I pledged on September 6, 2016 that I would devote myself to a simpler life on a daily basis which requires practicing mindfulness in daily life.
I have a reminder that pops up on my phone at 6:50 am every day that says "A Simple Life Project." By committing to daily reflection as to how I might simplify my life this day, I have noticed how important it is to be a gentle observer.
What is a gentle observer? The practice of mindfulness in daily life requires we practice observation without judgment.
If we dedicate ourselves to this mindfulness practice we have to learn how to observe in a gentle way. In other words, we notice what is happening inside of us and outside of us with a bubble of awareness between what's happening and any internal reaction we may have.
If we can manage to just be and breathe with what we observe including the internal reaction, we create a soft, gentle space where we can discern how or if we wish to respond rather than react.
Mindfulness in daily life is key to creating a simpler, more vibrant life. Here are 4 tips to being a gentle observer:
We must become aware of how hard and tense we are in our expressions, our voice, our posture, our manner in order to become softer. There is tremendous strength in being soft.
Mindfulness in daily life invites us soften into ourselves, our relationships and whatever is happening around us. Try right now. Notice what happens if you just think about the word SOFT and allow your facial muscles to grow soft, your shoulders to soften down, your breath to flow softly.
Next, before you speak aloud, intentionally soften your voice and your mouth. Try walking softly rather than stomping about unconsciously.
Breathe with awareness.
We are all breathing automatically but when we bring awareness to the breath we step into the practice of mindfulness in daily life.
Begin by making it a habit to NOTICE your natural, automatic breath. Notice how it feels as it enters and exits your body.
Befriend your breath by checking in ongoing throughout your day. Play with deepening your inhales and extending your exhales for instant calm to your tense body and mind.
Feel and express gratitude.
At the end of all of the thousands of yoga classes I have taught over the years, I always guide students to bring hands together in the "prayer position" at the center of the chest and with eyes still closed in a relaxed seated position after deeply resting in savanna.
Next, I suggest we seek a palpable sense of gratitude for the breath, the body and this day of being alive. Mindfulness in daily life is a practice that is enriched when we seek opportunity to feel and express gratitude. It might be gratitude toward the cashier at the grocery, or gratitude for the vibrant colors in nature out in our front yard, or gratitude for the opportunity to help someone who is struggling, or gratitude for a comfortable bed.
If we can adopt a habit of feeling and saying "thank you," we begin to marinate in gratitude all of the time. And if we can marinate in gratitude all of the time we naturally experience a simpler life and the practice of mindfulness in daily life.
I was leading a meditation class one Sunday and a long time student was expressing how hard it is to let go when she is so worried about her son who is making poor decisions as he prepares to leave the nest. I leaned in softly and replied, "This is letting go. . ." and I lifted my gripping fists and opened my hands and softened my fingers and wrists. I said, "Just release the grip."
Her whole body and face softened in that moment as she realized she was creating her own suffering by gripping so tightly mentally, emotionally and physically.
Letting go does not mean that we give up on our loved ones. Letting go does not mean that we become numb to the suffering of others. We can be dedicated to a project without gripping tightly. Mindfulness in daily life requires a regular practice of releasing the grip.
My own spiritual teacher told me many years ago that clasping my child to my chest in a tight grip of worry is not love rather having arms wide open for the child to come to me if and when he chooses is love. We can adopt this same practice for ourselves in our daily life.
By softening, breathing with awareness, feeling and expressing gratitude we are more able to release what no longer serves us and let go of the tight grip of anxiety. Practice clenching your fists very tightly - hold on for dear life! Now, release. Let go. Soften your hands and fingers.
Being a gentle observer is a practice of noticing with softness and then consciously choosing to continue to soften, breathe withe awareness, feel and express gratitude and let go of what you do not need to hold onto. This is the essence of mindfulness in daily life and key to having a simpler life.
So when I first set out on this 125 journey to live a simple life with this project that started on September 6 I was quite ambitious. I was going to write a blog post every day for 125 days dedicated to this simple life project. But guess what? Life happened. And I I have been having incredible opportunities to actually interact with life with my simple life mindset day in and day out. So, I decided to change my mind. Change the nature of my commitment to this project and just blog a couple times each week. Maybe only once a week. And you know, it's good. It's healthy to be able to just simply change your mind. Because life is NOT a one way street. We get to choose and change as a part of harmonizing with this human experience we are having along the way.
Now, let us not undervalue the virtue of reliability. I am all about being where I say I will be and showing up and following through on my promises. I think we can take it too far sometimes. It's important to stay fluid and change direction when needed.
I decided to let myself off the hook because I've had a tendency to be overly committed and overly reliable. I've no intention of suddenly letting down my clients, friends and family but I'm also tuning in each morning to what my inner-self wants and needs and allowing this to guide me. And this practice is actually allowing more time, energy and space in my daily life to be of service to others. Strange how that works.
So, maybe today you can let yourself off the reliability hook and tune in. Give yourself permission to simply change your mind. After all, isn't a woman's prerogative? ; )
I honestly can not remember what boredom feels like. When I hear people say they are bored it's such a bizarre concept to me. Can't comprehend. What does it mean to be bored? Is it restlessness? Is it discontent? Is it an addiction to stimulation (caffeine, visual images, talking, doing)? Deciding to lead a simple life is all about shifting the mental paradigm from constant movement and stimulation to just easing into what is with acceptance and surrender.
Just BE-ING where you are and diving deep into the sounds, sights, sensations of your present moment is living in fullness. There is no such thing as boredom in that place! A simple life is about feeling FULL in the beauty of simplicity rather than chasing constant stimulation.
This week I am staying at a house right on the beach of the Pacific Ocean with my dear husband, my nearly 17 year old daughter, her bestie and our wonderful friends Josh and Beth. We have embraced the simple life by cooking together, watching the lightening storms while listening to Ray LaMontagne's album Ouroboros. A simple life here means riding the waves on boogie boards and going for long walks on the beach watching the pelicans fly in formation and the gathering of sea gulls on the sand. It's about collecting sea shells and thinking of which of my child clients will enjoy using these shells in the sand tray in my office when I return. It's about seeing my teenage daughter and her friend have the time of their lives jumping waves with squeals.
Boredom is not something we experience once we embrace a simple life. With acceptance and celebration of what is right here right now, there is no such thing as feeling bored. All of life is a celebration with an embrace of a simple life. This is the essence of mindfulness. Being with what is. Accepting. Surrendering. Celebrating. Appreciating.
My simple morning practice is a set of healthy habits I've established and I'd like to share it with you.
You see, how we start our day has everything to do with how we interact with what life may throw us.
It's important to be intentional and creating simple rituals for your morning can make all the difference.
I've listed below some suggestions based on my own simple morning routine.
A simple life with self care focus doesn't just happen. A simple life and self care must be cultivated and it starts with the dawn of each new day.
- Let your morning begin with the night before. Create a healthy and effective sleep hygiene. If you haven't yet grabbed my free Sleep Tight Guide go get it now! It's SO important to get a good night's rest in order of have a purposeful morning experience.
- Get up early. It's important to have plenty of time to move through your morning with ease. Set a gentle alarm to go off. I use a soft chime on my phone.
- Take time for some gentle yoga. It might be just stretching and breathing in your bed or you might want to have a dedicated standing practice. Here is a short video to a brief yoga practice that is a simple 4 minute flow I created for women over 40. Yep, that's me demonstrating for you!
- Drink a big glass of water. If you like, add a squeeze of lemon juice for a little detox action. Hydrating and starting the day with a glass of water BEFORE you get to the next one is key.
- Brew a simple cup of organic coffee or organic tea. Mindfully sip, taking the aroma, the warmth of the mug, the sensation of the steam rising up to your face.
- Connect with nature. If you have an outdoor space, early morning is a wonderful time to soak up the crisp morning air, listen to the birds or gaze at the sunrise. If weather doesn't permit, sit by a window and as you sip on your mug of hot coffee or tea, take time to see what you can see in the sky or the tree tops. Maybe go for a walk and keep your head up and notice what you see along the way.
- Practice mindfulness in the bath or shower. Move slowly as you bathe your body feeling the sensation of the water on your skin, the scent of your shampoo, the sound of the water. As you dry your body, take time to gently pat each area of your body with a towel feeling grateful for the body you are in and how it's carried you this far in life.
I've discovered that committing to simple practices leads to a simple life is all about slowing down.
For so many years we moved so fast, rushing about in the morning to get the kids to school and to get to work that the day would fly by in a frenzy and it often felt life was a race resulting in exhaustion and often anxiety.
Starting the day with mindful intention and a slow pace sets the tone for a much more peaceful life experience every day.
On September 6, 2016 I was returning from a magically simple and satisfying long weekend on a beautiful mountain lake with my amazing family. I decided that I would return home to a focus of creating a simple life in order to bring back with me that sense of peace and connectedness I felt while at the lake. And one thing I noticed not only that weekend but also in my work as a psychotherapist and mentor for others is that people just want to be heard. Really heard. But not only do people want to be heard but I believe Nature itself - nature that is all around us and within us - also wants to be heard. The practice of simply listening is the key to noticing and receiving more deeply the magical messages we otherwise miss in the busy-ness of our lives.
- Slow down. Stop moving constantly. Stillness is rather important to being able to really hear, to attend with intention.
- Listen for content without analysis. You can analyze later. Right now just take it in.
- Seek to understand. Instead of jumping to rebuttal or problem solving mode, simply listen for what the other person is showing you or what Nature is demonstrating.
- Appreciate what you hear or observe. You need not like it or agree with it but you can appreciate it.
This morning my husband and I sat out on our front porch as the sun came up and we noticed a large spider had built an expansive web between the two porch columns and was busily consuming her breakfast of a rather large insect. I know a lot of people who would have rushed to get the broom and taken down that web, spider and all. As much as I admit that I'm not particularly a fan of arachnids I have a deep and abiding respect for Nature and I have cultivated an ability to slow down and listen to the messages it may have for me. As we watched the spider doing her thing, I appreciated the meticulous work and the art of this web-spinning in order to get what she needs to live another day.
There is something tremendously rich about intentionally living a simple life rather than the complex, confusing, crazed rat-races we otherwise may find ourselves lost in. Slowing down and simply listening to what others are saying and showing us, pausing to really pay attention to what Nature has to demonstrate. . . yields treasures otherwise overlooked.
I am not naturally an organized person but I LOVE being organized. I love having my home in order. It lends to a sense of peace and ease. The fact that this does not come easily or naturally for me makes me the ideal person to share with you what I have learned about creating simple home organization. Here are some tips I have discovered:
- Clear out clutter. We've covered this in a couple of previous articles but it can't be emphasized enough if we are seeking a home that is simply in order. Block off a few hours, grab some boxes and/or large garbage bags and do a massive sweep. Collect all the paper and items that can be recycled, donated, sold or thrown away. Clear it out!
- Function then style and sentiment. It's important that 95% of the items in your home have a function that you actually use and need. 5% of the items can be purely for decoration or sentiment. For example, you might have a couple of awesome fat candles flanking your dining room sideboard that look super stylish but you also might light those candles for ambience during special dinners.
- Be selective with sentiment. Too many baby photos or too many art projects you saved from when your kids were little can end up cluttering your home environment. Select one or two special items per child for display. If you can't part with the others, at least pack them away in the attic.
- Daily sweep. Every morning and every evening make a quick run through the house looking for papers, mail or other items that can be either tossed of filed.
- A home for for everything. When you take your earrings off at the end of the day, put them in the jewelry box. Kicking your shoes off at the door? Set up a shoe cubby. Dishes should either be in the cabinet or in the dishwasher.
These are just a few of the tips I've discovered work for me since we recently moved into the house we are living in. The key to simple home organization is ongoing effort to release what you don't need and be conscious about how you interact with the items in your home so you don't get lost in the stuff and stacks!