By Steve Savels.
Do you like going to the spa, or getting a massage when you feel tired or stressed? I personally love it: taking some "me-time" and letting myself be pampered until every muscle in my body is relaxed and I could just sink into a cloud and slowly drift away. The beautiful surroundings of a nice spa, the water, the heat, it all helps to step out of the busyness and leave the world behind for a moment.
Alas, after a few hours, the moment comes when you must step back into that world... And the feeling of relaxation might be gone very soon after you switch your mobile phone back on. It's not always easy to keep your inner peace when the outer peace falls away.
The power of combining wellness with mindfulness
That's why at our Institute, we believe in a combination of wellness and mindfulness. Wellness comes from the outside, and it certainly can do wonders. Combining it with mindfulness will help you to also tap into your own inner resources. This is a much more sustainable source of peace and nourishment, that will help you to renew your mental energy on a continuous basis.
In all our activities, especially in our retreats and mindfulness days, we aim for the combination of outer wellness and inner mindfulness.
We choose beautiful and peaceful locations in, or close to, nature, offering tasty and healthy food. For some retreats, we work together with a massage therapist who offers massages during the breaks. Even for our 8-week courses, we try to find locations that have a relaxing atmosphere, a place where you just feel at ease. These outer circumstances help to step out of the busy "doing mode".
Of course, it's not so difficult to find these outer circumstances yourself. The more important question is how to tap into your own resources to nourish yourself from the inside. That's where mindfulness comes in.
The 2 inner resources of mindfulness
An image that is often used to describe mindfulness is that of a bird with 2 wings: awareness and kindness. When you practice mindfulness, you strengthen both wings - only then the bird will fly.
These two wings are the two inner resources that will give you the ability to move gracefully through difficult times without getting completely frazzled and exhausted.
On the one hand, there's the wing of awareness. You can strengthen this in many ways. There's the formal meditation practice in which you focus on the breath or the body for example. Or you can practice awareness informally, by bringing your full attention to what you are doing while you are doing it, for example really tasting the food you are eating or by feeling your body move when you walk.
Practicing this mindful and open awareness will not only make you appreciate the present moment more deeply, but will also help you to see your inner patterns more clearly: how stress manifests itself, how stressful thoughts influence your emotions and your behavior, ...
The paradox of mindful awareness is that when you allow these patterns to happen without trying to "fix" them or make them go away, they finally get a chance to dissolve.
A deeper sense of calm and clarity can then arise. These are resources that have always been there, but that were clouded by overthinking and automatic emotional reactions.
Practicing this awareness for a longer time can be very effective to anchor these resources as new pathways in your brain. Once you have truly found the "route" to these resources, it will be much easier to apply them in your daily life.
The other wing of the bird of mindfulness is kindness - especially self-kindness. True self-care, the ability to nourish yourself from within, is only possible if you care for yourself; if you love yourself at least as much as you love others. It sounds obvious. But it's not always as easy as it sounds.
It's certainly something I had to learn for myself. I used to be (and still sometimes am) very hard on myself, always thinking I should do better, be better. This easily leads to exhaustion, or even depression.
I really had to learn to be kinder to myself. And it has improved my life in so many ways; it has made me more productive, happier, a nicer person to be with, ...
The "wing" of awareness can support the one of self-kindness. A good first step is to become aware of the harsh things you think or say about yourself, and then see them as just thoughts, not necessarily the reality.
Another nice way to strengthen self-kindness, is to take time to appreciate the good things about yourself. Most likely, the negative stuff will automatically claim more attention, so you can balance this by bringing explicit attention to what's good about you - and there certainly are many things!
You can also practice self-kindness by letting in the love you receive from others more deeply. Even in day-to-day situations, for example when you receive a small compliment. Can you really accept it?
So, have fun strengthening your 2 wings! They will form a continuous source of self-nourishment in difficult times.