A long time ago now, my very busy life came to a screeching and abrupt halt. Well, a pause at least, while I went through treatment for breast cancer. For the first time, life forced me to stay in the present - which at the time was no doubt called survival - living one full moment at a time, albeit like a deer in the headlights.
Despite the traumatic reason for the change, I began to appreciate life in a way I'd never had time to before. Colours became more vibrant and I became more sentient. For a long time after treatment, I didn't have to try to 'be'. I just was.
But, nothing lasts forever as they say and I'm back to having to make a conscious effort to be present throughout the majority of my day - not getting caught up on where I need to be in half an hour, or what needs to be done before tomorrow.
I've noticed that when I do certain things - when I'm striking a balance in my life - it comes more naturally and I reap the rewards. I thought I'd compile a bit of a list of the things that set me free from the busyness of my mind, and draw me back to here and now - the things that allow me to live my life and not merely get through the day.
No matter what has happened in my day, once I begin the ritual that is preparing for my run, my focus hones in on the music beating through my headphones, the feel of tightening my shoe laces, and setting the GPS on my TomTom running watch. I lock the door and open the gate awaiting the vibration on my wrist that tells me we've found the satellite. And then it begins. The steady pounding of my feet on the path. I'm aware of my energy systems changing over in the first few seconds, and then the first two minutes and then I know I'm going to be okay. Music drowns out thoughts other than those I have about the ocean I'm looking at, the sun I'm feeling on my skin, that oh-so-good strength I notice in my legs and the quickening of my breath as I push myself over the hour that I run. Nothing else enters my mind and for one of the first times in the day, I feel completely free of any responsibility or obligation to do anything other than what I'm actually doing. No place I'd rather be.
I first noticed the power of swimming over my mind in my early twenties. The power of the black line to be specific. In much the same way as with running, I know that when I swim, my mind is focussed on only three or four tasks - watching the black line, counting the laps, breathing, and feeling the water over my body as I move through it. Meditation. Freedom.
I've written a book. Yes. I sure did. It took three years. It's such a shame, but no-one has wanted to publish it yet... none the less, it served an incredibly important purpose for me in the wake of breast cancer. That book provided me with catharsis. It afforded me the opportunities to process and alleviate the impact of the trauma. It gave me therapy - for free! When I write, I go into the zone and all I'm aware of is the tapping of the keys and the flashing cursor on my page. Such a sense of achievement once I've created something that didn't exist earlier!
My ex-husband used to say that we spend our lives chasing that feeling you got as a kid when you put your arms out, looked up to the sky and spun around and around and around until you fell over dizzy and giggling. Well, boogie-boarding does that for me. I'm lucky to live on the coast and our fabulous community has a group of mature ladies who meet every Sunday to boogie-board together. There are often no words exchanged, instead, wide grins, laughter and the thumbs up acknowledging when an awesome wave has been caught. I feel exactly like a kid again, squealing with delight and enjoying the rush that comes with catching the sweet point in a wave that takes you all the way into the beach. One magical time, we even shared the waves with a friendly seal. Heaven on Earth.
You know that saying "dance like no-one is watching" - well, I like to embrace the "sing like no-one is listening" philosophy of life. I can't sing in tune but it doesn't matter. Driving by myself, running with my headphones on, it doesn't matter. If I'm moved by the music I just don't hold back. Just recently, on a road-trip with an old girlfriend, we found an 80's station that took us right back to high school and man, did we sing at the top of our lungs! Bliss! I often get my clients to sing their thoughts too - it can be a great way of changing their relationship with yucky, unhelpful thoughts that get them down.
Escapism. Full stop.
Immersion. Need I say more? Well of course I should, geez we could talk for years about travel. Almost everyone says they like to travel and I'm no exception. I'm often travelling on my own which has its distinct advantages including the need to step out of one's comfort zone to meet other travellers and locals, otherwise it can be a very quiet and lonely time! And how grateful I am for each and every friend I've met in this way. To get the most out of your travel experiences your mind and heart need to be wide open. Don't be that person always comparing everything to some other place you've been. Be exactly where you are. Body, mind and spirit. Immersion. Sigh. The meaning of life.
Do you eat on the run? Do you regularly experience indigestion? Do you even taste the food you're eating? Slow down. There is so much joy and pleasure to be had. Eating is one of the few activities we do every day that involves all of our senses. Try it out - the very next meal you have, sit down and take your time. Ask yourself what you can see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Be present and enjoy every mouthful - I bet it's a whole new experience.
There's a bit of a theme forming here - have you picked up on it yet? It seems, for me at least, that the more present I am for whatever it is that I'm doing, the more I get out of that thing, both internally and externally. Photography is no exception. There is no way you can possibly compose a great shot without being aware of what you're looking at - the subject, the environment, the weather, the light. You need to be aware of your body and your breath, the steadiness of your hand and also the settings on your camera. Taking photos is something I do to relax. I do it for fun. Because when I have my camera in my hand, my brain filters all the unnecessary stuff out, and all the beautiful calm stuff in. Euphoria.
People set me free. Here I go again with the breaking out of prison theme! Seriously, no matter who I am with, I try my utmost to be in the moment with them. At work, that is usually with my clients. Imagine for example, that I sat with a client sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings while I mentally planned my shopping list for dinner that night - they'd never come back! Or what if when I pick my nephews up from school I'm preoccupied with writing for this website - I'd miss out on all of their stories from the week, or laughing with them while we played a game together. Not to mention my friends. Unless I am aware of what their voices are telling me, what their body language is telling me, unless I am responding appropriately in the moment, we miss the incredible connection we need with our loved ones. Without valuing my time spent connecting with others, I'd be the one that would miss out.
Being present in my own life. That's the bottom line. That's my Dalai Lama pearl of wisdom.
What is it that sets you free?
Well then, what are you waiting for?