Many of us today are quite anxious about the future and unfortunately not doing much to relieve their tension. Or relying on old habits. Some rely on alcohol, for instance, thinking they’ll sleep better. Well, it ain’t so. They may fall asleep more easily but will not enjoy quality sleep. (Not to mention that they’ll wake up with a hangover.)
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There’s been lots of talk of meditation in many of the books I’ve been browsing in the past decade, and by reading through all of them I got a little confused as to how exactly to make meditation work for me. But one thing is for sure: soothing sounds help, beautiful images do too, and becoming aware of your normal breathing as you relax is quite wonderful. Of course, meditation therapists want to do so much more to your body and mind, but as far as I’m concerned, for now I have other ways of relaxing (and healing), and all I want—again, for the time being—is to be able to include more of them in my schedule.
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Words, for instance, are pretty powerful and also refreshing for me, especially when I write fiction and poetry. And then to truly relax I love to chat with my very good friends over a good dinner. Or watch a really good movie while dancing to the songs in it, as I did recently with Danny Boyle’s Yesterday. I also love long walks and a good cup of tea (of which I make many), and a lot of other things.
Not last on my list of favorite things—which eventually help me relax, after I figure some ways to make more sense of them, often in writing—are inspirational quotes. Some of them summarize in a few words, often with a story, things of great importance regarding our psychology and the ways in which we can shape our life for the better. One of these inspirational quotes is the Serenity Prayer. I come back to it often, because it’s quite a useful reminder, for instance, that we need to accept various “things we cannot change” rather than struggle, time and time again, to turn them into something they can’t be. This includes, for instance, people whose path in life and style of thinking and communication are much different from ours. They may change, but it may not be up to us to be the impetus for that change. Or maybe we’ve been doing the harder part of the work, shaking them enough from their inertia for them to respond to someone else’s actions when they collide, through life, with that new person and want to start on another path with them.
Either way, whether we do have a contribution to someone else’s—or a thing’s—future change, it’s best not to insist too much. That doesn’t mean we should abandon that person or thing—only that we need to understand that they need to grow in a different way, follow a different path. Sometimes we may still be at their side while they do that, and at other times we may not.
Then there’s the thing of “changing the things we/I can.” As much as this pandemic has taken away some of the sense that we’re in control of our lives, it’s still best to focus on what we can and can’t change, and be very mindful of that difference. Sometimes time is key, and the balance may shift in one direction or another with time. But it’s important to make new decisions as often as possible, because, for one, our bodies grow old and it may be ever more difficult to rely on them to take us places, so to speak—whether that means getting involved in some sports for some people (like skiing), or simply having the strength to pack and unpack things while moving to a different home. There’s wisdom in knowing when to put off certain things—such as going skiing if you can’t afford it yet—and when to react to life on the spot when you recognize that something happens that requires a reaction; when maybe something reminds you of a situation from your past when you made a good decision by being more adventurous, for instance—or, on the contrary, you may decide that something else is more important in your life than a certain adventure, such as a road trip, for instance, which may sound extremely appealing, but may, for example, take you away for too long from an ailing parent or some other suffering relative or friend.
Of course, the wisdom part is not only about regrets (for roads not taken, things not done, or for perceived mistakes and missing out) but about so many other things as well: insight into other people’s life paths and possibly sacrifice on your part so that dear people can be happier than they would be if you chose something that might affect them; letting go of a relationship with a loved one in order for that person to be freer to chose from a whole range of near futures, knowing that that’s what that person wants; dreaming bigger and embracing a more difficult life trajectory so that you can be happier in the long run and make several other people—or many more—happier as well, and so on.
In the end, serenity is a measure of both embracing and letting go. And, in a sense, we always do not just one or the other, but both. They are connected, even if often not directly. As we embrace something new in life we are letting go, in one form or another, of something else.
Another thing I want to mention is that once we work ourselves through writing or talking or dancing or what have you, and then relax into a state of serenity, things may start to happen serendipitously. An easy example in my case is when I write some bit of fiction that takes me places and then take a break and discover things in a conversation at home or in another book—of fiction or nonfiction—that help me understand my characters better. Also, serendipity often happens when I read something in a rather absorbing mode that allows me to make connections between various health and nutrition studies and things I am interested in exploring further myself.
Of course, when you truly relax and allow your mind to quiet down more, as when you walk on a peaceful beach, focusing on the sound of the waves and the feel of them around your legs, and of the sand squishing between your toes and massaging your soles, your mind may wander to unexpected places and you may figure out lots of things that were buried in your brain by the noise of everyday life: things about people, or about things you want to do with your life. Which reminds me that I haven’t been to a quiet beach in quite some time, and I’m living through far more stressful times now than when I did. But then again, my work now is more inspiring, which counts for a lot.
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To a happier, healthier life,