“In today’s rush, we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle
We’re going to start with a visualization exercise. Set a timer for one minute, close your eyes, and reflect on your happiest childhood memories…
I was born into a family of wanderers, individuals who held a deeply rooted love of travel, and an even deeper sense of adventure. My happiest childhood memories are the times when we packed up our suitcases and hit the road (or the sky or the sea).
In the quiet stillness of my mind, I float away to a Hawaiian beach. Suddenly, I am once again a young adolescent lying in the sand with the ones I love as we watch the leaves of a large palm tree sway overhead, moving in front of the sun and casting long, warm shadows on the seemingly endless stretches of beach on either side of us. The crash of the waves reverberates through our ears, and a sense of peaceful stillness permeates our entire beings.
Here, we have no responsibilities, and our attention is simply focused on being present with one another.
Maybe for you, the happiest childhood memories that come to mind revolve around a favorite holiday when friends or loved ones laughed together without distractions, or spending time with brothers and sisters talking about everything and nothing, growing closer to one another.
No matter the memories that come to mind, they undoubtedly had one thing in common—in those moments we (and those around us) were free.
That’s the secret to intentional, or slow, living; when we practice patience with ourselves and others, and allow the busyness of our lives to fall away, we can feel the emotion that exists in every moment, and truly connect to the people and things around us.
Childhood is, by its very definition, an opportunity to practice slow living. When we are children we do not have the stress of our jobs, our social status, or providing for others weighing on our shoulders. Not only are our days free from responsibility, they are also free from anxiety and worry.
As we age, we have a tendency to forget the purpose of intentional living, and instead allow our days to be managed and monitored by the incessant beeping or text and email alerts and the allure of amassing social media likes.
We allow our souls to be turned away from spiritual clarity and light, believing instead that the more “stuff” we allow to fill our days, the happier we will be.
But the truth, friends, is that the happiness we so desperately seek on our busiest days is not found in the countless distractions of the world around us, but in the innocence of our hearts—the stillness and presence that has dwelled within us since we were children.
Of course, I’m not recommending that you quit your job tomorrow, forgo all of your responsibilities, and craft some sort of bubble-like lifestyle for your days.
I am suggesting that you evaluate where your priorities lie, and if you find your life has become too fast-paced to truly connect with yourself and others, that you take small action steps toward decluttering your spiritual core—the part of you that knows the answers to life’s greatest mysteries do not lie in the rush, but rather, in the moments of connection.
Living intentionally is an art, and is not something that we can master overnight, but by committing to a practice of cultivation, we can encourage relaxation of our nervous systems, begin to avoid the people and things that take our time and energy without giving us anything in return, and create a life we love—a life that is full of peace and genuine joy. Here’s how to get started:
Evaluate your life.
What do you truly want out of your life? If there were no barriers like money or power, what would you want to do and with whom would you want to do it? Consider the answers to these questions to be your sense of inner wisdom and trust the messages you receive.
Identify the people and activities that you desire to willingly surround yourself with, as well as those to whom you feel obligated, and notice how you feel when you think about these people and tasks, responding to your thoughts without judgment. Then, work on increasing the amount of time you spend doing what you love with those you love.
Little by little, you will find that you are able to take control of your life and live in a way that fulfills you, allowing you to practice intentional presence in all areas.
Understand that busyness does not equal importance.
Answering all the emails in our inboxes while we sit at the dinner table is not going to mean anything to the people who mean the most to us. While many responsibilities are unavoidable, there is something to be said for committing to presence of mind, no matter how much we may struggle with feeling like we’re missing out on something that only our devices can tell us about.
Generations ago, when professionals did not have electronic tools like cell phones or tablets, they somehow managed to complete all of their tasks and were considered by others as having contributed to society.
Somewhere along the way, that understanding became skewed, and now, we have lofty expectations for how quickly we can respond to a summons and the number of commitments we can successfully juggle at one time.
Understand that being busy does not make us successful or important; in fact, often, being too busy serves no purpose other than to detract from our connection with the people that are nearest to us.
Choose a place in your home where you will stow your cell phone and other electronics upon entering the house. When our phones are out of reach, they will almost automatically leave our minds, and we can focus on being present with the people who are physically with us.
If you find that spending all your time at home without your phone is too difficult or not reasonable for your lifestyle, establish small blocks of time (five to ten minutes maximum) that you are allowed to check your phone before re-stowing and returning your attention to the present. Over time, you will find that your need to have these phone breaks becomes less and less frequent.
Our world is noisy—there is no other way to describe it. Yet, we’ve become so accustomed to the din of our environment that we have seemingly become immune to noticing how this constant chaos negatively impacts us physically and spiritually.
When was the last time you spent a moment in silence? It’s probably been quite some time, if you can even remember a moment free from noise at all. Our culture perpetuates trepidation around quiet, wanting to fill every pause with some sort of sound effect or reverie, so it’s important for us, as we pursue a slower lifestyle, to create a space in our lives that is free from distractions.
Find a way to bring calm and quiet into your life whether it comes through a daily practice of meditation, a walk through the silence of nature, or a peaceful moment spent in bed before you close your eyes to rest. Pursuing peace will lead to a regular commitment to quiet and allow you to grow in your understanding of what it means to be truly present.
I’m not the little girl on the Hawaiian beach anymore. I have real responsibilities and accountabilities just like you do. But, by committing to a practice of slow living, of practicing intention and presence in my days, I am helping her to continue to grow and thrive.
No matter your age or where you are on your journey, you can reclaim a piece of your innocent joy as well—the childhood version of yourself is still inside you, waiting for you to commit to their well-being.
About Rebecca Flasz
Dr. Rebecca Flasz is a college professor, and avid traveler, and mental health advocate who holds a Doctorate of Education in stress management. In addition, she is a passionate free spirit who enjoys a good cup of tea and spending time outdoors with family. You can read more of Rebecca's writing on her meditation and mindfulness blog Sagebrush and Salt.