MANY OF US ARE AWAKENING TO THE FACT that our current frenzied pace of life is unsustainable. We're aware of a constant thrum of disquiet within ourselves, and we crave something easier, slower. We're all clearly attracted to the idea of slowing down, as phrases such as "mindfulness" and "slow-living" are repeated to the risk of sounding trite, and yet we at Sustain truly believe that these concepts and ideas are integral to the survival of our planet and the human race. We simply cannot keep going as we are. If we don't soon learn to listen to our bodies and pay attention to the cycle of our days, we risk succumbing to the health problems associated with stress, anxiety and overwhelm: exhaustion, depression, heart problems, insomnia, premature aging, auto-immune disease, and cancer. And, in learning to notice what's happening in our world and in nature, truly notice, and recognize that we are not outsiders, not simply caught in a vortex in which we have no control, we can heal the planet and the hurt going on around us.
So, how does one do this? Like many things, we believe that looking at this as a whole and aiming for the end goal is well, impossible. It will leave you feeling discouraged and failing. What we have found is that breaking the idea down into a series of small ideas, and even simple feelings, is the only way to succeed. When you take the time to analyze the idea of mindfulness and slow living, at the root it is very, very simple. Our job is simply to pay attention in the given moment to the things in our environment and how they affect us—the very definition of mindfulness. Once you do that, you will soon learn to avoid the things that make you feel poorly, and seek out the things that help you feel joy. Mindfulness is simply the child of awareness, borrowing from the Buddhist concept of the awareness of everything: our body, our soul, our mind.
In terms of slow living, we've found that it really helps to again, break down the idea and examine the root of it. Authors Beth Meredith and Eric Storm summarize slow living as follows: Slow Living means structuring your life around meaning and fulfillment. Doesn't that sound so much better and achievable?
We've decided to build these ideas into small excercises that you can practice daily, in 5 minutes or less, that go far in helping you develop the part of your psyche that will help you feel more peaceful and joyful. It's like a muscle and we've taught ourselves as a culture to allow it to atrophy. First up? A gratitude journal.
Some may say that of course, it's easy to feel grateful when things are swell—when your goals, finances, health, family etc. all align, and it's a lot harder when real life gets in the way, or you're experiencing loss, or chronic pain, or disease. But the thing is, like attracts like. The more we pay attention to the negative things, the more we notice them, and hence, the more they occur. By learning to think through your day and find things, even little, teensy, seemingly insignificant things that we're grateful for because they went our way or helped us or made us happy, the more they will occur because you are training yourself to notice them. Eventually, you'll notice you become more optimistic as a person, and it's great!!!
ROUTINE Some people thrive by building this into a certain part of their day, commonly bedtime, but if you resist structure or are not habitual, try keeping a small notebook with you at all times and writing things down as they happen. This is also flexing your awareness muscle and training you to live in the moment. If you're the techy sort, this app has received a lot of good press. Perhaps it's worth a try, although I find the act of writing things down is more introspective and literally slower, which helps me go a little deeper within the process.
INVOLVE YOUR FAMILY Another way to do this is to take turns at the table each day at dinnertime and voice openly with your family something you feel grateful for. It might spark conversation too, who knows!
START A GRATITUDE JAR If journaling really isn't your thing, admittedly I struggle with it, then perhaps starting a gratitude jar would be a nice idea. Use scrap paper cut into long strips and write things you feel positive about or grateful for as they occur or before bed, then place in a large jar. Do this for one year, then start a new one. It could be useful or fun to go back and read one of your thoughts each day, sort of like a daily devotion. You could either share this jar as a family, or each have your own.
DON'T SET A MINIMUM Often people will recommend writing down 5 things, or something similar, which I have found to impose a homework-like restriction I don't like. You don't want to force it. Write down 1, or 10, it doesn't matter!
BE ORIGINAL Try not to write similar things down each day, although at first you may need to, or want to. Since the goal is awareness, trying to find slightly different things to be grateful for each day will help you master the art of living in the moment.
CONTRIBUTORS & CREDITS:
LAUREN KOLYN, Photography: Lauren is a lifestyle and editorial photographer based in Montréal and Toronto, Canada. With a documentary approach to her photography, Lauren is a visual storyteller with a unique ability to capture the essence of the moment. Drawing much of her artistic inspiration from the natural environment, Lauren's photographic work explores the modest yet powerful beauty of her surroundings. View her work, follow her on Instagram.