We love the hustle and bustle. Taking action, staying active and being productive are activities and traits that many people value in the Western world. But how do we maintain energy when there is a continual urge and pressure to grind out actions and accomplishments?
As someone whose navigated a rich and engaging career in and outside of the wellness field (apparel designer, graphic designer, design instructor and researcher, mindfulness facilitator, career coach), I can attest to the challenges of wanting it all: to build a life and spirit of creativity, ambition and accolades, but also stay present by savouring the simple joys in life. I have an insight to share with you to help you bring more balance and energy into your life. And that is to act, reflect and rest harmoniously.
Let’s start with rest. What does it mean to rest? For many, it simply means slowing down. Slowing down is about giving ourselves permission to get less “to-dos” done and to restore energy using approaches that feel revitalizing. Whether that be taking part in physical rest, walking, gardening, hiking, art-marking, singing, movie watching, socializing, star gazing, reading or meditating, taking rest deliberately is important when the busy world flags our energy. For some, rest means to do less in order to live more.
Rest may require some of your effort though. Over ten years ago, I was introduced to relaxation meditations by a counselling practitioner in order to help ameliorate stress. This led to the exploration of various forms of mindfulness and self-inquiry practices during subsequent years. At first, sitting in silence and watching my thoughts felt like a chore. Or, stated more accurately, it was a chore. How can a chore be rest? Overtime, and with continuous and committed practice, there was a shift in perception in which mindful awareness became ever-present. Watching thoughts come and go, observing inner sensations, and expanding awareness to open-monitor the external world felt natural and became my way of relaxing into the here-now and restoring my energy reserves. Sometimes rest takes effort but, at a point in time, it should shift towards restoration. How do you incorporate restorative rest into your life?
To Reflect. How do you know when your energy flags? How do you know when it is a good time to be proactive and immerse yourself into a task? Reflection is the wisdom part act, reflect and rest. To reflect means to use the mind and body’s wisdom to discern what nourishes your spirit and what depletes it. In my coaching practice, I ask clients to reflect on a particular day, jot down or log the activities and actions that took place, and discern the degree to which those activities provided oneself with energy or stripped it away. It is fascinating to observe and acknowledge how unique a situation is between different individuals. For some, driving in a car to work is grounds for meditation and reflection, while for others it is considered a morning dread.
In order to reflect deeply, one has to step out of the thinking-mind consciously and then listen closely to something I refer to as “embodied knowledge”. This means noticing how the body reacts before, during and after certain situations. Does it feel open and light? Does it feel contracted and tight? Be aware of and clear about the conditions surrounding an activity or action. For five years I taught a course at the university in a classroom with buzzing fluorescent lights, stark white walls, no windows and painfully dry air. At the end of the three hour classes, I felt exhausted despite my pure enjoyment for teaching. It took courage to admit that the situation and setting did not support my health and wellbeing, and even more courage to decline a particular teaching offer the following year due to the energy-sucking environment .
What activities, and conditions surrounding these activities, help or hinder your energy levels? Can accommodations be made for activities or conditions that drain you? Take time to reflect on this using whatever contemplative practice works best for you. That can be done by way of free-writing or journaling, or by conversing with a friend who is a reflective listener.
To take action. Since childhood I have been someone who thrives off of creativity, activity and ambition. And when I look around me, I see most people putting goal posts in front of themselves as well. What does taking action mean in the context of “I am Energized”? Taking action means to immerse yourself into tasks that are not only necessary but also make you feel alive and in a state of flow. Flow is being so fully immersed into what you are doing that you lose a sense of time and space. Some of us believe that we have to “find and follow our passion” in order to get into flow, but this is untrue. Doing the dishes, picking up the kids from school, completing admin tasks at work, or even cleaning the house can put us into the here-now. Generally, flow is achieved when there is a skill-challenge balance (not too easy but not too hard), though, with an added practice of mindfulness, one can get more deeply absorbed into the seamlessness of being, irrespective of what specific task is being attended to.
Mindfulness is about bringing your attention to what is happening in the present moment, and doing so nonjudgmentally. This means that the “good-bad”, “right-wrong” or “yes-no” labelling mechanism or critiquing mind is not in the driver’s seat. What remains is a visceral open and curious state of being. Mindfulness is not a mundane activity of paying attention casually. It is about fine tuning the quality of your attention so that the immediate experience, whether positive, neutral or negative, is illuminated for what it is and done so with richness. I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for over ten years and what I discovered is that a consistent effort and dedication to the practice can make any and all experiences become heightened with liveliness and energy. To me, this has led to an improved and enriched sense of health and wellbeing.
Make it a mission to consider how you, in your current life, are balancing act, reflect and rest. My experience reveals to me that a “perfect balance” is not necessarily an equal divide between the three parts. Instead, it is the mindfulness awareness of and harmonious interplay between act, reflect and rest that supports and augments your energetic spirit and human experience.