Growing up on the east coast, I experienced a real sense of time passing because of the four distinct seasons. Every fall, leaves changed into golden reds, yellows, and browns; every winter, snow covered the ground; every spring, there was an abundance of rain and new growth; and every summer, the heat and humidity soared. Living in California, I sometimes forget about the seasonal transitions because they do not occur so dramatically out here. As a result, time passes inconspicuously because fall, winter, spring, and summer all look and feel remarkably similar.
And yet there are real changes in both the world around us and within our bodies that occur at different times of the year. In the fall/winter, the days shorten and we feel the effects both in the morning and in the evening (as darkness sets in earlier and lasts for a longer duration). Our own circadian rhythms adjust to these environmental changes. Have you noticed yourself getting tired earlier? Needing more sleep than usual? Wanting to eat more food or craving different types of food? Do you feel like you want to spend more time alone? Is your mind racing more than usual? As we move into fall and winter, our internal clocks recalibrate, and we often find that our needs and wants are different.
The truth is that, for many of us, it can be difficult to slow down, tune in and readjust when we are faced with our own daily demands. We may be operating on "auto-pilot" while trying to ignore or resist these bodily changes...or we may feel pressure to keep moving at the same rate because we feel obligated to...or we gain a sense of personal satisfaction out of staying busy...or we may fear slowing down and tuning in because it might be painful. However, by pushing ourselves too much, it can backfire, leaving us physically exhausted, emotionally depleted, ill, hopeless, helpless, anxious, or depressed. So how can we take care of ourselves at this busy time of the year, when stress is high--whether it be because your kids are back at school, you have deadlines at school or work, the holidays are approaching, or something else?
Here are 5 ways to help you stay grounded and feel content this fall/ winter:
1. Reconnect with Your Sense of Awe
Have you ever felt a long-lost spark rekindle inside of you unexpectedly? Perhaps while you are playing with a child or trying something new or staring out at a particular view? All of us adults were kids at one time. Within each of us, there exists a sense of awe and wonder that connects us to our early childhoods.
Children's attunement to their senses and open-minded curiosity is universal. Their brains are not fully developed, and this is actually quite a blessing. Rather than analyze or apply logic, they make sense of the world by filtering it through their senses--what they see, hear, taste, smell, and touch.
Consider, for a moment, the way in which you experience the world on a daily basis. Do you take in what is going on around you--for example, notice a spectacular sunset or hear birds chirping in a tree as you walk by (or is your mind elsewhere)? Do you approach strangers and new situations with open-minded curiosity (or with guarded hearts and judgment)? True, there is a naivete and lack of life experience that enables children to be the way that they are, but there is also a way in which adults can enrich their own lives by reconnecting with this profound sense of awe.
2. Let Your Body Inform Your Mind
In our culture, we tend to champion rational thinking above other ways of knowing. The truth is that our bodies possess a good deal of wisdom. Eastern cultures tend to recognize this. Many of us brush aside our intuitive impulses: we refer to "gut instincts" or "hunches." Our minds can spin webs that lead us astray, entangle us in ambivalence, or generate anxiety. When we tune into our bodies, we start to understand what is going on within ourselves on a deeper cellular level as well as on a vaster spiritual plane. Tuning into our bodies connects us to ourselves and, by becoming more present, we are also better able to connect with others and the world around us.
3. See "Abundance" Instead of "Lack"
How often do you hear someone say: "It is not fair..." "I never get what I want..." "I can't afford it...." etc. These are only a few examples of expressions that perceive reality through a sense of lack. It is common, habitual thinking, which clutters our minds. But this pattern of thinking can erode your sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, pride, and abundance. Rather than seeing the glass as half-full, you are always worrying that it is half-empty...and then, if it is half empty, then what will you do about it?...Go to the store?...But what time does the store close?...Do you need to buy anything else?...Where is that list? The mind can go on and on. When you see the glass as half-full, then you can go ahead and drink that milk, taste it fully, and savor every last drop (accepting that when it is done, it is done). Appreciating what you already have and focusing on a sense of abundance brings happiness.
4. Embrace Your Own Pace
With the proliferation of the internet and smart phone apps, the world keeps getting faster and busier (and, let's face it, "faster" is sometimes equated to "better)." There is more multi-tasking, less "down-time," and "FOMO" (Fear Of Missing Out) if you are not keeping up with the buzz. Just take the recent election and how rapidly stories generated and then fizzled out in the wake of newer stories. It can be difficult to keep up with the current speed of life. And a very important question to ask ourselves is: "do we even want to try?" What do we gain from keeping up?
When we keep up with the speed of our culture, we may feel more connected to others and to our communities, more informed, excited and inspired, or it may be helpful for our jobs, lives, families, etc. So when does it become problematic? It becomes problematic if we allow ourselves to get swept up into the mayhem, and start experiencing negative effects. When we do not respect our own boundaries, we risk losing our connection to ourselves. We may feel any of the following: 1) flooded with emotions or a sense of "information overload" 2) triggered by traumatic stories 3) subject to habitual anxious thoughts 4) out-of-synch with our bodies.
While it may not be a good idea to ignore what is going on in the world around you, it can be helpful to consciously tune in, observe your patterns, and establish a pace that feels comfortable and healthy for you. Some people, by nature or practice, are very good at this. They know themselves well, can tune into their needs in the moment and follow through. For most of us, it takes practice and cultivation. Here are some practical tips how you can learn to set your own pace:
• Schedule daily or weekly time to "tune out" and "unplug." (They have adult camps now devoted to this cause, but the benefits are free and accessible to you at any time). Make a commitment to yourself and actually follow through!
• Don't buy into our cultural belief that productivity defines your identity and self-worth. Consider the importance of taking care of yourself everyday--even if that means sleeping in or ignoring your to-do list.
• Embrace your pace! Do not compare yourself to others; we all have our own unique rhythms.
• Practice mindfulness throughout the day: walking, eating, breathing, listening, meditating, etc.
As you may have noticed, books about Feng Shui and de-cluttering have recently become popular. There are aesthetic trends towards minimalism as well--tiny houses, few possessions, multifunctional gadgets. Just think for a moment about how easy it is to accumulate possessions in your home--mail, newspapers, magazines, receipts, free samples, new purchases. If you don't stop to purge every once in awhile, it can feel as though you are drowning in all of it. "Simplifying" may mean different things to different people: for some it means decreasing possessions, for others making fewer plans so that they have more free time, and for others it means getting more organized. Simplifying your life feels like a breath of fresh air.
All of these tools are available to you right now at this very moment. Whenever you are ready, and whatever season of life you are in, you can strive for contentment.