As I gaze at the natural beauty outside my window today - waves crashing, gulls soaring, wind whipping the sea grass - it strikes me how much of my everyday life is spent NOT noticing. How often have I rushed through my morning routine not present, oblivious to the leaves dancing in the early fall breeze, the taste of my breakfast (today late summer strawberries with yogurt), the slight ache in my back - a sign that my body needs to be exercised. I've come to believe that this simple act of noticing is a key to finding balance and joy in life.
I'm not alone in that belief. I recently returned from a week-long retreat, one objective of which was to practice "mindfulness", defined as "a calm awareness of one's body, feelings, and consciousness". Simple noticing, being in the present moment.
We were encouraged to be mindful of each of the four aspects of Self: body, emotions, intellect and spirit. Turns out most of us have a "home base" where we're most comfortable. In our culture, that domain tends to be the Intellect. That's certainly true for me. What am I doing in the morning, heedless of the dancing leaves, the ache in my back, the taste of my strawberries? I'm THINKING, planning, organizing, problem-solving, rehearsing the future and replaying the past. I am living in my head.
I spend so very little of my time paying attention to, let alone nurturing, the other aspects of my Self. No wonder I feel off-balance and vaguely unfulfilled! What about you? As you read the following descriptions, consider how present you are to your whole self:
Body: It's been said that the body is the temple of the spirit, the vehicle the Universe has given us in order to carry out our purpose here on earth. Do you honor and care for your body with the respect it deserves? Or do you ignore or abuse it with junk food and alcohol, too little exercise and not enough rest? Do you heed your body's messages, or override them?
Emotion: Some of us tend towards the "flatline" approach to emotions. We stuff, ignore, invalidate and discount them. We don't feel our emotions, let alone express them. Others of us are "drama junkies", seeking emotional highs and lows in order to feel alive, venting our emotions indiscriminately, regardless of the context. But how many of us are truly present to what we are feeling? I had a coach who used to say "emotions are the language of the soul, the voice of your internal wisdom". Do you honor that voice, listening for its wisdom?
Intellect: The intellect is the source of discernment and insight, a wonderful tool for planning and strategizing, for analyzing and evaluating. Yet in our culture, many (myself included) over-value the intellect, at the expense of the other domains. We "live" in our intellect, analyzing every aspect of our lives, asking the intellect to take on tasks that belong to other aspects of Self - attempting to understand the mysteries of spirit, for example, or judging (and discarding) those intuitive hunches. How do you care for your intellect? Do you let it run rampant with judgment, catastrophizing, need for control? Or do you focus your intellect on thoughts that empower you? Do you allow your intellect to play with creative pursuits, expand it with worthwhile challenges, and allow it to rest??
Spirit: The spirit is the source of our wisdom and "natural knowing", our connection to the greater Divinity (however you define that for yourself). It is the source of peace and love and generosity and compassion. Yet so often, we look for these states of being in our intellect (trying to "rationalize" our way there, for example, as with "positive affirmations") or in our emotions (e.g. waiting to feel loving before we can be loving). How do you nurture your spiritual self? How do you connect with your spiritual essence, listening for its guidance?
Up until recently, I didn't give these questions much thought in my day-to-day life. I was living in my head, all the while missing being fully present to my life.
To bring more mindfulness to each aspect of Self, I've started a new daily practice. Each night before I go to bed, I light four candles, one each for Body, Emotion, Intellect and Spirit. As I light each candle, I reflect for a moment on whether and how I cared for each aspect of Self today, and what I will do tomorrow. It's a practice in being present, a way of bringing myself into balance. One more step on the journey to wholeness.