My tools for maintaining balance
Updated: Jun 19, 2018
There seems to be an abundance of information 'out there' telling us how to bring more balance into our chaotic, busy lives. I myself read and listen to a lot of it, desperate to find the answer to my prayer “please, help me find some peace!”
Like many people, I go through periods of intense busy-ness, where there are work deadlines, social events and school activities that all seem to come at once, after which I swear to myself “I’m not going to take on so much next month”. Of course, before I know it, I find myself in the thick of it again.
Some of us find it difficult to say “no”. Some have chosen careers and lifestyles because they enjoy the variety and thrill of being busy. Some have found themselves in a situation where they no longer have the support that they did when they first committed to being busy.
One thing I have come to realise on my search for peace, is that it doesn’t have to be a permanent thing. In fact, it can’t be. Nothing in life stays the same forever, change is inevitable, impermanence is a non-negotiable. What IS available to us is the here and now. That may not always feel like an enjoyable place to be, however with some simple tools, there are ways to transform your experience from one of chaos to peace.
Practice #1: Self-compassion
Everything I have learnt about self-compassion has been courtesy of Kristen Neff, PhD. Kristen is a researcher from the University of Texas, Austin, who has studied the impact of self-compassion on emotional wellbeing, physical health, trauma, relationships, job satisfaction … the list goes on. She defines self-compassion as the act of noticing that you are suffering, offering yourself kindness and understanding like you would a good friend, listening, reassuring and supporting them in their suffering, recognising that we are not the only one who is enduring suffering, and allowing the emotions associated with suffering to arise and then pass, not suppressing them nor holding on to them. In summary, self-compassion requires kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. To read more about what self-compassion is and how to cultivate it, you can visit Kristen’s website.
I find the practice of self-compassion essential to daily life in my role as a mother, doctor, wife and friend. There are many examples of moments where my inner critic arises quickly, such as when I get angry and shout at my kids, when I am running an hour late at the surgery, when I arrive home late after a long day at work to my husband and kids, when I realise it’s been 6 months since I last saw a dear friend. For me, it is a natural response to feel guilty about the impact of my behaviour on others. Yet I have begun to practice noticing the guilt, and using this as a trigger to change my perspective to one of self-compassion, accepting that I am doing by best, that I am only human, and that this too shall pass. I also try to step back and look at the bigger picture and recognise that in the scheme of things, I have so much to be grateful for. Which leads me nicely into my next tool.
Practice #2: Gratitude
Gratitude is one of my favourite daily practices. I actually feel a rising excitement in my body; the oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins and dopamine circulate through my blood stream as I anticipate the joy of sitting down to write the three things I am grateful for that day. The physical and emotional benefits of a practice that can release these hormones include a sense of wellbeing, a stronger immune system and a healthier mind. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for about 2 years now, and I’m pretty sure I will continue to keep one for the rest of my life. I love giving gratitude journals as gifts – what could be better than giving the gift of gratitude?
Gratitude is a powerful tool for changing your perspective from one of tunnel vision to openness and spaciousness. With it comes a fairly instant transformation in physical sensations, reducing body tension and lowering your heart rate in response to the parasympathetic nervous system (in particular the vagus nerve) calming the body. Try it now: think about just one thing you are grateful for. It could be as simple as having a bed to sleep in each night, or a friend who you can call when you need a chat, or your pet dog. Like most things we do on a regular basis, gratitude will soon become an automatic practice in your daily life, even when you’re not sitting down to write in your journal. You’ll notice that when you start feeling angry or upset because your husband hasn’t put out the rubbish, or the kids haven’t tidied their room, you can take a big breath and feel grateful that they are in your life, alive and well.
One of the most articulate experts I have heard talking about the power of gratitude is Brother David Steindl-Rast. He explains how each day is a gift, and the only appropriate response to receiving this gift is gratefulness. He encourages us as humans to treat this day as it was the first and the last day of our life, and to welcome each person we meet with the intention of blessing them with our presence. For a beautiful video describing how to approach each day as a grateful day, please watch this 5 minute video.
Practice #3 Forgiveness
Forgiveness is another critical tool for optimising wellbeing. Harbouring resentment is toxic. It creates stress in the body-mind-spirit, releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which cause inflammation and disease. Practising acceptance, letting go and forgiveness, both of oneself and others, is critical to healing the wounds that occur when someone has hurt us. Although it can be one of the most challenging of practices, it can also be the most transformative. I’ll never forget the day I forgave a friend for not meeting my expectations; it was like a heavy weight had lifted from my heart. I realised that there was a reason she had behaved the way she did, and my resentment turned into compassion. Our friendship was reignited and has flourished. I feel incredibly grateful to have her in my life.
The person who really opened my eyes to the power of forgiveness was Louise Hay. Many of you will know Louise for her incredible story of healing and sharing her life lessons with the world through her publishing company, Hay House. Louise explains how blaming another person for how you feel or how your life has turned out gives away your power by making someone else responsible for your emotions. This keeps you in the past and prevents you from being present in the here and now. She clarifies that forgiveness is not condoning another’s behaviour, it is actually not about the other person at all. Rather it occurs in your own mind, allowing you to let go of the negative energy associated with anger and resentment so you can be free to choose how you move forward.
I have an affirmation from Louise Hay posted on my bathroom mirror reminding me to practice forgiveness. Each morning and evening I repeat it out loud, or in my mind, to ensure I don’t forget!
A simple practice such as forgiveness may well transform your experience of life from pain to empowerment. I challenge you to try it and see.