I’ve been in a rush everyday as long as I can remember. So, when I embarked on this journey of self discovery and spiritual learning I realized that my priorities are not in line with my values. I’ve bought into the collective message that everything good is outside of myself. As a result, I am left exhausted most of the time. I feel like there is no time for me to focus on myself and take care of my needs. However, my spiritual journey is all about caring for, loving and connecting with myself. I’m left wondering how I can make these priorities in my life despite the demands of this busy, modern world.
I realized that it has to start somewhere but wasn’t sure where? Honestly, I was stumped, I had no clue where to look, but finally the rushing wore me out and the answer was clear: relaxation and sleep. But I need to make room in my life for relaxation and sleep. Here are some things I found that help;
- Ditch To Dos Lists – Most of my life I was a lover of to do lists. Now I’m trying my best to get rid of them as much as I can. I used to even write down when I needed to shower! Now I’m striving to connect with my inner type B and put the list down. With two small kids that can be hard, but it’s worth trying to let at least the little things drop off the list and use it only as a reminder for the important things.
- No more Shoulds – Teal Swan talks a lot about letting go of the shoulds in life in her book Shadows Before Dawn. In Al-anon they say to stop “shoulding all over yourself.” I agree that we need to closely examine all the shoulds that we impose on ourselves and try to eliminate as many as we can. We need to take the approach of doing what feels good first or practicing self care before we do the shoulds. For example, the dishes need to be done but I want to have a hot bath, before I would do the dishes first, now I have the bath first…taking care of myself needs to come first.
- Progress not Perfection – this is another Al-anon slogan and it’s the one that was most helpful to me. It truly allowed me to let go of aiming for perfection. I also created a new personal mantra which is “Good enough!” If I can see that I’ve made progress in an area that is good enough for me. Perfection is a damaging concept that has only ever caused me grief and I can live without it.
- Leave things half done – since becoming a mother I’ve learned that it’s okay to leave things half done. I used to feel I had to do all the dishes, wipe the counters and sweep the floors. Now most of the time it’s okay to do one load of dishes and that’s good enough. This approach of making some progress but not fully completing things is very helpful to me. I often used to force myself to complete things even when I was physically exhausted.
Once I cleared some time in my life to actually rest and reconnect with myself I had to figure out how to actually learn to relax and sleep in a healthy way. I am not alone in this. 53% of Americans can’t even relax on vacation according to a Wall Street Journal article by Melinda Beck in 2010.
- Relaxation – Relaxation represents activities I turn to when I want to actively disengage from the busyness and noise of life. Making the choice to let go and go within allows me time to re-energize, to get in touch with my inner voice and process things on a deeper level. Everyone has difference activities they find relaxing, these are just the top ones for me.
- Walking – I take an hour walk every day with my dogs. I try to focus on the beauty of nature and let whatever thoughts that come up be what they are without attaching to them. Sometimes, I like to listen to a motivational talk by a spiritual teacher or listen to music, but mostly I try to focus on being in the moment or process my thoughts.
- Yoga – I was able to get to a meditative yoga class last week and it was wonderful to be in a place of shared silence. With such a loud, busy home (joyful noise of children) I crave silence and I know that I cannot ignore that need. Yoga is another wonderful opportunity to go within and focus on my inner self as I do the postures.
- Meditation – Meditation is the best form of relaxation I’ve found. I’m trying to do it at least once a day for 5 minutes, my goal is to work up to 15 minutes twice a day. But really for me it is just about doing what I can when I can. I usually just try to focus on my breathing and let any thoughts that come up surface and recede. My aim is to detach my energy from my thoughts, not to avoid thinking at all. If I resist thinking I’ll just think more or attach negative emotions to my inability to stop thinking. I would ideally meditate in the morning when I wake up and in the evening before bed. I’ll be sharing more on some my meditation experiences in the future, I’ve had a few really powerful experiences in the past.
Other relaxing activities that I enjoy are cooking, listening to music, taking warm baths, reading and writing. In order to really connect with myself I recognize that I need to take time to relax and enjoy life. It’s so easy to keep pushing yourself to do as much as you can and achieve constantly. But to really have the opportunity to know and love ourselves we need to take time to slow down and disengage from the rat race. I’ll be blogging a lot more on how I find and incorporate relaxation into my busy life.
2. Sleep – I started to read a book Lights Out by T.S. Wiley that Ralph Smart recommended. Based on my own experience and listening to my own body I know that I personally need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. I don’t know who decided that 8 hours of sleep was enough. Lights Out talked about going to sleep when the sun goes down and waking when it goes up. Also they say not to use artificial lights at all at night. I use Himalayan salt lamps at night to avoid bright light after sundown. But I realize that one of the most loving things I can do for myself is go to bed early and wake up early.
I love how all old sayings actually hold deep truths and wisdom like “Early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Benjamin Franklin said this and I have a feeling that we should all be listening to him. Another interesting and similar quote is “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Accordingly Wikipedia, Aristotle said this.
I’ve learned listening to my body that ignoring my need for sleep is highly detrimental to my health. I believe that listening to our bodies and emotions (which come from our body not our mind) is a key to unlocking the mystery of self love. So, in the name of this belief I’m going to start this week to go to bed (as early as my 10 month old will let me) and sleep as long as I need. I hope that eventually this will turn into rising very early so I can get all the things done I usually try to get done late at night. I’m aiming to reverse a life long habit of staying up late into the night to have me time (usually wasted on TV watching). But I know if I want to do the best possible thing for my body, mind and soul I have to listen to this critical need.
Sleep and relaxation relate to two key spiritual principals, without which we cannot connect with our higher self. These principals are “being not doing” and “silencing the mind”. I can see that self care is the path to self love and self love is the deepest spiritual practice we can have. Sleep and relaxation are the first steps in practicing excellent self care and therefore the first step towards self love.
“I am a human being, not a human doing. Don’t equate your self worth to how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what you do, when you don’t you aren’t.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.”
– Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati