We’ve celebrated the holiday, rung in the New Year and now, full of determination, we set our sights on maintaining those well-intentioned resolutions. As a wife, mother, student, professional and full-time volunteer, I know that each year my goal is to better organize my life in order to achieve that balance between family and outside commitments. I force myself to take time to examine the direction of my journey and determine if I am moving down a healthy road, or choosing superhighways that are fraught with dangerous potholes. Each day we feel the overwhelming pressure to be the best mother, friend, employee, colleague, daughter or wife. Add to this the constant stimulation of our technological toys, and we have created a recipe for an unbalanced journey where neurotic becomes normal. Replacing that neurosis with a more balanced lifestyle will result in a more enjoyable journey for both you and your family.
Along with the physical demands of our day, our minds race with thoughts of the hundreds of tasks we need to complete. In Zen Buddhist philosophy, such a state of mind is described as “a room full of jumping monkeys.” In Indian culture, the goal of health and balance is to still your mind, to live in the present and not be driven by fears and concerns. The word “mindfulness” needs to become our mantra for the next leg of our journey. We are challenged to free ourselves of the need to control and realize that we ultimately have no control over what the day brings. Our only true power on this journey is how we respond to each event and interaction. I wish I could tell you where to buy the How To Successfully Navigate Your Life Manual, but unfortunately, no one has the answers for the obstacles each individual will face on their path. What I can offer are some simple steps to help you meet your challenges on your journey in hopes of establishing a balance between striving for achievement and allowing yourself to experience the joy of the journey.
Begin your morning with a short five-minute mindfulness meditation in order to set the tone for your day. Gently place the palms of your hands over your eyes and focus on your breathing. Get in touch with your physical body and your emotions. Allow yourself to take slow deep breaths, noticing the warmth of the air as it flows through your nose, to the back of your throat, filling your lungs. Then, slowly and gently blow the air through your mouth as you begin to release the tension in your body. Starting with your face, notice any tension in your forehead, eyes, jaw or mouth and release it with a slow gentle exhale. Continue to move down your body, staying focused on being in the present, becoming aware of any tension in your body and with each exhale, allow yourself to release. Replace any intrusive thoughts with the words “calm” and “relaxed.” Detach yourself from the things that provide us with only external fulfillment. You can utilize this brief meditation technique at your desk, during a lunch break, waiting in the carpool line - anytime you have just five minutes to revitalize yourself by letting go.
Learn how to make each decision intentional. This may sound easy; however, over the years we all establish unhealthy patterns that develop into automatic thoughts and behaviors. Often, our adult struggles stem from the fears and feelings of that small child still waiting to be heard. Without thinking, we continue to respond to similar experiences with the same emotion, and lack of logic, that we did as a young child. You can begin to identify this pattern by keeping a brief journal. Simply document one or two sentences of how you are responding to experiences, the emotions that arise and the thoughts that you give yourself about those events. Begin to notice if you are making assumptions about the behaviors or words of others, and if you are actually responding to your own thoughts about the interaction. Be able to take responsibility for your actions, or you will attempt to deny or defend when you have behaved badly in a situation. If you intentionally examine why you behaved in a certain manner, you have the opportunity to make a change and replace that thought, feeling and behavior. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Family and friends will benefit from being in a relationship where words and actions are more meaningful and sincere.
Identify what is really important in your life, focus on relationships, organize your time and let go of the unnecessary distractions. If you had to leave town tomorrow, who are the people in your life that you would really want to see? Who would actually notice that you are gone? It’s true, we don’t receive financial gains from our relationships, but does that make them any less valuable than our careers? Of course, financial and family needs place restrictions on how much free time we have, but how much of our potential free time do we waste? How often do we overextend ourselves with activities that actually take away from spending time with the people that we value the most. And when we are with our family and friends, how often do we allow ourselves to be distracted with technology and interruptions? The iPhones, laptops, iPads, Blackberries, MP3’s, video games and televisions provide nonstop, and often mindless, entertainment and disruptions. Even our devices created for communication can give a false sense of connection and only add to our struggle with understanding and efficiently speaking with other human beings. For a New Year’s resolution, I challenge you to schedule a “Technology-Free Dinner” at least once a week. It might be tough at first, but the payoff will be worthwhile.
Take care of your body with exercise and a healthy diet. Yes, I know this is not the first time you have heard this message, but it is not just your emotional self that is affected by the stress of everyday life; every cell of your body experiences the trauma of hitting those potholes. Exercise increases your ability to process stress and allows your body to release and recover. Even just a 30-minute brisk walk with family members or a favorite pet, can help with high cholesterol and weight loss, as well as lower your risk of heart disease and improve your mood. Making even small alterations to your diet, such as decreasing the amount of high fat foods or adding more fiber, will greatly enhance your body’s ability to recover from stress. Once you are able to make little adjustments to your diet and exercise, you will find you can incorporate this skill of discipline into other aspects of your life.
Be kind and forgiving to yourself and to each person that you meet. We are all human, and we will make mistakes. As we navigate our path on this journey, our greatest challenge is to simply learn from our mistakes, continue to grow and to move forward. Holding on to criticism, judgment, anger and guilt, requires a great deal of energy. Your body will become depleted and exhausted leading to physical illnesses and more rapid aging. Too often, women sacrifice their own need for self-care in lieu of meeting the needs of others. We experience an overwhelming sense of guilt for the two minutes we allow ourselves to sit quietly and just breathe. In order to effectively help family and friends, we must take the time to rejuvenate ourselves and restore that healthy energy, or we simply share negative energy with others.
It’s a new year and a new beginning, consider making a lasting change as to how you approach your journey. Seize this opportunity to become more balanced, more “intentional” and reenergized. According to Taoist proverbs, the journey is the reward.