What is Really Going On? A Guide to Self-Care.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

We don’t, for the most part, question our instinct to go to the doctor for physical check-ups and to keep our bodily affairs in order.

But do we always remember do this with our psyches, or mental and emotional selves? Or do we shelve this kind of self-care for later, if we even think about it at all?

We often take these more invisible or hidden parts of ourselves for granted. We assume we can put off for later tending to those parts of us that are less glaringly problematic, despite some very important signs that we need attention—as we know, stress doesn’t have an obvious face, but presents itself in so many physical, debilitating forms.

Part of the issue is that we sometimes assume things don’t change all that dramatically within us, that we are some kind of fixed self who, for example, likes certain things and dislikes others, and has a certain set of priorities in life, and so on.

Because of this, we can tend to play out our lives on auto-pilot, without really determining if the things we are doing, and the people we are doing them with, are actually aligned with who we are at the present moment. Doing so works against the ability to live mindfully, to fully respect ourselves and others, the way we—and they—deserve.

It can be pretty daunting to think about having a nice, long sit-down with ourselves, to say hello, (re)introduce ourselves, and ask the all-important question of “what is going on.”

I had a great teacher who once said that we should always be asking this question—what is going on?—and ever since then, I’ve been unable to take this question lightly.

For example, he once showed a group of us a photo of a person—it was as simple as that. He then asked us, “What is going on here?”

We were quizzical, and remained silent.

“Think about it,” he said.

“It’s a person,” one of us answered.

“But what is really going on here?” the teacher continued. “Is this a person, or a photograph? Can a photograph of a person, just a piece of paper, be a person, and if it isn’t a person, why are we tempted to say it’s a person before we say that it is a photograph of a person?”

All at once, photography became a most complex, puzzling and mysterious medium, and I learned never to be complacent about what I think I know, and how I know it.

Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to self-knowledge and self-care.

Since we are always changing and evolving, whether we want to or not, we can learn very surprising things by honouring ourselves with a check-in.

We can check in with the self in a variety of ways, and we can do this all in our heads, say, on a long nature walk, or even better, by writing it down, which can force us to be more diligent and self-reflective about the process.

We can examine the state of our physical self.

How do I feel? Am I tired, frenetic, in balance? Are any muscles tighter than usual? Is anything out of alignment? Does anything hurt, or feel different than it used to? Am I getting headaches, and if I am, more or less than usual? Is there something my body needs now that it didn’t need before, and vice versa?

We can examine the state of our emotional self.

What feelings are going through me right now? What feelings have been cropping up repeatedly in my life recently? How have my feelings changed from the ones that used to preoccupy me? Am I angry, sad, frustrated, happy, at peace? How long do these feelings last? Do I feel I’m in control of my feelings? Which relationships bring me joy, and do I make enough time for them?

We can examine the state of our mental self.

What kinds of thoughts occupy my mind these days? Do I focus on the past? Do I fantasize or worry about the future? Am I distracted, or focused? What subjects are interesting to me, and do I make time for these things in my life? Do I feel balanced, and able to handle the tasks I have to do every day? How might I streamline better to function at my tasks at hand?

We can examine the state of our spiritual self.

Am I fulfilled? Do I feel something is missing? Is there harmony between myself, those around me and the environment? Is the way I spend my time in alignment with the way I want to be living my life? Do I know which life I want to have in an ideal world, and how can I move closer to that ideal?

If thinking about all this sounds daunting, it can be very helpful to answer these questions as lists, or in point form. Another great idea is to set aside some time to jot down a list of things you have learned as a result of your experiences. If you limit yourself to a relatively small number, like five things, you will force yourself to get to the most essential life lessons you feel you’ve acquired.

There’s a great chance that these top fives will surprise us, and tell us a lot about what our priorities are; this is a great starting point in thinking about the changes we can make to achieve more harmony within ourselves, and looking out to the world.

These intensive check-ins are like huge energy bubbles that can help sustain us in a chaotic world, helping us understand what makes us tick, so to speak, so that we can become more grounded in awareness of self. They also make periodic, mini check-ins easier to accomplish, so that we can develop a more fluid sense of our deepest and ever-evolving selves.

Doing these on a frequent basis—eventually, it can become as natural as breathing—will help us react with clarity and mindfulness when unexpected situations arise, difficult or otherwise, and integrate as fully and happily as possible into each moment of the life we are living.

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Do These 5 Things & Wake Up Happier.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

Wanna get happy? Just do this one thing.

Noooooooooooo. Of course not.

Happiness—or a consistent state of contentment—is very much something we can enjoy striving for. I believe that it is an achievable state, but there are absolutely no direct routes there. And if anyone tells you there are, I’d suggest carving yourself a beautiful, elaborate path in the opposite direction from their advice.

There’s something really lovely and fragile about knowing we can’t have instant happiness, that we get to wade into the many rides that our emotions take us on daily (even hourly), so that we can experience the fullness and richness of life.

But there are some things we can do to encourage ourselves down the long and winding road toward happiness, and it’s often the little things, done with mindfulness and persistence, that accumulate and train or minds (and brains) to think happy.

You know the drill: train the body to like running, and at first it will laugh and maybe spit at you—but eventually it will cave to your iron will, and a runner you (and your body) will be!

Why should the brain and mind be any different?

Awhile back, I wrote an article, 5 Things To Do Before Breakfast for a Happy Day. I’d like to follow that up with a companion piece about quick and simple things you can do right before bed to cultivate contentment in your life. I hope you enjoy!

Okay, you’re snuggled into bed, comfortable and warm and cozy. Check. Now …

 

1. Say thank you and review the day.

First things first: gratitude. Take a moment to say thank you – for the day you had, for the privilege and honour of having lived another glorious day, and for your own efforts at making a go of this crazy, powerful thing called life.

On to the review: don’t labour over this unnecessarily and absolutely don’t be full of regret for things left undone. Try to assume a slightly detached point of view, as though you were going over a friend’s activities, and try to observe, without judgement, one or two things you are proud of doing that day, and one or two things you might have done differently.

This will help you foster an ongoing awareness of your goals and behaviours, and this will help guide you toward your ideals.

As a last part of this review, you can make a mental note to yourself that for the next 24 hours (until your next nightly check in), you will aim, through your words and actions, to do and be exactly as you would like, using as a measure your highest aspirations for yourself.

 

2. Create a sankalpa and recite it to yourself.

“Sankalpa” is a Sanskrit word, and is something close to an intention or resolution. It’s actually more of an idea for something we are very determined about, with the goal of making positive changes in our lives.

It is suggested that you decide on only one sankalpa, and that it be quite short and phrased in a positive and not negative way. It should also be phrased to indicate that success has already been achieved. So we should try to get at the root of our deepest desires and goals, rather than focus on more superficial ones.

Examples of sankalpa might be, “I am strong and healthy” or “My life is exactly as I desire it to be” or, if this has been an issue, “I am free from addiction.”

In achieving a firm resolve about the positive direction we want our life to take, we train our brains and minds to become more flexible for accommodating these changes in our lives. In this way, it helps to bridge the mind and body, and get them working in sync for the better.

3. Set an intention to remember your dreams.

I love this one. As we know, our minds are very powerful and trainable tools. We meditate to gain control of our minds, tame our thoughts and live in active harmony with the world around us. We can effectively guide the mind to work to our benefit, and one way to do this is to have access to our dream world.

Some people remember their dreams easily and naturally. I am not one of those people. There are several ways to cultivate this ability, and one easy and effective way is to actually think about it before bed. As you’re lying in the dark, you can bring to your attention the desire to remember your dreams, and even tell yourself, “I am falling asleep now, and dreams will come. I will be aware of these dreams, and remember them when I wake up.”

When you start remembering your dreams in the morning, you will have a feeling of accomplishment—you have guided your mind into working for you!

You can then work with your dreams in any number of ways.

 

4. Breathe and scan your body.

All this reviewing and intention-setting may have inadvertently made your mind over-active, and now is a good time to prepare body and mind for relaxation and sleep.

It’s simple! Take a few long, deep breaths, letting go of the thoughts and actions of the day. Then, at your own pace, bring your attention from the toes all the way up the legs and torso, front and back, followed by the hand, arms, shoulders, neck and head.

As you’re doing this, try not to judge any sensations you’re experiencing, or condemn yourself for having thoughts or distractions. And if you fall asleep, that’s okay! You have become rested, and that’s great! Just go along with the scan for as long as you can, and this objective, gentle attention will have a dramatically calming effect.

 

5. Give the world and yourself some love.

If you are still awake now, notice if any source of pain came up during your body scan or even your memories of the day, and gently place your hands on that area, if you are able, and let the love flow. Do what you would do for your own child, or lover, if they were in pain. Touch, hold, fold in warm embrace.

You can also use your breath to fill this part of you with calm and peace. And if the pain was more psychological or emotional, place your hands on your heart, or chest area (or somewhere else, if your instinct guides you there), and do the same.

Remember that the love you give yourself is also love that extends out to the whole world, and by nurturing yourself, your surroundings become filled with light. In treating yourself with kindness, you are actually showing how grateful you are to be part of the magical unfolding of life.

There’s nothing better than going to bed in an atmosphere of gratitude and love!

 

*This article was published in elephant journal, here.