As a psychiatrist, I have the honor of being with people through the ups and downs of life’s journey. I bear witness to joy, fear, anger, and sorrow, and the ways in which we deal with these emotions. My patients often say to me, “I think what I need is to just stay busy. I need to distract myself.”
Distraction certainly has its role. Sometimes keeping ourselves occupied with meaningful activities like exercise, time with friends, or work, can keep us out of our head. Sometimes distraction involves not so meaningful activities such as alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling or sex as means of disconnection.
But what would it be like to just…be? To be with our selves, just as we are? The most important and enduring relationship we will ever have, is the relationship that we have with ourselves. This relationship is based on our intimate knowing of our physical bodies, minds, spirits, and souls. If we continuously distract ourselves from ourselves, then we lose the gift of cultivating a loving relationship with the person who matters most.
Here are some ways to make 2015 a year of getting to know YOU:
1. Slow down: For some, this can feel terrifying!. We are used to maintaining a rushed pace, often to distract ourselves or for fear of missing out. Play close attention to when you are moving too fast, or are too busy. Say “No” to activities that aren’t necessary or meaningful to you. Make a conscious choice to block out time on your schedule for rest. Create buffers between activities so you are not rushing from one thing to the next.
2. Discover quiet: The sounds of our world–people talking, music playing, kids asking, technology beeping–can be loud and intrusive. The voices in our heads–our constant commentary–can be deafening. Turn the volume down, or better yet, switch to silent mode, and allow yourself to just be. This is when you can start to become aware of the forces that operate within you. This is when you can feel the beating of your heart, or the sensation of your breath. This is when you can feel how emotions, desires, and aversions come and go like the tide of the ocean waves.
3. Experiment with meditation: Once you feel comfortable with disconnecting, experiment with how meditation feels. Meditation is a way to observe all of yourself in a compassionate, non judgmental way. You might start with a brief sitting practice where you focus on the sensation of breathing for a few minutes. Don’t put pressure on yourself to meditate in a certain way. Don’t make it another project or goal that you can fail at. Meditation is called a practice for a reason. Find your entry point and build from there.
4. Find self compassion. Being with yourself won’t be very fun if you are always criticizing yourself. Make a pact to only use kind, loving words with yourself, the way you would with a child or a favorite friend. Practice self care. Compassion for yourself improves well being, and is the foundation from which compassion for others can grow.
5. Live mindfully: Practice immersing yourself in your experiences, in a curious, non judgmental manner. There are several ways to experiment with mindfulness in your life. Try using all of your senses to consciously connect to a mundane experience. For example, while washing the dishes, really listen to the sound of the water, feel the slippery soapiness of the dishes, inhale the scent of dish soap. Using our senses to deepen our experience prevents us from ruminating about an argument with our boss or worrying about tomorrow’s crazy schedule. Alternatively, if you find yourself waiting, allow yourself to just wait. Try to put your phone away, and focus on your breath, or the sensory experience of being where you are. This moment is the only moment that truly exists. Mindfulness allows us to truly live that moment, deeply, intentionally.
These tools can allow 2015 to be the year where you finally prioritize YOU, and the relationship that you have with yourself. This is not selfishness! Being conscious allows you to show up for life, fully available. Knowing yourself allows you to open your heart to all that life has to offer, and to those who cross your path. This is not a race to be won or a mountain to be conquered. This is a beautiful practice, one we can start over and over with each new moment that we are blessed with.