“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper” W.B. Yeats
In my last post I discussed the effects on our nervous system and resulting impacts on daily functioning from living in world that surrounds us with stimuli that is more intense and comes at us faster than ever before. We need to give ourselves breaks from the bombardment to reduce stress and take off the glove of dulled senses. We can also mitigate some effects of this hyperstimulation.
Through refinement of our senses we are capable of picking up on things we never dreamed of. When we relax and choose where to place our attention, expansion of awareness occurs. Our senses can reach out to meet our environment, our loved ones, the universe, etc. If you take the time to notice the breadth and depth of your awareness when stressed and overwhelmed, you will probably notice a contraction into a very narrow sphere of awareness.
The good news is that the solution is quite simple.
The bad news is that we are complex creatures living complicated lives. Implementation of the solution can be quite difficult. There does need to be attention paid to our habits, how we chose to spend our time and construct our lives. I propose a 3-pronged approach.
1. Daily practice
What you do daily really builds the foundation of who you are. Build in regular, dedicated time for meditation, yoga or creative pursuits.
I say this, but as a lady with a mission and a tendency towards action I do fully appreciate the reality of trying to find time in the daily schedule. I’m not there yet. It is not that I don’t meditate, but I do think that doing it consistently would be transformational. During my month-long solo retreat last year I sensed that if I could improve my focus and placement I could have gone so much deeper (and it’s not that wonderful things did not happen as it was). This is my main challenge over the coming year. It is also one I’m planning to tackle and reflect upon in my PhD; part of my cunning plan to ensure that I have no wriggle room not to make this change.
But! I do still have a daily practice of micro-moments of connection and mindfulness as I go about my day to day activities. For instance, as I ride my bike to work I make sure that I pay attention to the nature that I pass and hold that attention long enough to feel the connection, get a visceral response, not just think about it. I am mindful of negative thoughts, refusing to be a victim of my own mind. I watch the transition between work and home and make sure I do something calming or not head-based immediately upon getting home such as watering the garden or having a conversation with my chickens (play is a great practice).
2. “Choice architecture”
To support the above, we can change our environment and routines to make it easier for us to select those choices towards slowing down, relaxation and refinement of the senses. We only have a limited pool of mental effort, which includes willpower, to draw upon. Review your environment to identify sources of stimuli which fracture your attention and consider what beneficial actions you could routinise to avoid to dilemmas of choice.
A simple environmental modification is to turn off your email alerts with those annoying pop up boxes, to minimise unnecessary interruptions when trying to focus. Your work colleagues may need to adjust to stop expecting you to immediately respond or maintain awareness of every email, but they will get used to it and you may even start a trend towards a more focussed and productive workplace.
Routinising behaviours could include an evening ritual to slow the mind down such as reflecting on 3 things you are grateful for that happened that day. Do it regularly enough and it will become part of your going to bed routine just like brushing your teeth.
3. Deep experience
To really get transformational, take a break from hyper-stimulating environments and make time for surrender into deep experience. By this I mean anything from a couple of days upward that is dedicated towards rest, relaxation, connection and rejuvenation in an intentional way. As I’ve said before, quoting Arne Naess, deep experience leads to deep questions, leads to deep enquiry, leads to deep understanding.
Deep experience is powerful in itself and the bonus is that it also provides direction to the regular but shorter practices. I like to use the analogy of a radio; once you find the right frequency you can add it to your favourites to find later. So after entering a deeply relaxed, refined and present state you know what you are looking for in your daily practice. Deep experience can help you with motivation, a sense of self-efficacy in embracing this path, as well as direction in how to follow it.
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