I'm on "vacation" this week. This vacation for me is a time of staying home in my beloved nest and doing that which nourishes me after a nearly three month period of travel, teaching, and tending to family needs.
Even though I was busy during this period, I was mindful. I took good care of myself, and I must have been successful at it because, in this moment, I have no health issues flaring up, which is my trusty indicator that I've gotten off-balance and have done too much—again. In this moment, I feel really good, like one of the three bears who finally found the "just right" chair to sit down in to feel at home in herself.
I've been reading a lot, especially in the area of mind-body medicine; the science behind meditation, self-care, and self-compassion. I love knowing how things work in the brain and body to help us arrive at inner spaces of peace and goodwill.
One of the books I'm enjoying on vacation is Mindfulness as Medicine: A Story of Healing Body and Spirit by Sister Dang Nghiem. The author is a former physician who became a Zen Buddhist nun in Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Inter-Being. This is just one of the many passages that I've highlighted and continue to reflect upon:
In this passage, she is writing about pain and how we address it:
Upon reading this, I found myself nodding in agreement, and jotting down a few questions:
• Animals do this (and we are animals), so why don't we?
• Why don't we pay attention to our own pain through inner inquiry? Shouldn't we be curious about the source of our pain instead of ignoring it or masking it with medications and treatments that numb us?
• Why don't we stop and rest? Why don't we lie down when we need to so badly?
The last question is the one I am pondering today. I have long held that rest is sacred, not just a way to get much needed sleep, but a way for us to come back to center in a gentle, effortless way. Rest allows our precious body-mind time to recalibrate. Rest is extraordinarily healing—good medicine, natural medicine—that has the beautiful ability to bring us back to homeostasis from living a fragmented, overly busy, too stressful life.
My intention for myself for the next 8 days is to rest. Deeply rest all the parts of me—body, mind, heart and spirit.
Do you allow yourself time to really rest? To rest deeply enough that your cells and your innermost being respond to the kindness of that? What prevents you from resting? Let us reconsider the sacredness of rest for our total well-being.
Breathing in, we rest.
Breathing out, we smile ...
Breathing in and out, we give thanks for the gift of time, to be at ease within ourselves in this lovingly, kind way.
I grew up in the era of "The Sound of Music." After watching the film many times, I can still hear Julie Andrews (who played the main character, Maria VonTrapp) citing all of her "favorite things" in a song of the same title.
Calling upon "favorite things", I believe, may be an act of profound self-compassion. When we are feeling afraid, worried, or anxious it is good and wise to turn the mind toward something more steady; something that is comforting, familiar, even nourishing.
I found myself doing this often in the last week. My youngest daughter underwent emergency surgery at University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, and, of course, I flew to her side. There were a number of days sitting by her bedside in the hospital, waiting for the prescribed follow-up treatment to kick in.
I never really found myself anxious or worried (though her situation was a high-risk one) and I'm certain this was due to my many years of mindfulness training and practice. AND because when uneasy feelings did arise, I set the intention to examine them, and to offer myself a good sized dollop of self-compassion because what we were going through WAS difficult.
(I also knew that modeling this to my daughter would help her cope with all the unwanted, potentially frightening things that were happening to her. )
When you are in the midst of an ongoing difficulty (like illness or hospitalization), consider tuning into your favorite things. What are they? When the going gets tough, what kind choices can you make for yourself to bring you back to equanimity? To tend to yourself well and kindly?
Here are a few of the "favorite things" we accessed while in the hospital:
Short walks to places of interest: the coffee shop, the gift shop, and our ultimate favorite, an arboretum in the Heart Center. This was an extraordinary place of "inner beauty" that felt so very healing just by being there. Bamboo trees filled the space. I've heard bamboo has a very high "vibration" energetically. I believe it.
Treats: coffee, dessert, comfort food (mac and cheese!), anything that brought a sense of delight again
Naps: stretching out under heated blankets for a bit of rest
Tablet time: watching reruns of the original "Star Trek" TV series; watching episodes of "The Living Planet" narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough (his voice always put us to sleep)
Mindful meditation: simply being with what was, listening, paying attention to and resting in the breath
Fun & Laughter: recounting memories, noticing funny things people said or did, Facebooking cute doctors (my daughter is single and 25, need I say more)
What we turn our attention toward expands our experience, either enriching it or making it more difficult. The choice is always ours. What could have been one of the most challenging experiences my daughter and I have ever been through together was transformed into a time of bonding, discovery, and present-centered appreciation because of our intention to be mindful and self-compassionate—and compassionate toward one another.
Life is good, even when it's difficult, when our favorite things are within reach. May it be so for you.
When I lost my health due to stress and overwhelm in 1994 (or was it 1993, I don't remember, truthfully, life was a blur at the time), I didn't know where to turn for a solution. All I knew was that I was deeply, deeply, tired and just plain worn out.
Somehow, I knew to listen to that tired self who encouraged me to bend down even lower, put my inner ear next to my body, and pay attention to what it said it needed to be well. Organic healing from the inside out.
I paid attention to what I thought and felt through writing (journaling helped). I rested—a lot! I walked the beach for hours and simply listened to the waves lapping upon the shore, seagulls dipping and soaring overhead. Actually, I didn't do much of anything at all but to BE ... and I looked and listened deeply to what was going on around me.
I immersed myself in the present and allowed that "method" to begin to heal what ailed me.
I somehow knew that savoring was part of a healing process. (I'd been moving too fast to savor much of anything up until then.) Savoring is the act of allowing yourself to be absorbed into and to fully enjoy—to appreciate— your current experience, whether it's looking at a brilliant sunset or sipping a cup of flavorful tea.
Webster's describes it this way—perfectly. "She wanted to savor every moment: relish, enjoy (to the full), appreciate, delight in, revel in, luxuriate in, bask in."
(That was me then. It's still me today.)
Savoring saved me. Savoring brought me back to the simple blessings of a slower-paced, more intentionally lived life.
Walking was and is one of the avenues I use to savor. Thich Nhat Hanh style, when I walk, I walk. I try not to think too much; just take in my present experience. Doing so allows me to log in what I see as a pleasant experience—especially natural beauty.
This week I'm reading Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson. He affirms what I've learned organically about the healing power of savoring with some of neuroscience's newest findings. Dr. Hanson calls savoring "taking in the good." He writes, "When you take in the good, stay in the present, enjoying what is flowing through your awareness without trying to grab it as it goes by, opening to it so that it sinks into you."
It's the sinking in part that neuroscience speaks to. When we take in the good, "feel good" hormones take over, cortisol is minimized, and beneficial neural connections are made. He recommends staying with your experience for at least 10 seconds to let the process kick in. The more we do this, the more our brain changes, the more new neural pathways are created; pathways that can bypass old ineffectual ones that are conditioned to send us messages of stress and anxiety (and so much more).
In time, we'll feel inner struggle dissipate. Peace comes. Happiness arises and decides to set up housekeeping if we stay attuned to the good, the right, the true—that which nourishes body, mind, heart and spirit. We are, literally, retraining our brain to "see" the good and, as a result, we reap the benefits of body/mind ease, open-heartedness, and "at-one-ment" with life as it is.
For me, savoring—this taking in of the good—is one of the most self-compassionate things I can do for myself. That any of us can and should do for ourselves if health and healing is our heart's desire.
(That's a "good should," by the way. ;-)
May you savor something today and feel the body/mind benefits of supremely en-JOYing yourself wherever you are.
p.s. The lilacs pictured above are from my latest walk. They were the most fragrant lilacs I've ever smelled ... in my entire life ... no kidding.
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.