slow down and take stock

(This is a post I wrote for Mohamed Tohami’s website “Midway Simplicity”, October 22nd 2014)

How are you at sitting still?

If you meditate regularly, you likely have an answer to this. If you do not meditate, then give sitting a try – set an alarm for 15 minutes, do nothing and see what happens.

You may notice aches and pains in your body or it may communicate a need to move and stretch. A variety of thoughts may filter through your head such as tasks to do or past conversations.

Being still can invite feelings to float to the surface such as sadness, anger or frustration. Whatever happens, take a moment afterward to register what you discovered. Is there any action to be taken or decisions to be made? Or perhaps just appreciate the breathing time as a nice break and then go about your day.

French River morning meditation_

Take a closer look

Looking through the lens of minimalism is like pressing the pause button in all areas of life, long enough to see what is happening and then adjust accordingly. But why bother?

In coaching I usually start with an overall assessment of a client’s world; their finances, career, romance, etc and then I ask them to articulate their level of satisfaction in each.

Those who want to work on just one section have the strength to pull from others. For example, they may be suffering in their career but thanks to nurturing their friendships and taking care of their health they can find the support and energy to tackle their job.

Some people are surprised at how many areas they have allowed to decline. When resources get low all around, there can be a feeling of no ‘elbow room’ to move and this is when people can feel truly stuck. Things may take a while to process but, with honesty and a desire to grow, there is always a way up.

Too full

In my early twenties, I did temporary office work, usually as a front desk receptionist. Back then, the phone system was directed through a big box on my desk with ten buttons all in a row that would light up when each line was in use.

At the bottom was an eleventh button called ‘overflow’. (I always found this funny!) Often life stretches us by filling up many lines. For a short while we can handle this and even find the challenge invigorating.

This is a good test to develop resiliency so we can wrangle overflow again down the road. But you can imagine what happens to your body, mind and spirit if this goes on for too long.

Daily mindfulness allows us to monitor how many lines are filling up so when something big and out of our control happens, we have room to manage it. This will avoid dropping the important ‘calls’ such as health and relationships with loved ones. Prevention is the game.

Make room

Here are a few things I do to help pace myself so I can physically, mentally and emotionally contribute to my life work.

As a self employed person, it is tempting to think that I must be productive no matter what the hour. What happens however is that I get tired, my focus gets diluted and I waste time.

So, my goal is to work on only one project each week or at least I try not to multi task in one day. I am most efficient in short spurts so I set an alarm for “30 minute GOs” and then I take a brief break before returning.

Have you heard of Focus@Will? It is neuroscience-based music that helps me stay on track. With this ‘work smarter, not harder’ approach, I put in about six hours of good work at my home office (excluding lunch and breaks) so I can feel worthy to turn off and enjoy my other pursuits.

Time for daydreaming

On a body level, I slow down by taking mindfulness walks. On a route that inspires, I pace myself, look around and notice my surroundings.

An important part of this is not to bring a phone, camera or even a notebook! Just walk. For mental relief I created an exercise called ‘No Gadget Night’. With the lights low and all electronics turned off, I relax in visual and auditory quiet.

If my husband is home, we engage in conversation or read by remaining sunlight. And the peacefulness always leads to a great night sleep. I have challenged many people to try this and the results have always been positive.

To connect with my soul I follow a daily routine I call ‘Four Joy’; this is when I register deep observation of tiny moments that make me laugh and feel happy. For example, the delightful wag of a dog’s tail! I ask myself questions about how this situation affected me and I revel in the positive feelings.

All these efforts create an open space to contemplate what is important and preserve energy for the most meaning-filled endeavours.

One day at a time

I have been exercising my minimalist muscles slowly but surely over fifteen years.

I mention this not only to say that habits require continual effort but more importantly, don’t feel bad for not having tapped into every area of your life! I still have many things I would like to simplify and I believe I will get to them eventually.

Feel good about one small change and then when motivated to do so, add another one. In the meantime, smile at the good work you are doing and then relax. Breathe in the beauty around you and love your life!