Working in a garden, sitting quietly with a drawing pad or writing tablet, sewing or doing needlepoint: all are examples of simple, relaxing activities. They are often spoken of as mindful activities, as they fully involve your attention in the moment and improve different parts of your inner being. But you might be surprised at how even simpler, everyday tasks can also be very mindful.
I had the privilege of working with the great spiritual teacher Ram Dass, formally Dr. Richard Alpert of Harvard University. He liked to repeat the ancient Zen: “Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water. After I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water.”
In other words, we all do essentially the same things after we reach a goal as we did to get there.
Life is not as complicated as we make it. I, for one, know that I am the cause of most of my own distress. Once something unbalancing sets in, like many others, I allow it to actually unbalance me, but there is an alternative.
Chop wood and carry water, or go back to a task that you are familiar with and allow yourself to be absorbed by it.
Anytime I write, my troubles go away — true even if I’m writing about my troubles! Perhaps it’s especially true when I am writing about my troubles. Writing is my outlet and my gift. It is my friend, and it comforts me at times the way that nothing else can. I have music too, but the writing seems to bring the most calmness to my life.
Now ask yourself, what adds the most calmness to your life? For some people, it is physical activity, like walking, fishing, or bicycle riding. These can be mindful activities too.
Think of an activity that allows you to enter that part of your psyche where you are at peace with yourself and what you are doing.
Doing these things is important because in doing them you let go of your inner pain and can escape it for even a little while. And there’s no denying that we all feel pain at times. Releasing yours through a mindful activity will allow you to enjoy life more.
That may mean different things to different people. Most of us just want to feel good about who we are, what we are doing, and who we are with. That’s as much as any of us needs or can hope for, yet others have so much more or so very much less. It all comes back to balance, and it is seldom given to any of us, so we must seek it out.
Mindfulness and balance are something that must be found within ourselves, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit alone on a mountain top in Tibet. As Dorothy said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.”
And you really don’t have to look for it. Just sit there, breathe deeply, smell the fresh air, and think of the simple things that make you smile.
Simple absorbing activities are good therapy and will ensure that your well-being remains a constant companion. Once you find your own balance, you can wander wherever you wish.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., LMFT, is an award-winning therapist and writer. He is a columnist, blogger and the author of seven books, including “Visualization For Success — 75 Psychological Empowerment Exercises To Get You What You Want In Life.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org