Without exaggeration, it's safe to say that a tiny yellow book titled, Slowing Down in a Speeded Up World, pretty much saved my life. At the time, I was operating like the cartoon character, Speedy Gonzalez, the Mexican mouse, living on overdrive. Author Adair Lara was the first wise woman who gave me permission to get off the fast track and begin to live in a way that was more grounded and slow.
In truth, everything is speeding up these days. Even time seems to race by. That speediness is definitely felt in our bodies as stress, in our minds as racing thoughts, and in our emotions as overwhelm or disconnection. I do not believe we are meant to live this way. Moving so quickly we miss the magic and meaning of life.
Moving quickly also sends constant messages to our body-mind to be on alert (hurry! move! get going!), and what this does is create a continuous stream of cortisol moving through our body. Cortisol is a hormone that is released into our bloodstream when stress is activated. In regular doses, it's necessary and good for body health. Too much cortisol, surging through regularly, is not a good thing, and will ultimately take its toll on us.
The bottom line is we can't be healthy (body, mind and spirit) when we are always struggling to keep up. More and faster is not better. It is up to each one of us to find the pace of life that suits us best, and, more specifically, one that truly nourishes us. Going slow is not a bad thing, it's a mindful thing, and one that, when fully embraced, will allow us to experience the world in a whole new way.
Author Robert Gerzon explains in his book, Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, that our bodies are not intended, nor constructed, for such fast-paced living. As passengers on the train of life, we often move through our days at breakneck speeds. This speediness may be experienced in our bodies as anxiety and other stress-related disorders such as heart arrhythmias, headaches, and insomnia.
When we do slow down or come to a screeching halt, we immediately feel the difference. Our bodies and minds tell us so. If we could just listen more intently to the signals our body-mind sends, we would instinctively know what to do (or not do) to be well. But, first, we must slow down enough for inner listening to take place.
You can begin slowing down by actually changing your pace. You can choose to walk more slowly—from the car, through the parking lot, into the store. You can walk more purposefully by looking up at the blue sky or at the green trees, instead of robotically downward. You can do things mindfully, with full and present attention, instead of multi-tasking. As Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh advocates, when you are washing the dishes, just wash the dishes.
Any practice that roots you more deeply in the present moment will help you become aware of how quickly you are moving through your day. It will also help you discern how satisfying this feels and if the pace of your life needs to be altered to meet your deepest needs.
Adapted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy
We’ve heard for some time now that meditation is good for us. We’ve heard stories of peace-loving masters and blissed-out yogis. For many of us, such an ease-filled state of mind seems impossible because of the clamorous nature of our thoughts. More times than I can count I’ve heard someone say, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t meditate.”
On the surface, this statement may seem true. It may feel like hard work to quiet our mind, but only if we’ve made it so. It doesn’t have to be so difficult. What if we could adopt a gentler, more realistic approach to meditation? What if meditation were no more than a period of focused attention? A kind time of being present with ourselves as we are by experiencing our breath? That’s all!
Often we begin to meditate holding the energy of struggle. We’ve heard about “monkey mind” or how thoughts are like wild horses that must be corralled. Immediately, this creates an attitude of aversion. What if you thought about your mind and meditation differently? Here is how yogic teacher Ram Dass explains it: “Imagine a flower. The center is called your primary object of meditation. And the petals are all the thoughts that keep coming out from that center. The primary object of our meditation is our breath. We focus on our breath going in and our breath coming out.”
In other words, meditation is nothing more than focusing on your flower center. The thoughts that will naturally interrupt your focus are not clamorous monkeys at all, but mere extensions of you. Petals. Thoughts. Some are lovely, some are tainted; mostly, they’re just distracting.
Invite yourself to peaceful inner space by focusing your attention on the breath moving into your body in the solar plexus (lower abdomen), feeling it rising and falling. Or, focus at the base of the nostrils and feel “the whisper of the breath,” as Ram Dass describes it, entering on the in-breath, and another whisper of breath on the out-breath. The point of meditation is to hold your conscious awareness on that experience as best you can. And if you can’t (and you won’t, because your thoughts will wander away), you simply return your attention to the art of breathing.
This is beginning meditation, and despite what you’ve been told, it can be as simple as breathing and staying; staying long enough for a sparkle of serenity to be seen. As you continue to sit kindly, over time, you will feel more comfortable and confident in your experience. Glimmers of grace—inner peace—will steal in on little cat’s feet and sit down beside you. Breath by breath by breath.
Adapted from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy ©2015.
I believe in the power of practice. In order to be proficient at anything, you have to do it again and again. Whether it's learning to change a diaper, writing a grant or rock climbing, practice makes progress. Taking good care of yourself and modulating your emotions works the same way.
Emotions are running high for many of us these days. The world does not go gently. It takes dedication and practice to know how to keep yourself calm and steady in difficult circumstances. In my new book, Living Gently with Myself, I reveal one of my favorite practices for doing just this. I call it "Gentling Down."
I'd like to share the full selection from the book with you here, hoping that it will help you shift gears from stressed to serene when you need it most.
Lesson 23: "Gentling Down"
When we are unfocused, stressed, worried, or hurrying, we begin to feel off center, disconnected from what matters most—living gently with ourselves. It doesn’t take much for this to happen, the world and its pressures being what they are. The good news is that we always have the opportunity to “return” again and again. We are creatures of choice and we can turn ourselves in any direction we wish. It simply takes remembering to do so.
When we do remember, we can stop to take a sacred pause. A sacred pause begins by taking one, genuinely deep breath. A full inhale followed by a full exhale. Feel the effect of that. Fully feel the breath working its magic upon you.
When we are moving quickly or overcome with emotion, it is not always easy to immediately settle down, as much as we might like this to be the case. Instead, we might require some time and space to do so. When this happens to you, you can give yourself a few extra minutes to gentle down. Here is how gentling down works:
When you are driving a car, for example, at some point you may need to shift the car into neutral; to glide or coast to a stop. Gentling down works exactly like this. Imagine yourself grabbing hold of your inner gear shift and moving it into Neutral position. Continue imagining that your body vehicle is starting to slow down. With each inhale and exhale—breathing in, breathing out, ever so kindly—it rolls to a gentle halt. Feel this slowing down take place within you and ride its rhythm. Give yourself as much time as you need to slow way down.
When you have “stopped” inside yourself, give yourself an additional gift: rest there for a few more moments. Maybe minutes, if you have them to spare, and I hope you do. Continue to breathe by feeling yourself “being breathed,” which is a wonderful sensation because it invites you to let go of any pressure you might be feeling to breathe correctly. You can let go and allow your body’s system to do what it does best. You can also put a spiritual spin on this process and imagine that the Creator (Spirit, God, Love) is actually breathing through you to gentle you down, sustaining your life so you don’t have to do anything at all but accept the gift of breath.
Gentling down is a supremely self-compassionate thing to do. Self-compassion, as you will recall, involves catching yourself in a moment of suffering, and then doing “the kindest thing.” When you have gentled down and are breathing normally once again, you may notice that your clarity returns, bubbling up like water from a refreshing spring. And with this clarity, you will know what to do next, whether it is to put your feet up and relax more deeply, or to make that phone call you’ve been putting off; to step out into your garden to smell the roses or get started making dinner.
When there is so much that life demands of us, gentling down is a very good tool to use to come back to center—no matter where you are or what you are doing. Gentling down may take a bit of practice but, if you’re like me, you’ll soon discover that this technique of literally “shifting gears” is oh, so helpful. And healing.
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook
©2018, Janice L. Lundy
Living Gently is here.
Purchase your copy today.
Living Gently and kindly with yourself is absolutely possible whether you are the CEO of a corporation or a stay-at-home mother; a college student or a retiree; a “regular” person who is doing the best she can to live in harmony with herself and others but, perhaps, struggling along the way.
From the archives:
A few years ago, I was asked 3 little questions about inner peace by a spiritual friend. I thought I'd share my answers here with you today. Despite the passage of time, my answers remain the same.
"Do you have a practice to cultivate inner peace in your life?"
Out of absolute necessity, I have many practices I use each day to stay as serene as possible. I was a nervous child. I kiddingly say that inherited worry genes from my dad’s side of the family and anxiety genes from my mother’s side. I tend to “feel” everything. So in 1994, when I’d maxed out my health due to stress (worry and anxiety too), I discovered mindfulness and the work of Thich Nhat Hanh. That was a turning point for me and since then I have had a deep passion for living as peacefully as possible.
My favorite inner peace practice is connecting with nature. Nature, for me, is my “God” connection. All of nature is sacred and all I need to do to feel relaxed and at ease in my life is to step outside, lift my face to the sky, breathe, and heighten my senses to get plugged into feelings of peace, gratitude and joy. Works every time!
"And, in what ways is that inner peace amplified/enriched by external?"
Mindfulness practice (which I have engaged in for over 20 years now) invites me to let everything in and use it as spiritual practice. If the world hands me a difficult situation, I can actually use this is a prompt to go within and access my innate peace. Peace is always there, ready for the taking. If the world offers up a delight, mindfulness allows me to stop, take notice, and indulge that experience. There are many exterior things that amplify peace for me. Nature, acts of kindness, art, music, the essence of people, animals. Simple things. The sound of leaves moving with the breeze, the touch of my husband’s hand, the sweet taste of ripe strawberries. Anything can touch our essence (our core) and amplify peace if we have the eyes to perceive it and the open heart to receive.
"Do you have a favorite quote about peace and if so, how do you apply it within your life?"
"No matter what is happening in our lives, peace is possible."
This phrase comes via one of my mentors, Sylvia Boorstein. No matter what is happening in the world, no matter how difficult things are, we have the capability to change our mind about how we respond to life. We can live elegantly, creating beauty, love and kindness everywhere we go. Or, we can perpetuate small-mindedness, live in fear or anger, creating dissension or harm—even to ourselves—by holding onto certain mindsets and behaviors. The choice is ever ours to embody our essence, which is peace. Anyone can do this. It simply takes the awareness and will to do so.
You might enjoy and glean great benefits from my book, Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook. If you want to feel more at ease within yourself and bring a blessing of peace to the world by being more calm, clear and wise, this book can take you there.
Learn more and read excepts here.
Available in paperback or as an e-book.
It’s been said thousands of times before, hundreds of books written on it— a cluttered desk, office, or house creates inner turmoil. It’s true. I know it is for me. I cannot write (even a column like this) if there is disarray around me. It is as if my mind picks up the exterior mess and dumps it back inside creating an inner landfill.
Before you begin your workday, clear and organize your desk as best you can. Even if what’s there is in piles, that’s better than loose-leaf papers strewn all over. Organize the desktop on your computer. A monitor screen cluttered with documents can set the mind awhirl. By taking a few moments each day to stay organized, you set the stage for clearer thinking. The calmer you are the clearer your mind will be. That’s a fact.
As "working people" with multiple roles and responsibilities, it is up to us to be as calm as possible—and to access it as often as we can throughout the day. Our homes and businesses need us to be “grounded” and clear thinking. Their success depends on our ability to be present, not scattered; effective, not exhausted.
Know what simple activities plant you back in your calm center—then do them! Step away if you need to. Take a music break. Go outside and breathe in Mother Nature. Walk on your lunch hour. Your inner peace quotient is up to you. It will rise and fall with every choice you make.
I once asked Jungian analyst and author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in an interview what wisdom was. Her answer? “Wisdom is what works.” I was taken aback by the simplicity of her response, but I knew what she said was true. Wisdom—especially women’s wisdom—is sourced in the practical. It is what we know works, especially what we can and should do to keep things running smoothly—and to take care of ourselves in the process.
Today, begin to take the first steps toward bringing a greater sense of calm into your workday. When you do, I guarantee you will feel your clarity return. And out of that clear-mindedness, your wisdom will rise and make itself known to you. Life will begin to look and feel different, even behind a desk or in the boardroom.
Calm, clear, wise—that’s the magic formula for a successful business and a stellar life.
Need assistance staying calm wherever you are? This can help.
52 unique and original practices to help you access that
pool of peace within you.
Learn more here.
Part 1 of a 2 part series on being at peace
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
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 co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.