"(S)he lives most life whoever breathes most air." ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I have met with many new clients over the past few weeks, most of which arrive on our farm due to high stress, manifesting in physical discomfort, anxiety, depression...all very common in today's Western society. Many of us are living in a constant state of elevated stress hormones which prevent the body from coming to homeostasis (ie. a balanced state).
We go out and seek various programs, vitamins, supplements, books...you name it...to try and reach this balanced state. While many of these programs and ideas can certainly be helpful, often times the help is coming from the placebo effect of the state of mind that shifts when we engage in these interventions. At the end of the day, it is like we run in circles trying to find ways to stop running in circles. A bit of a conundrum, right?
What I've come to realize in my own running in circles is that the truth comes from the simplicity. The stillness. The silence. Those undefinable moments of mindful nothingness. Although I call it nothingness, it is the highest level of somethingness (is that even a word?) that can ever be encountered.
There is a good reason for the many ancient practices that incorporate this nothingness into their daily rituals and regimes. In Zen culture, this can be referred to as Zazen; in Taoism this is called Wu Wei; in Yoga it is referred to as Dhyana. Every one of these ancient cultures exhibiting profound wisdom is held accountable to some sort of nothingness. Western culture has evolved to integrate this practice in schools, workplaces and even featured in popular magazines of many genres. In this modern capacity, it is generically referred to as Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be easily described as:
"A way of paying attention that originated in Eastern meditation practices. Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally. Bringing ones complete attention to the present experience on a moment to moment basis." (Wikipedia)
It is in the quietness of these mindful moments that the body's functions (subtle and gross), can have their opportunity to reveal, feel and heal. Although this sounds so easy, I am sure we can all attest to it being "easier said than done." But why? Why do we struggle so much in the stillness and silence? Could it be because we have conditioned our bodies into overdrive? Could it be because we have been conditioned to believe that being constantly "busy" means we are productive? Less is more.
Now, it goes without saying that a certain amount of "doing" has to get done in order for us to maintain our living in the Western world, even at the minimum. However, it is in the striving for balance in "doing" and creating space in the body for "undoing" that we endeavor to return to homeostasis.
I recently met with a client who works long hours at her place of employment, followed by physical workout at the gym almost every day of the week. She reported having quite a few physical manifestations, including insomnia. In reflecting on the quiet practices of her life, it was revealed that there really were none. She wasn't even getting the restoration required in healthy sleep, which is really the bare minimum! This may all sound very familiar to you, and to many of us. This scenario is all too common in today's fast paced way of life. It doesn't have to be this way. You can still reap all of the benefits of technological evolution and the "land of opportunities" while cultivating balance in all levels of your Being.
My "prescription" for this regularly seen situation is as follows:
Regular breath awareness: Numerous times each day checking in with your breath. Is it shallow? Is it constricted? Taking time to deepen and expand the breath, with the intention to draw in purity and wellness with each inhale and release what is not serving the body, with each exhale.
Lots of hugs: It's no joke. The benefits we receive from the mutual embrace between human beings (and animals!) can increase your life expectancy! When fully present in this physical embrace, we bring awareness to the body, the breath and the physical/spiritual connection.
Dinner at the table with your loved ones each day - no devices allowed: Loving conversation, no interruptions, meeting each other where you are, with support and acceptance. Don't rush, look each other in the eyes. Eating is a ritual to all animals and used to be for humans too, until the rat race began and, for some reason, the fast food nation took over our way of regarding our meals. It's time to scale back to our ancestry and the sacred ritual of "breaking bread" together.
Volunteer work or some sort of selfless service without attachment to outcome or expectation: Something very beautiful happens within ourselves when we fully step aside and serve others without expectation for return. This is a clearly set out task, very different from the way we serve people in our lives and in our work. Intentionally, setting aside some time each week, two weeks or even once a month to be with others in this way, whether they be humans or animals, will greatly shift your perspectives in a way that supports balance in your life.
Creative/Contemplative practice: These practices do not require skill, but rather a certain level of sensitivity to the process. While engaging in these practices, whether it be a movement or visual arts practice, one must decenter from the busyness of the mind in order to fully show up for the practice. In doing so, the stress hormone decreases, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, and the body becomes supported in its return to homeostasis. They key in creating art is to move away from self-judgment and, like Picasso once said, allow yourself to create like a child. This is how art can become medicine for the Soul.
Mindfulness Meditation: Even a short daily practice of mindfulness meditation can raise our awareness and consciousness to a level where we begin to receive clear messages from our inner wisdom and we become able to make healthy decisions with a sense of clarity and purpose.
Time in Nature: As little as 5 or 10 minutes a day in pure awe and wonder of the expansiveness and wisdom of Nature. In this case, the more, the better!
Time with Animals: Spending time in the non-verbal land of communication with animals where we become attuned to our energy and the energy of those that surround us is truly awakening and profoundly insightful.
Gratitude: How we view our lives becomes the reflection for what our lives become. Each morning, waking up to thoughts of gratitude. When discouraging thoughts arise, come back to a place of gratitude, counting your blessings, even the simple. You will notice many more blessings entering your life in each moment.
Though the words may seem lengthy, this "prescription" is actually quite simple and compact, making it accessible to even the "busiest" of persons. And then, of course, there are elements like removing toxins in the diet, lifestyle and in the home, which are another blog post altogether; albeit still remaining simpler than you may be conditioned to believe! The above is a great start!
While much of this information has become second nature to me through extensive studies and personal practices of the like, the Horses continue to be my greatest Teachers. Their lives are very simple. Not because they are; because they make it that way by engaging in moment to moment awareness. They are in a constant dance of listening and communicating with each other and with Nature. They are quite content to live on a simple diet of hay, herbs, salt, and water, with a shelter and a Herd. They live in the present of the moment and awareness of the breath, making them Master Teachers of contemplative practice and mindfulness meditation. Despite their grand size and immeasurable power, they remain soft, kind and accepting to each other and their human counterparts. They embrace one another, engaging in mutual grooming ceremonies and playful rituals.