“Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”
On the last Friday of December at Torrey Pines, a State Reserve not far from my home where I often hike, I arrived to see swarms of others with the same idea. A favorite San Diego destination, it’s as popular with the locals as it is with tourists, but on that sunny day the number of hikers marching up the road looked like a teeming army of ants overtaking a hill. My husband and I picked up the pace to dodge groups of people and get past all the chatter. Although our efforts were futile, we did get a better workout in the process! As we passed them, I overheard many couples talking about their New Year’s resolutions. “You’re going to go to Pilates with me every Monday night.” “We’re going to hike every weekend.” Like most people, their intentions were good, but will they last? Will my favorite local hike be quiet again?
For years I was a fitness director at a large gym in the Boston area. In January we sold the most new memberships, and it was also the only month when many who had paid their dues all year actually showed up. All the regular exercisers would complain about the overcrowded classes and lines to get on the cardio machines. We’d tell them to ride it out – “Come February those New Year’s resolution members will stop coming.” And sadly, it remained something we could count on. We educated and encouraged them to become regular exercisers, but somehow we failed. The fit keep getting fitter, but the biggest challenge of the fitness industry continues to be how to get (and keep) the sedentary exercising.
What’s missing is mindfulness. Want to increase your will power? Add mindfulness training to your exercise plan. When we are mindful we are present and pay attention to our bodies, our thoughts, and emotions and feel more compassion for ourselves. Therefore we make healthier decisions about what to eat, we slow down and enjoy our food more and are satisfied with less. When we exercise mindfully we are smarter – we push hard on days we feel we can, and go easier on days in between – and find more joy in the process. Like muscles, will power gets stronger with use, but conversely, like muscles, will power is weakened by overuse. Don’t wear it out with a restrictive diet and obsessive exercise schedule. Instead, choose a realistic eating plan, a once per week treat, and a couple days per week that you can sleep in and skip the gym. (Yes – you read this right!) Conserve your will power supply, and give your New Year’s intentions a chance at becoming life-long habits.
The easiest way to find mindfulness is to disconnect from the cyber world and connect with the outdoor world. Last month, as I became busier and found myself connecting more to the Internet and less to nature, my inner Internet became frazzled. What a blessing it was to have a week-long retreat with my husband in the high desert near Joshua Tree National Park during the holidays. But, despite hikes, yoga, and outdoor hot tub soaks, it wasn’t until the last few days that I was able to fully relax, unplug, and access stillness. To not feel compelled to check email or texts or talk or fill the space. To observe the sky and changing light at sunrise, sunset, and every hour in between, and to take photographs when it moved me. To fully engage in a fabulous novel, read it cover-to-cover (Rules of Civility), and to ponder more slowly a nature/memoir The Anthropology of Turquoise. My resolution this year? To honor the sanctuary within me and not get to the state where I need a week to retrieve it. How? I will continue to try to stay mindful 24/7 and sit and meditate daily – if I don’t have 20, I’ll take 5 precious minutes. I will try harder to not have expectations and live more in the present.
So, the way to lasting resolutions is not to pick up speed and intensity this month, but to be slow and steady with your intentions and give them a chance to root. In the January chapter of my book, Twelve Mindful Months, I talk about how winter is a dormant time in nature, and if we go against that grain (as most of us tend to do and have done for years) pushing too hard to “grow” our better self, we don’t allow time for new habits to take root. Pushing and forcing feeds stress and anxiety, whereas finding ease in an activity enables us to cultivate the best version of ourselves, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Let nature be your guide. Observe tree branches encased in snow and let the image be a reminder for you to nurture your own inner sanctuary. Take refuge in silence and stillness to reflect on what is truly meaningful in your life, and what you need to make more time for to honor that, and your own true nature in 2013.
Wishing you stillness, peace & love in the New Year!