This quote by Pema Chodron has talked me down off the ledge more than once when I was feeling overwhelmed by life; you know, out of sorts, off balance. I remember it something like this: “you could say that things are always falling apart. Or you could say that things are always coming back together.”
I often think about this when I am doing the dishes. And there are always dishes to be done.
This idea that things are always coming back together created a huge shift in thinking that changed my life. It’s not that I now love doing dishes. It’s that I no longer resist the reality that they must be done. I began to see the task as an opportunity to restore order, and that made a difference.
The cells of all living things are always seeking equilibrium. We are homeostatic to our core. We want to flow, to be at peace with our lives. We crave balance. I came to think of this feeling as being “centered.” Because when I am in that state of mind (and that’s all it really is), I feel focused and calm. That’s so much more fun than feeling chaotic and anxious.
But life is always challenging me, pulling me off center. It never stops. It never will. Accepting that reality is the foundation for the various things I’ve learned to do to get back to center, stat. To find my way back, I had to recognize that sometimes I would be off.
I am no different than my cells, always dancing between the two states of being, preferring one to the other.
Below are some practices we can employ to help us stay centered more often and longer. We are indeed simply practicing these behaviors, tweaking them constantly, honing our skills. Perfection stops being our goal. Coming back home to ourselves as often as possible is the only objective.
Your breath is your greatest guide….
Life can push us hard for months, years at a time, making it difficult to stop long enough to feel truly connected to ourselves, to know what it feels like to be calm and at peace. If that’s our starting point, then we will need some time and space to try on the feeling of equilibrium.
There is no better practice for stilling the mind, I have found, than connecting to the sound of our own breath.
The basis for all meditation practice is using the breath – the sound of ourselves breathing in and out – as a focal point for quieting our minds and calming our bodies. It can be done anytime, anywhere. Doing the dishes, for example. A formal sitting meditation practice is good training for taking this skill off the cushion into the world. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
Your breath is the only constant thing in your life, until you die. It is with you always. And returning to the sound of it, over and over, is a practice that can change your life.
I use this practice all the time to maintain an awareness of what is going on in my body. I will be driving down the road, remember to focus on my breath to quiet my mind and suddenly I will realize that I have been tensing up the muscles in my left foot! Or I will notice that my mind is obsessing over something someone said and that my mood is being affected by it. A few conscious in and out breaths and I can feel my whole body relax and my ruminating mind empty out.
Experiment with a loose routine…..
I find routines to be a good way of staying grounded within myself. Not the rigid boring kind of routines that require precise day-timers and 20 alarms on our cell phones. Just a general sketch of how our day might flow more sanely with certain habits in place.
Having a routine established gives us something to come back to. It is a lifelong process and we are always refining it. I mess around with my routines all the time. Always honing and observing to find what works better. It changes with the seasons, my energy levels, etc.
Envision tasks as rituals connected to a deeper meaning…..
One of my favorite things every day is opening and closing the blinds. Little daily actions like that can become so boring or annoying. But when you connect a deeper meaning to a thing, it becomes a beautiful ritual.
In the morning when I open the blinds, I recognize that I am a part of a circadian rhythm. It feels so good to greet the sunlight. At night when I close them, I am completing that cycle. Setting the tone for rest, slowing down.
We can assign meaning to any task. Folding the clothes? Creating order. Making a healthy breakfast? Showing ourselves love.
And then there are the little things that can amp up the power of rituals. I light a candle in my kitchen every morning, in honor of my soul. I fall asleep every night focusing on the sound of my breath. These little actions throughout the day bring me back to myself, if even briefly.
It’s easy to desire these routines or practices to stay the same and to always be in a state of flow. We get frustrated or angry when our best-laid plans get disturbed by anything. But anything that can mess up our plans, without exception, falls into the category called “life.” Life happens. And we get thrown off center.
The practice is to simultaneously seek balance while being detached from needing to experience it at all times. The more we connect with the rituals that connect us with ourselves, the more confidence we gain in our ability to recalibrate faster as time goes on. I don’t fear the chaos, because I have patience on my side. I know I will find my way home to myself, to a state of flow.
Give yourself a wide space for finding your way back….
I have to apply this idea especially to my diet when life (vacation, parties, family visiting) pulls me away from what I have learned is best for my body and health. A few days out of my normal eating routine and there’s no way I am going to wake up and bounce right back. Cravings have likely taken over. Or exhaustion gets in the way. So I give myself a day or two to settle back into a way of eating that feels best to me, to slough off the dopamine memory of cheesecake, or whatever.
This is true when the house is a complete mess. I no longer expect myself to restore complete order in 2 hours. Instead, I give myself a few days. That feels better. It’s more realistic. And it’s more kind to myself.
Identify the most powerful action for re-centering….
It’s different for all of us. And it vacillates constantly. Sometimes the most important thing I can do to get back in balance is to clean the kitchen. Sometimes it’s sitting down and making a list and getting it all out of my head onto paper. Other times it’s getting my ass to my yoga mat to reconnect with my body.
The more of these practices you integrate into your life, the more you will intuitively know which one to reach for at any given moment.
Be grateful for the things that pull you off center….
The push and pull means we are immersed in a living a full life; which is what we want, right? Gratitude for the experiences that are pulling us off center is powerful. My dog barking when I am trying to rest, for example. Without appreciation for the job he thinks he is doing for me (he is loyal protector), I could get buried in the frustration. Gratitude reminds me that he won’t always be there; it pulls me back into the present moment. Even when I yell at him to hush!
We are no different than any other beautiful life process. We ebb. We flow. Constrict. Expand. As we become more acquainted with the rituals and practices that help us feel more centered and at peace, we gain confidence in ourselves to find that place over and over. And we can start to let go of the attachment to things being that way 24/7.
It’s a process of coming home, again and again. We go out into the chaos. But we know where home is, we know what centered feels like and we are always working our way back to that sweet spot.
Note: Thank you to the beautiful model in the photo above, Joanne Matson of www.joannematson.com.
prana is the common thread running through everything i love....the sun on my face...the sunlight through my camera.... breathing the ocean air... the sound of my breath...laughing with family + friends.