I hope you managed to squeeze in some down time over the holidays!
I noticed that despite having craved sweet nothingness for most of the second half of the year, when it came down to the business of actually letting myself really relax, it was much harder than I anticipated. It seems other species have no trouble in this department. I used to watch my cat stretching and basking in the sunshine and wonder how he did it all day with such smug satisfaction and with no concern about what he ‘should’ be doing instead.
I’d like to talk more about the art of doing ‘nothing’ and how important it is to rejuvenating our minds and bodies.
If you’re anything like me, you might notice that when you finally have space away from the endless ‘to-do list’ it can be a strange sensation. Uncomfortable feelings and self-critical thoughts can float up to the surface along with a restless (guilty) energy. Then you throw into the mix the fear of missing out, and an addiction to multi-media multitasking and we have ourselves a challenge!
The idea that we have to be doing and achieving something at all times to be worthy of existence is a subliminal message that can get reinforced in our families/ society, and I’d like to encourage us all to rally against it as radicals to embrace nothingness! (well, we’re always doing something, but here I’m talking about certain simple activities that we might not consider ‘productive’, such as pottering or making art, or napping, or sitting or breathing or watching or listening and being in the garden/nature, etc.)
Our minds and bodies desperately need it. Rest and meditation are proven to help us think more clearly, stay focused, regulate our emotions, keep our immune systems healthy, repair muscle and tissue and generally prevent our lives from passing us by in a blur. It might feel like a waste of time to switch off, but ultimately we’re looking after our hardware, and backing up our system software so it doesn’t glitch further down the track.
Resting and recharging will serve us well into our future, giving us stamina to ride the waves of emotional intensity in our many roles in life.
I hope your holidays have soothed your nervous systems somewhat, and let’s remember it’s a work in progress. I invite us to prioritise looking after ourselves in 2017. This starts with noticing when anxiety is starting to drag us out of our bodies. I invite us to think more like cats – inhabiting our bodies, stretching slowly, stealing moments to doze on windowsills, noticing the placement of our paws as they pad softly down the hallway, becoming opportunists for back rubs!
Being like a cat is just another way of describing mindfulness (which ironically is about getting out of our minds and back into our physical senses – touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing).
I find some of the best ways to calm myself down when anxiety is tapping (or banging) at the door is to practice short simple mindfulness exercises, some of them can last as little as 30 seconds.
I’ve included a few below for you to sample and practice whenever you can think of it:
Notice Five Things
This is a simple exercise to centre yourself, and connect with your environment. Practise it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
- Pause for a moment
- Look around, and notice five things you can see.
- Listen carefully, and notice five things you can hear.
- Notice five things you can feel in contact with your body. (E.g. your watch against your wrist, your trousers against your legs, the air upon your face, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair etc)
Mindfulness your daily routine
Pick an activity that constitutes part of your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth, shaving, or having a shower. When you do it, totally focus on what you are doing: the body movements, the taste, the touch, the smell, the sight, the sound etc.
When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, let them be, and bring your attention back to the moment. Again and again, your attention will wander. As soon as you realise this has happened, gently acknowledge it, note what distracted you, and bring your attention back to the activity.
For example, when you’re in the shower, notice the sounds of the water as it sprays out of the nozzle, and as it hits your body as it gurgles down the hole. Notice the temperature of the water, and the feel of it in your hair, and on your shoulders, and running down our legs. Notice the smell of the soap and shampoo. Notice the sight of the water droplets on the walls or shower screen, the water dripping down your body and the steam rising upwards. Notice the movements of your arms as you wash or shampoo.