Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
For me, The Art of Peaceful Living evolved breath by breath, one tiny step at a time over many years…as a means of survival
“To practice any art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. So do it.”—Kurt Vonnegut
For me, The Art of Peaceful Living came breath by breath, one small footprint at a time over the course of many years. It happened accidentally on purpose as a form of survival.
On the one hand, you can look at art as the masterpiece. The complete vision of beauty that is impossible to replicate. On the other hand, you can look at art as a process. Each tiny part carefully created with intention harmonizing with each tiny part that came about by chance (maybe even by mistake). Then somehow, the merging of the two fit perfectly into place, creating a work of art. The latter is how I discovered The Art of Peaceful Living.
Life itself is rarely peaceful.
Looking back to the beginning of my journey, stress was a common theme in my life. Over a seven-year span, between the ages of 23-30, I experienced a whirlwind of major life changes. I graduated from college, got married, started my first “real” job, got pregnant, had my first baby boy, then moved out of my home state for the first time in my life. All of this happened between the ages of 23-25. At an age where I was just learning to be an adult in the world, I found myself faced with many transitions and a lot of uncertainty.
A young mom and new military spouse, my steady life became a fast-moving train. In the next five years, I moved five times, suffered the loss of a beloved dog who was riddled with cancer at the young age of five, grieved a miscarriage that I blamed myself for, spent 11 days in the hospital with my two-year-old son who had severe complications with pneumonia, and celebrated the birth of my second baby boy. While there wasn’t much positivity or joy in any of those life moments, I can finally look back and fondly recall those hard times as The Bootcamp Years.
The Bootcamp Years of marriage take place in the first five years of marriage. This is the time when most newlywed couples learn to maintain and develop their own identity and understand and grow their new identity as one half of a couple. The Bootcamp Years of parenting take place when children are between the ages 0-5. These are the years when new parents go through the stages of pregnancy, delivery and embarking on their parenting journey.
In both cases, there is stress involved as people transition from individual to being part of a new and growing relationship.
When The Bootcamp Years of marriage and parenting occur over the same time span, stress can exponentially wear down each individual and have a significant impact on the relationship.
It was during The Bootcamp Years that I started doing small things that fit into the hustle and bustle of my life. As a young wife and mother, I realized that when I could do something small for myself, I would feel better. To make it through the long days of parenting (mostly by myself), I began to carve out small pockets of time where I could rest, restore, and rejuvenate. Taking small bits of time, rather than trying to create big blocks of time, made taking time for myself possible. These small bits of time also kept me from feeling guilty or self-indulgent, which encouraged me to keep doing what was working. Everyone, including me, benefited from these small pockets of time.
When I look at my life today, I understand how it may appear so much more peaceful in comparison to most. The truth is, I feel stress just like everyone else. In fact, some days stress still takes over me. Even with all the tools I have gained over the years and all of the time I have invested in practice, there are times when stress gets the best of me. I have learned to put less pressure on myself when these days arise, reminding myself often that mistakes make it possible to learn and grow and create new works of art.
Struggle, practice, and creativity have engineered the palette of peaceful practices I use today.
While my palette hosts a vast offering of possibilities, I choose a few at a time to offer what is needed in the moment. I am intentional about the practices I select to bring myself into a more peaceful place and have learned that it is best to be playful rather than rigid in my approach. This wasn’t always the case. Not long ago, I did my best to do as many practices as possible and on a set schedule to make sure I had the perfect balance in each day. Guess what happened? Trying to check off the boxes left me stressed and upset!
The lesson here is that ALL things can cause you more stress, even the self-care practices that are meant to relieve it. The key is to approach your practices with a nurturing mindset. Bringing playfulness and creativity to the process will be more helpful in reducing your stress than being rigid in your approach. As you embark on your journey to practice things that will reduce stress, I recommend beginning your practices when the risk is low. When stress levels are at their highest, chances are anything you try to add into the mix will only add more stress.
But what if you are reading this article while waving your little white flag because your stress levels are so high you need help? There is one thing you can do right now in this moment to help. Open your calendar and add some white space. Create the space to have time that isn’t scheduled or booked, time where nobody else needs your or attention. Just look at today. Where in your day can you add at least five minutes of white space to your calendar?
Once you create the space, there are so many things you can do. I will share some of my favorites. Remember, it is not going to help if you try to add all of these into your day all at once. Try one or two and see how they fit. If you like them, and they are helpful, keep them. If they don’t fit and don’t feel good, toss them for now and try something else.
Canvas for The Art of Peaceful Living
Small bits of time taken throughout the day yield more rest and less stress over time. Remember, art is about playful curiosity and creativity. Bring that to your palette as you begin to create your masterpiece.
Add White Space to Your Calendar
White space means you get to do whatever you want. It also gives you time to transition from one thing to the next. Too often, we book ourselves back-to-back. Going from one activity to the next without offering transition time increases stress levels. Transition time allows us to fully complete one thing then get in the right mindset before beginning the next. Try carving out some white space (5-15 minutes at a time) between appointments and notice how you feel with this new practice.
Mindfulness and Movement
Mindfulness is the ability to be right here, right now, in this very moment regardless of conditions. Movement improves circulation, releases endorphins, and helps release stress. Mindful movement encourages the brain to focus on the body and breath which reduces the clutter of thoughts taking up space in your mind. The three practices that have inspired mindfulness and movement in my life are yoga, Pilates, and meditation.
Thoughts attract thoughts. When your thoughts are focused on gratitude, you will feel more peaceful and less preoccupied by the things that may overwhelm you. For example, instead of saying “I’m so busy. I don’t have any time for myself.” You could shift to gratitude and say “I am grateful for all the things I get to do today. There is plenty of time for me, too.”
Time in Nature
Nature is healing. Studies have shown that people who have a live plant in their office tend to have fewer complaints about stress. When you carve out a little time to get outside during the day, it can have a positive impact on your ability to de-stress. Try having lunch outside under a tree or taking a walk in nature. Notice how you feel when you can enjoy the fresh air and soak in some vitamin D.
Rest and Sleep
Our bodies were made to work and rest. Too often, we sacrifice sleep and rest to get more things done. When you take the time to rest and restore, you will find yourself to be more productive, because you will operate from a place of focus and restored energy.
Creating Rituals — Morning, Afternoon, and Evening
Rituals are routines we create to offer rhythm and flow at different times of the day. A morning ritual may include meditation while you sip your morning coffee, a skin care routine, and making the bed. An afternoon ritual may be as simple as making a cup of tea and walking outside or sitting in your favorite chair to enjoy it. A bedtime ritual may include dimming the lights in the house, taking a hot bath or shower, and diffusing some lavender. Experiment with the things that feel good at different times of day, then string together two or three to create a ritual. Pick one time of day to begin with rather than trying to create all three at the same time. Taking it slow will keep you from feeling stressed about rituals.
Solitude and Reflection
Time alone can nourish your spirit, especially when you have practices you can use in solitude to quiet down and rejuvenate. Reflection can be done through meditation or journaling, allowing you to assess your day and offer gratitude for all the things that went well.
As you begin to practice The Art of Peaceful Living in your life, be patient. Like all new things, it will take time and consistency for these practices to become part of your daily life. I encourage you to begin with something small, then build as you gain confidence. When in doubt, seek out someone who can support you and coach you through the process.
You may also enjoy reading Morning and Evening Rituals to Enhance Mindfulness & Positivity, by Barbara Larravee.