Finding calm in a busy, hectic world is not always easy nor does it always fall high on the priority list for a lot of us. It's not that we don't want to be or feel calm but life gets crazy, there is a lot on our plates and taking a few moments to be still, breathe and find our calm often becomes an afterthought. When in fact, ways to become calm are all around us and often it just takes a new idea, different mindset or an alternate way to approach a current situation for us to find our calm for even just a few moments.
I have been a fan of the Calm Meditation app on my iPhone for awhile now so when I came across the Calm book at the library recently I had to check it out. After flipping through a few pages, I knew this was something I would be very much invested in and wanted to share my thoughts with you.
The book talks about the many benefits of being calm, staying in the present moment, meditation practices and goes one step further to break down the idea of 'calm' into eight sections that you can relate to in different areas of your life. You quickly see how the idea of calm can be found in many activities or situations that you are already in today. Each section includes inspiration to create daily habits around mindfulness allowing you to stop and enjoy individual moments of life with purpose and joy. In addition, the book suggests a two pronged approach to creating your own daily calm practice: meditation and journal writing.
Writing in a journal is helpful in so many ways. I discussed gratitude journaling a few posts back and it this is very much in line with that. In addition to writing gratitudes daily, noting what made you feel calm and highlights of joy and happiness in your day are other elements that you can include when journaling.
If you are looking for a way to quiet the chaos and/or chatter that is flying around your mind, a journal is an excellent resource. When you write things down it can help you to process your thoughts, identify challenges and/or concerns and allow you to heal in ways you didn't think of before. Journaling is not only good for your mind but also your physical health. When you are able to let something go or write it down, it can release unwanted or pent up tension you are holding in your body. After journaling you may feel a release of stress and an increase in self-love and empowerment. Who couldn't benefit from that?!
The eight sections the book breaks down further are Nature, Sleep, Travel, Relationships, Work, Children, Creativity and Food. As mentioned before, these things are all around us consistently in our daily lives so with a few different ideas laid out below we can find small ways to increase our calm. I'll dive into each section in a little more detail talking about some of the points addressed in the book, different meditations the author suggests to try and ideas to implement to help bring you to a more desired state of calm.
"Spending time in nature is a shortcut to serenity"
This makes sense, but how often do we take advantage of it? I myself am guilty of not getting enough time outside. It's too hot, it's too cold or windy, rainy, humid...you get the idea. Nature is healing and a place that I could really benefit from spending more time. And, it's not just the beach or a place like Muir Woods, a walk in your own neighborhood can be magical and healing enough. Pay attention to the sounds, the smells and take a mindful walk. I know when I get outside for a brief walk, my mood is often lifted, I feel more relaxed and energized.
The book also suggest things like a nature meditation allowing yourself to be more at one with nature. Imagine yourself in a place outdoors like the beach for example, recall the smells, sounds, visuals and just breathe. Appreciate the life nature provides us and allow yourself to feel calm.
Allow smells of nature to calm you. I recently read Happier at Home and one of Gretchen Rubin's experiences was to smell more. This is totally true and the more I read I am finding this talked about more and more. Smells can bring back memories and can provide a sense of peace and calm. For me, the smell of fresh cut pine reminds me of the holidays and having fresh Christmas trees when I was a kid. Makes my spirit brighten every time I light a candle that provides that scent.
Sleep can do so much for our mental and physical health but so often sleep takes the back seat to work, chores, binging on Netflix, etc. When we are sleep deprived, we are more likely to become anxious, irritable and overwhelmed at even the smallest of things. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is necessary. It 'enables the body to heal itself'. Why would we not want to get more of it?
The book discusses ideas for a sleep friendly bedroom like minimizing decor, investing in blackout curtains, implementing a pre-sleep ritual and/or meditation and to keep a notepad next to your bed for those middle of the night thoughts that are keeping you awake by stirring around in your mind. Part of my sleep ritual is using an eye-mask. Something very small, but it makes a pretty big difference in a restful nights sleep.
Sleep meditation is an awesome ritual to start if you've never done it. In fact, that's when I use my Calm app the most often. The app has several sleep meditations including a body scan and relax both of which I love. You can do just five minutes or more if you feel comfortable and next thing you know you will be drifting off to a peaceful sleep.
I really like the five rules of sleep provided in the book:
- Implement a tech curfew.
- Lay off the booze.
- Exercise regularly.
- Turn the heat down.
- Have a warm, milky drink.
I do the majority of these but could improve with the tech curfew (current goal in progress!) and I really like the idea of a warm, comforting drink before bedtime.
It's interesting the shift in mindset we have around travel and commuting. Most everyone loves a vacation or trip away from home, but with unexpected waiting, long flights, traffic, etc, most people tend to stress over traveling. The book tells us to shift our thinking. Travel and commuting offers us an opportunity for rare and precious moments of unplanned solitude. We can use this time to become more mindful and instead of stressing over having to travel we can look forward to this time to calm our minds.
Implement a travel meditation when you're on the road. Be compassionate to others. Your often all in the same boat when traveling, no pun intended, so what can we do to be more appreciative and compassionate to our fellow travelers.
I especially like the idea of creating yourself a 'calm island' and take yourself there when you are getting caught up in the stress and anxiety of travel. Imagine what that island would look like. Who/what would be on it? How do you relax on this island? What do you eat? How is the island different from your everyday life? If you are feeling irritated because your flight was delayed, take a few moments and go to your island. Let vacation continue in your mind until the real trip begins (#vacationisastateofmind).
Similar to the section on Nature, go for a walk. Park further away after your drive, take a different route or walk to lunch are all different ideas how to be mindful when you are out and about. Lastly, the book mentions an Italian phrase, La Passeggiata meaning a gentle walk with family in the evening. I love this and is actually one of my favorite things to do in the summer with my boys. I didn't realize it had a fun Italian name but I'm going to remember this moving forward.
"We all dream of having the sort of bond with our partner that makes us yearn to get home to them"
Relationships are key to our lives. We can further appreciate our relationships by being more present and giving our total focus when we are with our family and friends. That might mean no phones at dinner or when the family is together or simply allowing yourself to be in the moment in the presence of others.
Implement a loving-kindness meditation. As Melissa Hartwig said during the Whole30 book tour, you have to fill your cup first. You need to have your own self compassion and positive intentions set before you can open yourself up to that of others. Meditate on self-love and then you can begin to direct that feeling to those around you.
List ten people who make you feel the happiest in your life. Cultivate and appreciate those people and relationships. If you are feeling stuck, at a crossroads or need a little extra love in your cup, call or reach out to one of those ten people. More than likely after a phonecall or sharing a cup of coffee with someone in your list, you will feel better and more calm.
Imagine your perfect workplace. What does the work balance look like? Implementing mindfulness into the workplace can help to maximize productivity, creativity, fulfillment and profit.
The book suggests to conduct a body scan to start your day. I have always done this at night before bed but I like the idea of starting my day this way. Usually mornings are hectic getting everyone ready for the day but allowing just five minutes to do this before everyone wakes up would be a nice practice to start.
The book has a section of twenty-five ways to take a break. If stopping to meditate for five minutes in the middle of the day sounds daunting, there are other ways you can begin to find your calm, relax and 'take a break' in the midst of your day-to-day. A mini break to find your calm could look like reading a book, dancing, watching a rainstorm, taking a catnap, or simply letting out a loud sigh.
One of my favorite ideas is to do a digital detox. Set yourself some house-rules for how you'll implement this detox like keeping phones in your purse or pocket when interacting with others, no phones or work after a certain time each evening, no phones during mealtimes, etc.
"To observe mindfulness in action, you only need to watch children playing at something they enjoy"
This is so totally true! Watching my boys play with their toys, get excited for a holiday, pick out their own pajamas provides a joy unlike no other. They are so happy and in the moment when they are doing something that they love. There is a lot that can be learned from watching them. This is also something that I could benefit from doing more of in a more present capacity. In other words, sometimes when they are playing Legos and are totally content with one another, not really needing mommy, I will check out meaning pull out my phone and start checking email, Facebook, the bank account among other things. When actually, I should just watch. Watch them have fun. Watch them laugh. Watch them explore the little world around them.
Children can also benefit as much as we can with a calm approach. Even though playing superheroes and building Legos is pretty relaxed as far as a kid is concerned, things do pop up in their little lives that cause stress, chaos or dislike. As a parent learning to practice mindfulness, I also hope that I can work to instill a little of this in my children as well.
The idea of a mind jar is AMAZING! The concept is simple...show your kids what their mind looks like when its overtaken by emotion, thought, anxiety but how it all eventually settles, calms and comes back to normal. All you need is an empty jar and lid filled with hot water, two tablespoons of glitter glue and food coloring. Add the glitter glue to the jar of hot water, stir and then add the food coloring. Screw on the lid and then give the jar a good shake. The glitter is representative of a child's mind (their thoughts, feelings, emotions, fears swirling around). Explain to your child that the mixing and swirling of the glitter is what it's like in their minds when they feel upset, sad, overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions but when the glitter eventually settles that this is what its like when they allow themselves to calm down and breathe. Everything goes back to normal and all is okay. I love this idea so much and definitely will be making these with my kids.
Another idea that I love is discussing with your children three things that made them happy during the day. This practice can help to reinforce healthy self awareness, image and instill a positive mindset. It can sometimes to difficult my kids to proactively talk positive about their day so I've been starting asking my oldest to name one good thing about his day during our walk home from school. Hopefully overtime we can increase this to three and continue the positive discussion about the day.
A few ways the book talks about unleashing your creative side are to color, develop or enhance a creative skill, create a mind map, or tell a story. You don't necessarily have to be a 'creative' type to be creative. Anyone can find peace from a little coloring or story telling. Similar to what was just mentioned, but how excited are little kids when they get to color? They love it and we as adults can feel this same way. It's not a surprise that adult coloring books are a popular item now. Coloring distracts and calms the mind.
Do your best ideas come to you when you least expect it? Like in the middle of the night when you're sleeping, while taking a shower or driving to the grocery store. That's because when are brains aren't moving a mile a minute with thought after thought, we actually have the time and space within our minds to create. It seems counterintuitive to stop thinking in order to think, but it is almost like that. If we can allow ourselves to slow down mentally, some of our best creative work may unfold.
In group situations, doing a silent brainstorm can sometimes be the key to a more calm way to unleash our creative thoughts and produce new ideas. When everyone in the group is touting their opinions, group-think can often occur where one or two individuals will lead and all others will jump on their bandwagon without providing their own opinion. Your creative juices may be cut out because you feel less empowered to share if you are not the loud voice of the group. Participating silently by writing down and submitting ideas can be a different way to provide your creative input without fear of having it be brushed off or shut down.
Everyone is busy in this day and age. So busy that a lot of meals are done on-the-go or in a rush so that we can move on to the next thing. The idea to do more mindful eating can introduce a sense of relaxation and calm.
What does mindful eating mean? For starters, just eating while sitting and at a slower pace can be mindful. But, you can take it one step further. Take a piece of your favorite chocolate for example. First, don't just quickly unwrap, toss in your mouth while you are still getting rid of the wrapper. Mindfulness begins the second you pick up the chocolate and begin unwrapping. Noting the sounds as you unwrap and the noise when you break off the first bite. What does the chocolate look like? What does it smell like? How does the chocolate feel? Do you just want to eat the entire thing in one bite? What happens if you slow down and take just a single bite paying attention to each morsel and let yourself truly taste the chocolate. This may seem like a pretty big ordeal for a single piece of chocolate but the idea can be applied to something as small as chocolate or as large a five-course meal. The idea is just to go slow and be mindful as you experience the foods.
Implementing an evening tea ritual is something I definitely can see myself doing. See the correlation here between this and the bedtime routine (in particular number 5 with that warm drink!). Having something to look forward to each evening after the kiddos are in bed sounds very relaxing and calming.
The book wraps up with a list of favorite happy things. What would be on your list of happy things? When you look through or experience something on your list how does it make you feel?
A few of my happy things are:
- Freshly made coffee
- Smell of a campfire
- Smell of a fresh evergreen/Christmas trees
- Perfect avocado
- Melted marshmallows in hot chocolate
- Laughter of my kids
- Changing of the leaves in fall
- New workout clothes
- Uninterrupted sleep
- Perfect parking spot
- Family get-togethers
- Crockpot dinners
This book had so many great takeaways! I actually ended up buying my own copy from Amazon because I want to be able to refer back to the book on an ongoing basis and I don't think the library will let me keep their copy forever.
How do you stay cool, calm and collected? What types of activities or environments provide you the ability to relax? If you don't already have it, I definitely suggest downloading the Calm app for your phone. There are so many great meditations included some of which are free as well #bonus. In addition, you there is a newsletter that comes straight to your inbox with helpful mindfulness and meditation tips as well as new meditations.
Here's to finding the calm within all of us. XoXo