Packing Tips for the Journey Ahead

I don’t know about you, but my already full life seems to get a little fuller with each passing day. The thing is, I absolutely love what I’m doing, but the pace feels risky at times. You remember bike rides when you get to the top of the hill and look all the way down? The beginning feels exhilarating but as the speed picks up, the handlebars start to jiggle and all you need is a little tiny rock in the road to send you flying over the top.

Some weeks feel that way…

And most weeks I have been lucky enough to fly down the hill without hitting a rock, but in the long run, this is just gambling with the inevitable crash and burn. Some hills require different bikes. I need different gear, more protection and a little more planning. And without those things, I’m risking some serious injury and leaving much to chance.

Self care strategies are not much different. They are the tools we pack for the journey ahead. They are the things we need to not just survive the journey, but actually enjoy it. The challenge is: when you’re in a hurry, the last thing you want to do is stop and repack your bags.

As I looked for self-care strategies, I felt overwhelmed at the idea of adding more to-do’s to an already packed schedule but knew I needed a tool to help me shift the way I went through my day/week/ life before it swallowed me whole. Then I stumbled upon two little gems: attention and awareness.  And like that, a shift in thinking started to happen.

In his book, Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson asks the question, “How well am I paying attention to what I’m paying attention to?  He goes on to say, “It is one thing to pay attention to something. It is quite another thing to pay attention to what we’re paying attention to, especially the activity of the mind itself. It requires a deeper activation of the mind to select and attend to those things that we are not practiced at attending to, especially the very activity of the mind itself. For the way we attend to elements of our experience wires our brains in certain patterns—and the way we attend to others’ minds influences the wiring of their brains as well  (p. 53)”

This week, ask yourself:

Am I paying attention or just trying to get through the day? If it’s the latter, here are a few tools to consider packing for the journey you are on.

  1. Breathe

We breathe all day long, so it only takes a couple seconds to ‘check in with yourself’ by breathing. This tool is a simple as paying attention to something as basic as your own body breathing in and out.

How to try it: Pause and give your full attention to a few slow breaths. Thinking of nothing but the breath coming in and going out, see if you can shut all other thoughts out for just a few seconds, giving your fullest attention to your own body and your own breath. If you can spare a full minute, set a little timer on your phone and fill up your minute with deep breaths and fresh air.

** This tool is particularly effective during times of stress, anxiety and panic.

  1. Wake up

The American writer Henry David Thoreau once said, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. In plowing through the day, we risk switching to autopilot which, when it comes to self-awareness isn’t much different from sleepwalking. This tool is simply about reminding ourselves to wake up to the moment we are presently in.

How to try it: Depending on how you like to be reminded, this might look like a reminder that pops up on your calendar, your phone, or a note you tape to a mirror. Then with whichever method you choose, pose this question to yourself occasionally:

Am I really awake right now?

Answer this question by taking 1-2 minutes to invite your mind to come back to your physical body. Look down and acknowledge yourself in the physical place you are sitting or standing. If your thoughts float away, consider them attached to a string that you wind back up into your own body. As often as they float away, keep kindly winding them back in. Focus yourself on the people you are with and acknowledge the importance and value of who you are to the people you or with or the space you are occupying.

Take note of the air, the way you feel, the way it smells and do everything you can to invite your mind and thoughts to center on where you are and what it feels like in the exact place your body is.

Thompson’s book also suggests that “real change comes when we begin to focus attention on what we are sensing within ourselves. Our own feelings, physical sensations, and thoughts, not simply what we are thinking about outside of ourselves” (p. 55).

“Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel…meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It’s not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are” (p. 33).

May these self care tools and any others you choose to pack, serve you well in keeping a pace that is good and healthy for your soul. Blessings to you on your journey.