Tuesday, February 17, 2009

8 Steps to Ease and Joy

I think that almost everyone I've ever met is seeking ease and joy. I've developed eight steps that will help bring these into your life.

1. Breathe. Easy to say, harder to implement with consistency. The most basic of relaxation techniques, breathing deeply allows your shoulders to drop, your jaw to unclench and your spine to straighten. I personally believe that drawing three deep breaths whenever you sense stress or anxiety causes your "fight-or-flight" system to halt. Stress signals your body's alarm system (primarily your hypothalamus and adrenal glands) to release stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline being the big ones). The problem? This system was designed to prevent us from being eaten. Since our current stresses rarely involve tigers, this system needs to settle down. Breathing to the bottom of your lungs will help.

2. Be Mindful. In line with deep breathing, the process of bringing awareness to the present moment will stop fear and worry in their tracks. This process might mean meditation or prayer but it can also be less structured than that. Wayne Muller's "How Then Shall I Live?" was my teacher for mindful living. One exercise had me walk through my day noticing who I was being in each moment. Mother, friend, dishwasher, driver, student, grouch, wife, goofball etc. This careful attention to each moment pulls you out of the past and the future and makes you live this moment and this second. Such awareness allows you tremendous perspective. Joy and ease are more likely if you are really living your moments.

3. Get Grounded. I mean, touch the ground. Not pavement but real honest to goodness soil. Getting out into nature will inevitably instill a perspective that brings ease and joy. My friend once advised me to get outside, sit under a tree with my back against the trunk and just be. Fresh air, sunshine and beauty are immediate salves for our souls.

4. Extreme Self-Care. This is a no-brainer. Ease and joy are clearly not possible if your body, mind or spirit are flagging. Adequate sleep, proper diet, steady exercise .... you cannot find joy without them. Please, please, please put yourself first and go overboard here.

5. Be a child again. This is part of number 4, but is so important I simply had to pull it out. If you are not playing, laughing and goofing off, joy will not show its face. Give yourself a treat when you complete a tough task. Cultivate friendships that keep you playing. Even if it feels wooden and forced, push through and do it anyway. Even a stilted hokey pokey is better than none at all. If you can't remember how to be a child, find one and mimic him.

6. Go Global and Grateful. Undoubtedly, the grown up world will impinge on your play and there is a way to deal with external stimuli so ease and joy can follow. I think involvement in world issues is always an education. I think that if you "go global" you get wisdom. Headlines can potentially pull you down, but they could lift you up. As you read about Baghdad or Darfur, practice gratefulness. As a white woman in North America, I acknowledge the blessings of my birthplace.

7. Ridiculous Goals. Set goals that are ridiculously easy to meet. (I'm not sure, but I believe this concept comes from Martha Beck). If you structure your goals to be fool proof, ease is an automatic spin off. I can't seem to fit 100 sit-ups into my life. Because I sense failure before I start, I don't start. What if I shifted that goal to be 5 sit-ups a day? I can do 5. That makes me happy.

8. Track Your Success. Writing about your success if essential to locking in ease and joy. If you are constantly on top of what is going right, worry and doubt can't creep in. Each night, begin to write down five or three or ten things that brought you ease and/or joy that day. I saw daffodils today .... Mya was singing "Oh Susannah" as she was swinging .... Lucas was holding Mya's hand during the scary parts .... my friend's seven day old baby is gaining weight ....

That's it. Easy. Joyful.

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