Being with the Echoes of Your Life

by Berenice Boxler.

Some time ago I was on a retreat in Northern Germany. On a retreat, usually lasting several days, people come together to practice mindfulness (or some other contemplative practice) and meditation under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Under special conditions – delicious food, outer silence, no mobile phones or books – the participant can focus on the journey inside and practice being and meditating free of external expectations and outer impulses.

“When … then…” – living for the future

At the beginning of this very retreat, the teacher said that we should “be with the echoes of life”. For as much as one wishes that the mind would come to rest or the body would finally relax, it often takes quite a while before the everyday stress and tension start to dissolve. We are so calibrated to live for the future: one more week until the holidays, a few more days until the weekend, only two more days of rain, then things will finally get better. The mind is constantly fantasizing about being away from the “here and now” into a supposedly better future. “When… then” – this attitude is well known. And it is notorious, because it is an illusion that the future will be better. Anyway, the future is only in the mind – as soon as it has arrived, it is the present, and – as we all know by experience – the present will never be good enough.

For a few days now, I have been dealing with my body, which has decided to tell me particularly loudly and painfully that it has been neglected. And because it has taken a particularly deep breath, it is still crying out after 10 days…  “Being with the echoes of my life” means that I don’t perceive my present state of being as punishment, disturbance or difficulty. It means nothing more and nothing less than acknowledging that everything we do (or don’t do) has an effect. Life is made up of countless moments, and if we don’t care about the individual moments, life will slip through our fingers. Then we miss the chance to stop working in time. Then we miss the chance to go to bed early after an exhausting day (instead of “rewarding” the brain with often mindless TV-zapping) to get the needed rest. Then we miss the chance to tell the raging child what it usually really needs in a difficulty: “I am here.”

“Not now, later” – but when is “later”?

This clichéd “not now, later” quickly becomes the standard. And as soon as we are on vacation, as we start the retreat, as we lay down our heads for sleeping or finally take time to eat, we expect that the body or the head may now please use this short time window. Calm down, switch off, relax. Right now, come on! But the organism just doesn’t work like that. You can imagine it as if you were racing non-stop at 130 km/h over the motorway and expect that the car can come to a direct stop elegantly and without damage to the vehicle and its occupants at any time you wish. But “being with the echoes of life” means that we first take our foot off the gas pedal and only brake gradually, everything else just doesn’t work without causing damage.

It doesn’t matter how long one has been practicing mindfulness, it’s never done. Well, this is normal, because life is not done yet. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Who knows what kind of body sensations I will wake up with tomorrow? Yes, I can prepare and make plans. But much more important than looking into the future is listening to the present. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now.” And if I consciously take care of my present, then I will also be better able to deal with the echo which my present actions throw at my life tomorrow. Therefore, “not now, later” is a fallacy that cannot work at all. Now is important, just now. Because it is now that life is unfolding.

P.S. On March 13-15, 2020 I will organize a weekend retreat with a friend (also an experienced MBSR and mindfulness teacher), near Hamburg (Germany). In German. Registration is open! More information here as download..

Adjusting a few screws…

by Berenice Boxler

Recently I burned three fingers on the hot pot. I had been lost in thoughts, the day had been full of deadlines and time pressure, no eye for details such as that I had forgotten to put out the stove. A short cry, a lot of water and a wound cream with plaster – well, the complete programme. Then it was interesting to feel the wave-like pains and how they weakened throughout the day.

What does the body need to work well?

Since I had a meeting with the little ones at the Maison Relais at noon, I talked about it: the tremendous healing powers of the body, the coming and going of pain, taking care of an injury, and „What can you do to support the body, so that it works fine for as long as possible?“ The 4- and 5-year-olds outbid themselves with „eating vegetables, eating pineapple, moving, eating apples“. We then talked about exercise, about nutrition – but nobody was aware of the importance of sleep, although many of them are often very tired. Maybe one should be tackling this issue a bit more with the children?

Self-care is not easy

Young or older, everybody knows what‘s right for the body. Why is it so difficult to do it? Why is everything else more important than taking good care of yourself?

„I have no time.“ is probably one of the most common obstacles. „Oh, that‘s alright. I do not feel like doing it right now.“ is another. And why not prefer some chips and TV at the end of a stressful day, rather than a meditation or a yoga session? That worked out fine so far, right?

Time passes, and the body changes. Everything changes. And even if you‘re okay, it does not hurt to think long-term. How can we support the body as well as possible so that it will carry us for a long time? How can we stay (or become) agile and resilient? How can we care for ourselves mentally so that we are prepared for more difficult times? Because, you know, they will come, the difficult times, because that is just part of life.

1 tool, many screws

No one has to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes each day (although that would actually not be too bad an idea). And it‘s not about suddenly training for a half-marathon.

But there is one tool and many small screws that can help us to better keep our everyday life and body in good shape:

 

The tool: pause and ask: „How am I doing right now? What does my body need now?“

The more regularly we do that, the more of an expert we become for our condition and our very individual needs. And hey, who would not like to be an expert in the field of keeping yourself in good shape?!

The screws:

– go out in nature more often (for example to a workshop on forest bathing on 19 October, more information here), take a walk, let your mind wander, open your senses to the wonders of nature, etc

exercise the body regularly: yoga, walking, fitness, chi gong, football, jogging, cycling, club sport, swimming, HIIT, muscle training, etc. Find something that suits you individually.

– get used to eating something green on a regular basis (like salad or green smoothies)

de-normalize sugar: the body does not need artificial sugar, and ripe fruit can be a wonderful substitute – So maybe save the ice cream and cake for special occasions and then really enjoy it?

– grant the body enough sleep (everything, really everything, works better with a rested body)

– and much more…

 

It‘s not about turning your entire life upside down. Take the tool in your hand, turn a small screw here and there and just watch how you feel.

Self-care – not egoistic but vital

It may be time to reflect once again whether we can really be happy while constantly being in motion, in a hurry or being busy accomplishing something. Behind me lies a very intense phase of several weeks (or rather months, if I‘m honest), where no break was possible. If one task was done, the next one was immediately on my to-do-list. Everything went very well; I delivered and fulfilled expectations, I had pleasure in my work and felt a certain pride in what I had done. These were important projects, every single one of them, and each one required all my attention and thorough examination. If I start doing something, I want to do it right.

 

Consequences of an unattented self-care

What was left behind was me, my being, my well-being. This happened more or less consciously. I did not allow myself to take any breaks, skipped my sports routine, and forbid my body to continue shouting for attention and better care. I managed to make it to the (provisional) end of the hot phase and went away for a few days from all of this to take a break and recharge – on an intensive several-day-long seminar. Nevertheless, I could quicly feel how the silence of the hotel room and the altered surroundings were spreading out their blanket of reassurance on my broken mind and body. The pain became less, the tension was leaving my body bit by bit.

I have just finished my first mindfulness course, and this course was a big challenge for me, both in content and emotionally. It was a great pleasure to give this course and I feel deep gratitude for all participants and for my teachers and colleagues. The latter have given me the confidence to expand the adventure of being a mindfulness trainer, and without them I would not be where I am now. However, I have to admit that the most important topic of my course – in my view – is also the most important topic of myself – self-care. It was not only difficult for the participants of my course to look after themselves, instead of mostly after their children or their partner or simply the other people around them. Self-care, just being there, doing what does me good without having to show a result, reading, going for a walk (why not even barefoot and really feel it?), to do a puzzle, eating with peace and enjoyment, meditating, allowing me to withdraw from time to time, etc. – why is this so hard? “That feels selfish.” “Surely the others think I‘m totally lazy.” “There’s no time for that.” “I can’t afford to do this, there are many more important things to do.”

 

NO.

 

There is nothing more important than self-care

There is nothing more important than self-care. Yes, I cannot simply leave for three hours and just hang around. Yes, I cannot put my children in front of the TV for two hours just because I could use  a little time out right now. But no, I do not have to do the laundry when my little one is asleep, but I can read a book and enjoy the silence. And no, I do not have to build the Lego tower three times in a row, but I can also say that I will love to come back to the play when I have drunk my coffee while it is still hot. Self-care also means getting enough sleep and giving priority to my physical recovery. Self-care includes feeding the body with as much nourishing fuel as possible and not automatically reaching for that chocolate bar after a stressful day. And it also means not to judge myself even if the chocolate bar is gone at the end of the day or when a harsh word has slipped out of my mouth. Self-care means taking good care and being kind to myself, also verbally. Self-compassion can be a big help if things get rough.

If it is not yet clear enough: self-care is the only means of meeting other people with kindness, openness and acceptance. If we are not feeling well, then we are not able to receive or to give, as we are in survival mode. And there we are really not a pleasant person to be with and we cannot be a patient mother, a compassionate father or a loving partner, even if we strive for this very hard and have noble intentions. First, we have to put on our own oxygen masks, as we are shown in the airplane, only then can we be there for others.

 

It is time to try out how life feels when more “being” and less “doing” is guiding our day. Right now is a good moment to start.