Have you ever been painfully reminded of the fragility of your own life? You know those moments–we all have them–when you resort to a sort of inner conversation; talking to God, talking to yourself, talking to whoever will listen, begging for things to work out and thinking of all the things you haven’t gotten around to yet? Maybe it’s in a doctors’ office waiting for results, or caught in a storm on a hike. Other times it’s more abrupt; like in a car accident, or when you hit turbulence in an airplane.
Often, we are reminded of our vulnerability only in these moments when we are scared. Something creeps up and shocks us into awareness–an awareness that we otherwise forego in the interest of working, care-taking, running errands, or socializing.
And that’s not necessarily wrong. It would be unhealthy to walk around each day expecting something bad to happen, kissing our loved ones like it was the last time. So what are we to do? Where is the balance between being a fatalist and living preoccupied?
Recently, I had a particularly sobering health scare. When I finally received a clean bill of health, my Mother quipped: “You have a new lease on life today.” She was right. Now, I look for little ways to renew that lease for myself by simply being conscious of my place in the crazy, amazing world around me. Here are a few techniques that have helped me to grow in awareness:
1//Spend time where you feel most connected
We all have somewhere or something that reminds us of our larger purpose and our most raw selves. Personally, I find it in the silence of nature, especially by the water. Others may find it by listening to music, or by spending time with loved ones who act as a mirror for their true selves. Some find it in their place of worship, listening for or speaking to a higher power. It does not matter where we seek connection, it only matters that we choose to spend time in places, with people, or doing things that ring true to our core and remind us of our place in the greater world.
ProTip: Sometimes, reconnecting is synonymous with recharging. If you aren’t sure if you recharge through alone time or through social interaction, try a personality test. While simple, it may illuminate tendencies you didn’t realize you had.
Starting a meditation habit just over a year ago has dramatically shifted my mental state. The good news is that practicing mindfulness in this way is accessible to anyone and everyone. (I, at least, am far from Yogi status.) Guided meditations through the Headspace App have worked well for me, but there are many other affordable, high-quality options available.
ProTip: While starting a meditation habit is relatively simple (you can begin with just 5-10 minutes a day), the lasting impact builds over time. Don’t rush results, consistent daily practice will pay off.
3//Start a gratitude list
Gratitude has become a trendy term in the wellness world, but it delivers as promised. Studies have shown that simple gratitude practices benefit physical, social, and psychological well-being. And while there are many ways to practice gratitude, if you are new to the concept consider introducing a less-involved habit more likely to last. For example, keeping a list in your phone, or a notebook by your bed.
ProTip: To avoid writing the same list every day, try keeping the list specific to moments unique to the day you write them. This will prevent your gratitude from becoming rote, and force you to stay present.
As a writer I may be a bit biased, but I swear by journaling as a way to process life events. The act of putting words to a page serves as a forced pause, and often exposes gaps in our thinking and emotions we haven’t fully acknowledged. According to Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert:
“Writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
ProTip: There is no right or wrong way to journal. If, like me, you have lost all ability to handwrite it may be worth conceding your romantic notions of a Moleskine notebook in favor of a password-protected Word doc.