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what is a simple life?

Our morning walk
Our morning walk

A simple life is a completely subjective concept. For some people it means having free ranging children and chickens, producing all of your own food, and going off-grid with water and power, or being somewhere along that path. For others, it means reading or sitting peacefully for a small part of each day. Or it could mean finding peace within yourself by just ‘being’ more, and doing less. Every person interested in a simpler life, has their own unique interpretation of what that actually means.

For me, simplicity means being as well as I can be. It’s a reciprocal arrangement. I live simply to stay happy and healthy, and I’m happier and healthier because I choose to live simply. Pretty much everything I do, has become a part of my life with wellness either directly or indirectly in mind.

A small window into my simple life, is not me saying that my life is great, and yours is crap. It’s me saying that my life before slowing down wasn’t working very well. Only certain aspects of my needs were being met. I was always very fit, but not always really well, and not always doing all of the things which ultimately I’ve discovered make me feel more me.

When I wake early to meditate, it’s a conscious decision I’ve made to be a calmer person. To step away from a life where stress and raised cortisol affected every part of me. Meditating every day has been the best decision of my slow living life. I’m not simply hoping for peace in my day, although sometimes it does just happen by chance…I’m doing something which literally calms my nervous system, and sets me up, generally, for a peaceful start to the day. My morning mantra for the entire family is ‘Start each day, in a happy way’. Hollie Hobbie. A corny flashback to my seventies childhood.

When I’m writing, I’m happy. I am expressing myself creatively in a way which has satisfied me deeply since I was a kid. I love words. I love playing with them to create meaning and truth. Writing is such a powerful art, and for me it feels as though I’m touching on my ultimate purpose every time I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. My Mum was the first to instill the thought that I should become a writer, and it has been dancing around in my head ever since. It’s a very happy place for me.

When I crochet a tiny granny square of a greater rug, there is joy not only in the making, but also in the visual art of the project, and in the connection to my creative past. To my mother who taught me, and to all of the women who preserve the gentle arts as a part of their daily existence and tradition.

The same joy drives me in food production. There is happiness and health at the bottom of every jar of sauerkraut. I love picking cabbages, and feeling that connection with the earth (especially when I have to hunt through the layers of leaves for slugs and snails!). The whole process allows me to become entwined in the mystical elements of fermentation. There’s an enormous sense of accomplishment which comes from producing complex food. A cupboard full of ferments, learning to make sourdough bread, waiting for a batch of Kombucha to finish brewing. It’s not necessarily easier or a more efficient way to live, not at all, but it brings such positive energy into my life. It’s useful, and I have the knowledge that my food is living, simple and as unprocessed as it can be.

When I grow my own food, I know exactly where it has come from. I’ve had the chest swelling pleasure of watching it grow, and the enjoyment of seeing it become part of a meal. I love to pick and collect vegetables and herbs to make juice. It’s deeply satisfying, and it feels very right to me.

These are some of the elements which make up my simple life. It’s nothing dramatic, it’s just me being, and enjoying the very basics of life. It’s not about money, or having or doing. It’s about peace and happiness and wellness. I enjoy every small part of the life I’ve created, rather than feeling stressed or overwhelmed by a life that’s just whizzing by.

That’s what a simple life means to me.

Shared with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

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balancing your energy

Saturday morning at Leighton Beach in Perth. Photo courtesy of the lovely Louise Bowles
Saturday morning at Leighton Beach, Perth. Photo courtesy of the lovely Louise Bowles

The high energy of the festive season generates such a buzz within my body and my mind. A lot of the energy translates as warmth and happiness, making me feel amazingly positive. But some of it (particularly the organisational pressure of the season), feels like a huge burden. There are often high expectations, crazy schedules, and deadlines wafting around what are essentially meant to be wonderful, relaxed, family celebrations.

I often try and talk myself out of the stress that I can, but as a yoga teacher said in a class yesterday, you can’t always change it, so you have to know how to balance it.

Finding the peace inside of yourself. Generating an opposing force to that consuming frenetic energy, by doing whatever it is that brings you calm, so that you can handle the heightened energy, but also enjoy the warmth and happiness of the season.

Linked with Essentially Jess for IBOT

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the joy of laughter

my happy place
my happy place

Laughter is the best medicine, we’ve all heard the saying. But laughter is more than just a display of your happiness. Laughter liberates you from negative feelings, and completely transforms your energy, making you feel so good. It changes you at a cellular level in a way that clean living and all of the stress reducing activities in the world just can’t match. Simple laughter. It’s amazing.

For the past few days I’ve been lucky enough to be in Bali again, less than a month after our fabulous family holiday. This trip was with two of my ‘sisters’ from another mister. Two favourite friends I’ve had in my life for over 30 years. It was perfect in so many ways, but one of the things I realised being around these special friends for just a couple of days was that absolutely everything was funny. I had the time to notice the numerous, humorous details of life. There was no stress, no demanding children, absolutely no responsibility…and my response (our response) was to giggle about pretty much anything and everything, and it was absolutely perfect.

The lesson for me, and there’s no surprises here, is to laugh more, stress less…and to do it every single day, preferably with a friend or two!

Linked with Essentially Jess for IBOT

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if you do nothing else – meditate

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A few years ago, I was gently nudged onto a course through Perth Meditation Centre called ‘The 5 Minute Meditator’, by my book club buddies. You may have read one of my earlier posts, I thought swimming reduced your stress levels . At the time, I was unknowingly in the midst of a stress crisis, and it took this nudge from my friends to set me on my meditation path, to life as it is now.

The meditation technique was simple. Relaxation came within about a minute, through 3 deep and completely mindful breaths. I found myself using it constantly. I needed to use it constantly! As the noise levels in the back of the car peaked, I would slip into meditation mode. The boys would notice a shift in my breathing and ask what I was doing. I was honest. “I’m meditating so that I don’t get upset by you arguing,” or “I’m feeling really stressed right now, and this helps calm me down,” I would say. Then there were the moments where one toddler, occasionally two, would completely lose the plot over the way I’d cut up a piece of food, or something equally as devastating. I would shift my breathing into the deep mindful mode I’d learnt. And it worked! But with little kids, I found that I was almost always emotionally simmering, never far from tipping into stress mode. My quick methods were keeping me sane, but not really solving the deeper issue of my almost permanently raised cortisol levels.

It was also quite difficult for me to accept my reality at that moment. I had to acknowledge that I was a complete stress ball…and I’d never been that person. The image I had of myself was of a chilled out human who could handle pretty much anything. So it took me quite a while to acknowledge that I needed to do more. I essentially had to make the decision to create a daily meditation habit which would become a permanent part of me. It took another few years to really commit. I practiced randomly for a few days here and there when I remembered, or when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Then I started putting in place a whole range of other measures to reduce my stress levels, and meditation became a feature most days. I began to notice the impact it had on me, and realised it was the one thing I couldn’t do without. I could go a week or two without doing yoga and I would be fine, but not so with the meditation. It completely shifts how I feel internally. I do feel like a chilled out human a lot of the time now, and I know I can handle most things.

I had a drink with a really good friend the other night who has a super busy life. We had a very practical discussion about how she could factor some stress reducing stuff into her already jammed schedule. I know so many women just like her. So much going on, and this burnt out, can’t budge from the couch feeling every night. And then they can’t sleep very well once they do go to bed. As Sara Gottfreid author of The Hormone Cure calls it ‘tired but wired’. I suggested to my friend that if she could fit in just ONE thing, it should be meditation. We talked about her running an Epsom Salts bath a few times a week, and doing a short 15 minute guided meditation through the Chopra Centre for Meditation while she was bathing. She said it was do-able, not too overwhelming, and I know that once she starts, she will embrace the peace of the meditation bath. What’s not to like?

I sense that in this fast paced world, where we worry so much about toxins in our food and environment, that stress is quite possibly the most toxic thing to our inner and outer health. It’s seems very strange to me, because the solutions to the problem inevitably involve practices which are deeply satisfying and pleasurable. It’s just really hard to find the solution when you’re in the midst of the chaos.

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/2919966075/
Linked to With Some Grace for Flog Yo Blog Friday

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remember to hold on to your inner peace

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As amazing as having a peaceful life sounds in theory, it isn’t always possible. A stressful job, dysfunctional relationships, challenging kids, even just people around us who don’t prioritise their own stress management, can undermine the calm we try and bring into our lives. In my life, it’s often just a case of forgetting to maintain my ‘peace practice’.

Before I started doing loads of things to reduce my cortisol levels, the smallest things could really upset me. I could become quite angry. Before having kids, I had never really experienced ‘angry’. I had experienced relationship dramas and huge amounts of stress, but nothing had ever pushed me in my relationships like little people can. I’d been an intensive care nurse for years. The work was stressful, but I always felt as though I was in control. I was accustomed to being in control of everything in life. I was also accustomed to sleeping for long periods every night, and being able to release my stress through exercise, hobbies and a pretty full on social life whenever I felt like it.

I use the example of family life, but obviously letting your stress levels get out of control is not limited to those who reproduce. It seems to be about forgetting. You forget who you really are, and who you really want to be. The post-children scenario is just an obvious example. I think people who become completely absorbed in anything can forget who they are. Whether it’s a stressful job, obsessive behaviour, a consuming relationship or external pressures like financial problems, just to name a few. People can forget what SORT of person they really want to be. It’s as if stress blinds you, and traps you, making it hard for you to see the way out. You just get buried under it.

So you have to check in with yourself and remember. Remember your practice. Work out what you need to do, on a daily basis, to be at peace. Whether it’s meditation, walking, talking, running, sitting alone…whatever it is. You have to make it a rock solid every day ABSOLUTE practice. It sounds so simple, and yet learning how to make it a permanent habit seems to be a difficult thing.

Nowadays when I feel myself less able to handle stressful situations, I stop and usually notice that my practice has slipped down the priority list of life, and I need to push it right back up to the top. I don’t think there are too many things in life that are more important than peace of mind. There is also nothing more satisfying than being able to stay calm, and really feel that calm deep inside, in the face of overwhelming stress. For me it’s a work in progress.