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Still Season

As we grow closer to February, already the second month of a new year, I can’t help but be amazed by the passing of time. I mean, here we are more than halfway through January, and it feels as though there is still quite a bit to accomplish before the time comes to turn the page yet again on my calendar. Which, bittersweetly, will mean more birthdays to keep in mind and more meetings to schedule…more time to fill. Yet, it seems as though so little of that time is my own as I go from place to place and task to task. Have you found yourself feeling this way as well?

Take a second, pause, and ask yourself…”when was the last time I found myself in a moment and didn’t feel pulled toward another?”
“When was the last time that where I was, and what I was doing, was where my mind was too?

I am reminded of a quote I heard while attending a training a couple of weeks ago in which the speaker said, “our feelings of busyness result from thinking about what we are NOT doing.” In other words, the sense of chaos that is present during our busiest days is often a tension of the mind as it attempts to get ahead of us by considering all that there is to do between now and the next thing…and the next thing…and the next thing; and by the time we’ve finally made it to the thing that we’ve been thinking about, we’re either contemplating something new or less invested in the moment because our physical selves are only just now catching up to where our minds have been. How exhausting it is to be in so many places simultaneously, to have our minds and body’s split, while only really able to accomplish something in the here and now.

As the weather gets colder, it can feel as though everything begins to slow down; especially us. It becomes more difficult to get out of bed, takes longer to fully wake up, and longer to get anywhere because of the ice on our windshields and/or the chill on our bones. Despite all that remains to be done on the list of things to do,
Winter says, “not so fast” and invites us to simply be still for a while.

If you’re like me, you might be a little grumpy about that because you’re used to going faster (Plus, the cold weather makes your back hurt). After all, being still seems to go against all we’ve been taught in this day of “go, go, go.” Taking even just a moment or two at a more leisurely pace can feel like being stuck compared to how we normally move throughout our days. As I wrap myself in a blanket, look out at my snow-covered car, and ponder our society’s fast paced approach…I do find myself wondering, what’s the rush? What is it about “here and now” that makes me so curious about “there and then”? What if I just sat with all that is in front of me, for a change?

So, today…or tomorrow (whichever feels right to you), I invite you to join me in slowing down just a little. Giving yourself permission to be in the moment, wherever that may be and with whomever you find yourself sitting with. Perhaps the next time you’re taking a shower, you take a little longer on purpose. Just a moment to take in the sound and feel of the water as it’s running. Or, maybe you take a moment to really sip and savor your morning coffee or tea as you wait for your car to dethaw; listening to the sounds that pop up around you – acknowledging them and then letting them mind themselves. Seeking out a moment or two, just for you, to create stillness for yourself in the midst of everything else. Whatever those moments might look like. From my perspective, you have worked hard to arrive at this moment, and I like to think that such a season provides the perfect setting to slow down and celebrate such a journey.

The late guru and psychologist known by the name of Ram Dass once said, “Start from where you are – Not where you wish you were. The work you’re doing becomes your path”…”When you are fully present in the moment, there is no anticipatory fear, no anxiety, because you are just here and now, not in the future.”

Our experiment, then, is to see what it’s like for us to be still rather than rushed. To see if we still make it where we’re going if we let our foot off the gas a little. For many of us, this test will mean journeying outside of our comfort zone and maybe even sitting with difficult feelings or thoughts. Fortunately, I like to think the version of you that you’ll meet on the other side of that discomfort will be one that not only made it through but grew along the way. Think of this practice as being like working out for the first time after a while…you’ll probably start to feel sore and struggle with wanting to continue, but the more consistent you are in your practice the less difficult it becomes to do a little bit more each time. In the moments you catch yourself living in two different places in time, whether it be five minutes or five years into the future, gently acknowledge where you went and then reign yourself back to the present. Your brain may want to fight you on that, because it loves to think about the future; but the more you practice, the more you’ll find that you find yourself there naturally without any help.

As nature slows down with all the ice and snow, know that it’s okay to let yourself do the same for a while. Be gentle with yourself and attempt to trust that all you need to get where you’re headed is right here in the moment. As you practice finding stillness in this season of the year/your life,
here are three simple strategies that have proven to help others:

1. Pause & Breathe: Research shows us that deep breathing can help us to calm down during the moments we feel most overwhelmed. Breathing intentionally can also help us to reorient our focus, bringing us back to the here and now. At any point in your day, I invite you to catch yourself and simply count along with your breathing… Counting One, as you slowly inhale through your nose, two as you slowly exhale through your mouth, three as you inhale again, four as you exhale, and – finally – five as you breathe in once more and release with a deep sigh through your mouth.

2. Take Your Time: So many things are bidding for our time at any given moment. Rather than letting yourself get caught up in the hustle, lean into the moments that allow you to step outside of your responsibilities and check in with yourself. I have found that the best times to do this are either at the beginning or end of my day, but sometimes a hectic day calls for an intermission. For instance, stretch out a moment to last longer such as a lunch or meal break. Instead of eating in a rush, savor each bite and really lean into the flavors you’re tasting.  Alternatively, when waking up in the morning, don’t rush to brush your teeth or hop in the shower; instead, pause and just lay there for a moment – maybe even stretching a little. Allow yourself to become ready for the day. Taking our time and going at a slower than usual pace can remind us that we’re on our own team and helps us to listen to/meet the needs of our body and mind. The rest of your day will be there waiting for you when you step back into it.

3. Reflect: Journaling can be an incredibly useful tool when establishing order during times that feel like chaos. Keeping a record of personal thoughts and feelings can help us to break out of cycles where we’re obsessively thinking about all there is to accomplish. Rather than letting all those thoughts fill up your brain, I invite you to take a piece of paper and jot down anything and everything on your heart and mind for twenty to thirty minutes. Let it all loose, there are no wrong answers or words to write; and, to help with letting those thoughts go, you might even ball that paper up and toss it away. Think of it like clearing out the clutter in your attic so that there’s room for the more important stuff. Pro tip: Set a timer as you write so that you don’t have to worry about keeping track of the time, just being present with yourself.

Practice enjoying exactly where you are; even if the moment isn’t exactly what you wanted it to be. Truthfully, beauty can be found here and now.

Naturally, as with many things, being present can be difficult to achieve without a helping hand. If you believe that you could benefit from compassionate company as you seek to better understand yourself and sit with each moment, contact The Refuge Center  for assistance in finding the right counselor for you.

Written by Masters’ Level Intern Jesse Penland

References
Dass, R., Buetens, A., & Weinstein, J. (2022). You are the universe: Ram Dass maps the journey. Mandala Publishing.
Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., Wei, G.-X., & Li, Y.-F. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
Sutton, Jeremy (2023, October 4). 5 benefits of journaling for mental health. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/