Like many folks that I’ve been speaking with lately, this past year-and-a-half has certainly presented itself with ample opportunities to look inward and maybe address some of the issues that have been obstructing not only our personal selves, but also collective pathways on a community or societal level.
At first glance, some of these issues may appear to be quite large in scope, but chances are you’ll find that most are rather small.
As much as we might have heard the term “self care” being tossed around from one medical professional to the next, most notably in the early stages of the pandemic, the actual implementation of self care may not have been as swift as one might have hoped it would be, especially for those of us whose primary occupation is rooted in helping others on a daily basis.
It literally took about four to five months of isolation for me to finally prioritize my own physical and emotional well-being, and only after a couple of personal “close calls” forced the issue.
One take away that I’ve gleaned from this rather unique life experience has been my efforts to reduce the amount of “small stuff” that has accumulated over time. We all know what those things look like; allowing hardened stances on particular subjects to fester far too long, not resolving squabbles with close associates until they’ve become so debilitating that we’re unable to move the relationship forward, or simply perceiving certain matters to be far more important than they truly are.
In his seminal New York Times bestseller of the 1990s, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life, psychotherapist and motivational speaker Dr. Richard Carlson sees these obstructions purely as occasions for advancement: “When you look at life and its many challenges as a test, or series of tests, you begin to see each issue you face as an opportunity to grow, a chance to roll with the punches. Whether you’re being bombarded with problems, responsibilities, even insurmountable hurdles, when looked at as a test, you always have a chance to succeed, in the sense of rising above that which is challenging you.”
I think what’s also very important to note here is that much of the adversity that we encounter (and the anxiety frequently associated with it) may be self-induced. I vividly recall on multiple occasions over the past year situations, both large and small, that were completely out of my control, yet I allowed them to occupy the proverbial driver’s seat of a car that had clearly run off the road. It definitely took some time and inner work afterwards for me to realize that those stressors were entirely irrational and unnecessary.
Developing a mindfulness practice also played a significant role in neutralizing the power and adverse effect that stress was having on my overall mental and physical well-being.
As I discovered, bringing purposeful awareness to what one is currently experiencing through thought, without becoming excessively reactive or judgmental, is the key component to the training. It was obviously not something that happened overnight, but knowing that it was available to put into practice in an instant gave me endless opportunities for its application.
Personally, since beginning my mindfulness practice, I’ve found walking meditations to be the most effective technique. Hour-long treks at the ocean’s edge (typically at daybreak or near sunset), provide the perfect setting to absorb all that surrounds you. It becomes a multi-sensory experience, allowing for instantaneous, present-moment connections to the natural world. Losing oneself in a timeless search for tiny shards of sea glass hidden amongst the shells and polished rocks is a routine that I’ve come to appreciate now more than ever.
Because of the world we live in, there will never be a shortage of events or external stimuli for which our first instinct is to react and judge. Big stuff or small, whether we realize it at the time or not, it’s in those circumstances that we have a choice. As Dr. Carlson would later suggest: “A more peaceful way to live is to decide consciously which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone.”