How do you go from overthinking, letting every problem affect you and feeling overwhelmed by how chaotic everything is to restoring balance and calm to your life? The answers have been available to anyone prepared to put in a bit of positive effort for thousands of years. The tips I’m sharing are just the techniques and practices I’ve sought out and learned over the past 21-ish years. There’s nothing special about me or how I’ve managed to learn them, it’s just the choices I’ve made.
A little bit about my zen journey. I grew up in a working class and pretty uninspiring part of greater London, my parents got divorced when I was 9, and my brother and I stayed with my Mum. My Mum had difficulties with her emotional health due to many factors including childhood sexual abuse. She was a brilliant Mum but had low self-esteem and made life choices that had a detrimental affect on herself and those around her (especially my brother and myself). I was a sensitive child and worried about everything. The methods I used to feel happier and more in control of my life (eating disorders, excessive drinking, etc) were quite damaging physically and emotionally. I felt useless and helpless because I couldn’t help my Mum feel better or help other people in my life who were struggling in different ways.
I burnt myself out by the age of 22, and felt I had to escape from my life. I travelled on my own around the world for 13 months and discovered that spending time on my own, in nature, was the key to my inner peace. All the time and energy I’d spent hiding and covering up who I was inside might have been amazing fun at times, but it made me feel empty and miserable. Just sitting and looking at the sky, walking through the redwoods in California and the mangroves in Cairns, watching sunsets and sunrises all over the world, filled me with a tranquil, effortless joy. I took up meditation while I was travelling and learned shiatsu massage for 3 months.
When it was time to return to my ‘normal’ life in England I knew it wouldn’t be so easy to maintain this new sense of peace and self that is much easier to achieve without distractions, but I was determined. I’d made my choice to be happy so that I could actually genuinely help other people. 21 years on, I’m still learning, still working on this zen healing adventure, and now I have a family with two autistic sons and the 10th of my family members died a week ago. How is it possible to maintain any sort of inner peace while surrounded by chaos?
- Read about all thing Zen – Buddhism, Taoism, any approaches that are about simplifying life and connecting with nature (yours and the outer universe). Being a Buddhist and having a Buddhism teacher has helped me, but everyone is different.
- Retrain your brain – find the positives in every situation, no matter how hard that is to start with. The way we think and see the world is just a habit (it’s also an illusion!) and you can slowly rewire your brain so that seeing the positives becomes effortless.
- Spend time with nature – go for walks in woods of by the sea, do some gardening, bring plants into your home, gaze at the sky. Allow yourself to be completely absorbed in the activity and contemplate all the lessons you can learn from nature.
- Meditate – sit or stand or lay down, on your own, with no music or other distractions, and just breathe. You don’t need to add anything, you already have everything you need. Allow your thoughts to come and go without following them. Bring your attention back to your body and your breathing if your mind wanders. Do this for longer and longer amounts of time over the weeks, months and years.
- Accept yourself, warts and all – stop being hard on yourself for being imperfect, everyone is. Everyone has good and bad, ups and downs, and positive and negative thoughts, and no-one has everything sussed.
- Practice qigong and Daoist exercises – these slow, therapeutic movements help you to connect with yourself and to nature, reset your nervous system, and overcome emotional and physical obstacles. They are suitable for all levels of ability and can even be practiced if you’re unable to move any parts of your body – they are internal exercises.
- Let go of stuff – start small and throw away something you don’t need right now. Put away something that is out of place. Start letting go of useless thoughts too, anything that makes you feel unhappy. If it doesn’t bring you joy or comfort, you don’t need it.
Lots more support and inspiration always available in my Facebook and Instagram pages, and I offer many different types of classes and courses to suit everyone. Please feel free to get in touch.