be inspired and focused and flowing with ease.

Last year, around this time, when people started talking about New Year’s resolutions, I realised that I could apply this principle of “setting” my day to the New Year as well. Instead of just setting an intention to do certain things in the New Year, I decided to “set” my year by very consciously filling my first day of the year with doing things I find important for my well-being and growth.

We all know there’s a significant difference between thinking or saying something, and actually doing it.

Gratitude Practice

One day, a yoga student came to me and asked me what I did to be happy.

She was entering a new phase in life: her children were leaving home and her marriage was ending. She was going to be alone for the first time in her life, and wondered how she’d be able to cope with that.

She didn’t ask me what made me happy—her words were well-chosen. She fully understood that our happiness does not come from sources outside of ourselves, like our relationships, career, or money in the bank. At this pivotal point in her life, she realised that she had to fully take charge of her own happiness.

Since I seemed happy to her, living by myself and running my own business without the loving support of a partner or family, she figured I might have some good advice. I felt honoured by her question.

We sat down in my yoga studio (where I always feel happy) and talked. I told her about all the small, mindful practices that I have integrated into my daily life over the years that bring me peace of mind and happiness. For now, I’d like to focus on just one of those practices:

Gratitude.

It’s a big one for me.

 Gratitude  is a much-used word these days. Every third quote on Facebook seems to mention it, and it is being posited as the secret to happiness.

If you just start being grateful, they say, happiness will find you easily.

Is it really that easy? Or is everybody just talking about it without really following their own advice? How many of them actually practice honoring the good things that happen to them on a daily basis? Is gratitude becoming a platitude?

Some people think gratitude as a recipe for happiness is bullsh*t. Not me.

Taking a conscious moment every morning and every evening to acknowledge my abundance is one of my favourite mindfulness practices, and one that I always share with my yoga students at the end of class. It cranks up my levels of happiness without fail.

In the morning, I take stock of all the things I have and can do every day, the constant factors in my life. From the privilege of living where I live to the fresh air I can breathe. From my health to my (relative) wealth to my lovely little yoga and massage studio, and everything that it allows me to do. It offers me so many opportunities for personal and spiritual growth—I get to learn and share, and deeply enjoy the fulfilment it brings me every day.

Throughout my day, I will stop myself for a moment to really appreciate something, whether it’s an intensely pink flower or a cup of jasmine tea, a ripe avocado brought by my landlord or a visit from the little girl next door.

Even though I’m mentioning objects or people here, the real focus of my gratitude practice is the experience that comes with them.

In the evening, when I lay my head on my pillow, I go through my day and highlight the pleasurable things that happened. Then, I fall asleep within five minutes of lying down.

Taking these moments to feel appreciative can help ground us and bring us into the present, take us out of our worrying heads filled with stressful thoughts, and give us short moments of relief and reset.

Some people say that we have to watch that we’re not making our gratitude prayers into a kind of shopping list of all the simple little things in life, but I don’t agree with that.

Giving thanks can go as deep or as stay as superficial as we like.

If our joy wells up over our dog or the oatmeal cookies we had with our tea, there’s nothing wrong with that. Louise Hay expresses gratitude for her bed every morning when she wakes up rested.

Some days there are big and profound things to be intensely grateful for, some days it’s a whole list of tiny, seemingly insignificant things that add up to a giant feeling of wealth and happiness.

We can give recognition for personal things, or for things happening out in the world.

And if we really cannot come up with a single thing to honor about our day, then we can still acknowledge the wealth of having two eyes, two feet, 10 fingers, or a mouth to speak with—or just the simple fact that we woke up this morning (because some people didn’t—just saying). We can always find something to be grateful about.

The act of focusing on what feels good does several things that are beneficial to our emotional and mental well-being.

When we look at all the good things in our day, we don’t dwell on the bad things. Especially at night, before bed, remembering the good stuff can save us hours of sleepless rumination over things that went wrong during the day. When we focus on gratitude, these thoughts just don’t get space in our head.

I’m not saying that we should deny and push away the bad stuff in our lives. But, it makes more sense to address these issues during the day, with a fresh mind and waking hours ahead of us, instead of just before we want to sleep.

Secondly, and this one is big, gratitude sits at the other end of the emotional spectrum of desire, want, need, and lack.

I don’t think anyone will deny that all of those emotions are recipes for unhappiness.

When we focus on our unfulfilled desires (material wealth, a loving partner, success), we find ourselves in a mindset of lack and poverty until we get or achieve all those things, even if we already have plenty to be grateful for.

Constantly generating new needs and desires creates a never-ending cycle that may temporarily connect us with happiness as a need is met, but will always leave us wanting more. A gratitude practice takes us away from that attitude of not-enough, and will make it easier to stand still in contentment for longer periods of time.

Simply put, gratitude implies fulfilment.

I would love to hear from you what you would put in your gratitude prayer. Please share them in the comments below!

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder

This article was first published on www.elephantjournal.com on August 30, 2017