On Being Present

My mind has a habit of drifting, wandering, and I find myself carried away. Either into a warm, nostalgic memory, or some vision of the idealized distant future. I love teaching and practicing mindfulness with my clients, but I have to ask myself, how often am I utilizing this technique for my own self-care? During a short visit to the Carolinas this past week, I had an insightful conversation with my grandmother. She asked me a simple question: “are you satisfied with your life?”. A question that I’ve been hesitant to ask myself lately. Living so far away from my birthplace, I was infatuated with this brief homecoming, basking in past memories, taking in the golden, feathery sunsets and lush greenery, gazing up at the massive old trees, comparing it all to the scenery of my new home. As if I were trying to decide which landscape I prefer, which one feels more authentic, which one reflects where I need to “end up”, or “settle down”. Which is why this question seemed so daunting. Am I satisfied? Expending energy hazy with nostalgia or hyper-focused on future plans, will I ever be? Life never turns out quite the way we plan or imagine (although sometimes, it’s even better), and obsessing over that can be self-destructive. In my graduate program, we often discussed a phenomenon called Destination Addiction. It’s the unattainable idea that whenever a certain goal is reached, happiness will automatically follow. We also discussed the theory that we remember events in a better light than when we actually experienced the event. These cognitions are what can keep us disillusioned and distant from the present moment, from current, ongoing happiness. Practicing mindfulness (being present and nonjudgmental in the moment), appreciating the little things that make us feel at home, and focusing on the amazing aspects of everyday life, these are a few basic essentials for self-care and feeling satisfied. Sunsets are beautiful anywhere, but we have to be present in order to appreciate them.

How do you stay present?

Retreat

“You gave me a forever within the numbered days…”

-John Green

 I recently experienced the loss of a loved one. As many resources as I have for clients experiencing grief and loss, I personally found myself unprepared for the impact. I have so many memories that I cherish with this person, and I needed time to reflect on them and to process this experience. I decided to take some time apart from everyone and everything on a personal retreat. I found a beautiful retreat center in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest called Mountain Light Sanctuary. The sanctuary offers multiple overnight accommodations including some that are open to the elements, and even a four post bed placed directly under the stars. Since the comfort of my home and the support of my partner have been so healing through this process, I simply chose to participate in a personal day retreat. I spent a lot of time reflecting, journaling, and meditating by the river. As I was longing to feel grounded and connected to the natural world, I walked around the property barefoot, rooting myself to the earth beneath me. It was a beautiful experience to reflect on loss while surrounded by the awakened life of blooming flowers and singing birds, as well as the company of a friendly little resident cat…

 Unplugging, connecting with nature, and temporarily retreating in such a way can be so revitalizing, and I would love to hear about any retreats you have visited or would recommend!

Express Yourself

Expressive arts can be an amazing method of self-care. What it is? It’s basically creating art, in any form of your choosing, to express feelings, promote mindfulness, and encourage personal growth. There are lots of resources available for expressive arts, as well as practitioners who facilitate Expressive Arts Therapy. I learned about expressive arts during a retreat, and it was such a powerful, meditative experience. Ever since, I have utilized expressive painting, music, writing, movement, and dance in my own self-care practices. There is something so freeing about creating art in a nonjudgmental way, to focus on the process of creating rather than on the finished product. Whenever I am feeling stuck, I combine expressive painting with music and rhythm. The process is simple.

First, try to clear your head using mindfulness/ meditation and breathing techniques: breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, hold for four counts, and repeat. This always helps to silence my busy mind. Once you’re in a calming place, you can then paint, color, or draw to the rhythm of your breath, to the melody of music (if you have some playing in the background), or simply let the paintbrush guide you. So grab your favorite medium, or even combine them, and express yourself!

What other forms of expressive arts are you curious about? Comment below!

Salt Therapy

 Ever since I moved to Asheville, I’ve heard mention of the Asheville Salt Cave, a spa and gift shop in downtown Asheville, including a cave made completely of crystal salt. I love using my Himalayan salt lamp at home, and have been hearing so much about the benefits of crystal salt, so I finally decided to check out the cave. From the moment you walk in, the atmosphere feels completely calming and inviting. The cave experience starts with a guided meditation, followed by a gentle dimming of the lights and an invitation to silently meditate.
Using meditation and quieting my mind has always been a challenge for me, but recently I have been practicing both guided and silent meditation, gradually learning to let go, slow down, and just be. After some patience and determination, meditation has now become a magical part of my life. That magic was truly intensified in the salt cave. I could feel the expansion of my breathing, the calming of my mind, and the immediate relief of my tension. Following my 45 minute session in the cave, I felt completely at ease throughout the rest of my day. All of my stress was melted away. I wish I had visited the salt cave months ago to experience the wonderful benefits, and I will definitely be back.
What helps you with meditation? What are your thoughts on salt therapy? I would love to hear from you!
Best Wishes,
Emily