As we start a new year, we are reminded frequently that we need to wake up and actively look to the 525,600 minutes ahead of us. We are told to shore up our physical immune system using food, exercise, and resolute strategies. The success of those strategies, however, can depend on how we first shore up our emotional and spiritual immune systems.
Find Time to Go Within
That can be a hefty task, especially if wrapping up 2019 was more difficult or fatiguing than we anticipated. The passing of a holiday season can leave a trail of emotions that may cover the gamut from joy to despondence, leading to what Sylvia Boorstein calls “mind fatigue.”
The turning of the year, she writes in Lion's Roar, can lead to a "melancholy about endings, especially if some hope for what might have been has not been fulfilled."
"Perhaps it’s a good thing to let ourselves be sad," she says, "at least enough to recognize the losses in our lives that we’ve avoided seeing. Perhaps these days of less sunlight are opportunities for more contemplative time, more looking deeply to see what perhaps can only be seen in the dark."
Although Boorstein is clear that meditation isn’t a cure-all, especially for depression, she suggests that mindfulness “supports the development of insight. And even when the mind lacks energy, paying attention soothes the anxiety about the fatigue.”
When the need to focus more deeply within arises, embracing solitude, whether it arrives by choice or circumstance, can unlock the process of coming home to our deepest self. In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, the late Catholic priest and scholar John O'Donohue calls solitude "one of the most precious things in the human spirit."
“It is different from loneliness," he says. "When you are lonely, you become acutely conscious of your own separation. Solitude can be a homecoming to your own deepest belonging."
Creating time for contemplation can also lead to increased resilience—something many of us need in order to rise to the demands of everyday life. Writers Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan warn against the downside of continuously demanding more of ourselves and reframe what it means to be resilient to include time and space to recover from any demanding activity.
“If you really want to build resilience, you can start by strategically stopping. Give yourself the resources to be tough by creating internal and external recovery periods,” they write.
Define Your "Non-Negotiables"
Activist and yoga teacher Seane Corn leans on a set of what she calls her “non-negotiables”—the things she needs in order to cultivate and retain a sense of presence and connection during challenging times. Yoga, meditation, sleep, prayer, nourishing food, and play help her remain grounded during her political activism and defray the tension and anxiety that can result from conflict and crises.
“Yoga allows us to discharge and communicate energy and be where we need to be with less reactivity,” she says. “It helps us connect to our vulnerability, which will always lead toward surrender, not shut down."
Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa describes daily sadhana practice as a way to improve health and energy, unblock creativity, and help us tap into our intuition so that we can live “from a more authentic place.”
Yoga teacher Colleen Saidman also offers a practice to help build the stability, strength, and courage than enable us to stand on our own two feet. Her approach is to find confidence in the body’s beauty and grace and arrive at a love of self through discipline, diligence, and dedication. “These are all keys to becoming a well-adjusted woman in this crazy world. I aspire for every one of us to be real, to look in the mirror and say, 'You are the bomb.'"
Working Toward an Enduring Good
Words of wisdom from such teachers such as Boorstein, Pema Chodron, Adyashanti, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and others can help keep us on our path when overwhelm, confusion, or our own habitual thinking threatens to take over. In her essay, "We Were Made for These Times," Pinkola Estes offers her perspective on how to rise to circumstances that may feel outside of our control. “My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times,” she writes, and goes on to laud the human spirit and the mystery inherent in the role we each play.
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once," she says, "but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.”
Whether we're working to repair a corner of the world or going within to root to ourselves, our well-being most likely rests on some combination of tending to our bodies, minds, and spirits. For actor, playwright, and professor Anna Deveare Smith, this unity is a fundamental source of strength and essential to her work.
“It would be very interesting to know why anybody ever thought they had to define body, mind, and spirit as different, because I think it is that we are the three....When you have a heightened awareness of body, mind, and spirit, it is quite something," she said.