A few years ago, I read a book entitled 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works - A True Story.
How's that for a title?
The book is written by Dan Harris, a news anchor for ABC.
Essentially, Harris struggled with anxiety, which led to drug use and, finally, a full-blown panic attack on air. Live. On air. Can you imagine?
You can actually watch the footage of his panic attack on YouTube (of course).
Harris, in his book, writes about his journey (often work-imposed rather than one of self-discovery) toward meditation and mindfulness and what that journey has meant in terms of his own happiness, anxiety and relationships.
As part of his education in meditation, he learned about walking meditation, which is the practice of walking slowly, paying attention to each step taken and focusing our thoughts on the minute details of each action - the pressure of the foot, the rolling of the step, the lifting of the heel.
I know it sounds a little wacky. Believe me, I was doing some internal eye rolls when I thought about going through my day like that, even for 10 minutes.
But then I read a few articles over at Zen Habits. Between Harris' book and Leo Babauta's articles, I figured what the hell. It wouldn't kill me to try.
Readers: it's nothing short of life changing.
Now, I don't do actual walking meditation, per se. But I apply the concepts to my daily life as much as I can, particularly when I'm feeling rushed or stressed.
Here's how life often plays out for me:
I'll go into the laundry room and begin flinging wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. I'll start thinking: do I have time to do the dishes before I pick the kids up? What are we having for dinner? Do I have time to go to the grocery store? I should call the dentist. Wait....did I miss my dental appointment this week? Crap.
My heart, at this point, is racing. I'm chest breathing, shallow, hollow breaths. My cortisol levels are likely out of control, and all of this over a load of laundry.
Of course, it isn't just the laundry. It's the mental fatigue and constant state of stress that happens when we rush, when we try to do more than we can possibly manage and when we think life is some sort of sprint to the next horizon...or household chore.
A few weeks ago, I began practicing this walking meditation.
Here's how it goes:
I begin heading to do laundry and think: I am walking to the laundry room. I am opening the washing machine. I am putting the clothes into the dryer. I am putting a dryer sheet in the dryer. Hmmm....I need to get more dryer sheets. Okay, now I'm closing the dryer door.
It sounds simple, right? And kind of childish and silly?
It's amazing, though, what happens to my body.
I stop rushing. My heart rate slows down. I take deeper breaths. I slow down.
I also start to appreciate what I'm doing and all of the tiny nuances of my life that I otherwise fail to notice.
These clothes are my son's clothes. I remember him wearing these pajamas just the other day, by the fireplace, playing Monopoly.
These shoes are my daughter's shoes. She wears them to and from ballet class.
Then I start thinking of her practicing ballet and how lovely she is and how lucky we are to be able to give her those classes and to watch her grow.
I think about my kitchen counters, slowly wiping them down instead of flinging kitchen spray across the tops of them, and as I wipe I realize how much I love this kitchen and how grateful I am to be in this new house, with all of my little comforts.
Somehow, it all starts feeling very big, these little comforts, and I start to grasp the reality of my situation: how lucky I am, how blessed I feel and how appreciative I am of this life, this day, this opportunity I have to clean this oven.
I go from harried, worried, frazzled and stressed to calm, slow, intentional and grateful.
And all of this is free, without prescription and with no harmful side effects.
I don't narrate every single minute of my life. I probably only engage in this mindfulness meditation a few times a day, but just that amount has significantly impacted how I feel each day and the levels of anxiety I deal with.
Paradoxically, I get more done.
When I'm rushed, I make mistakes. I knock things over. I drop stuff. I forget appointments. I get distracted, often leaving the kitchen sink running while I'm folding laundry and then taking out the trash.
Now, when I feel this state of anxiety coming on, I think to myself: slow down. Focus on this moment. Narrate each step. Calm down.
It works. It really works.
I think we create a lot of unnecessary stress, anxiety and discontent within our own lives. There are certainly outside influences and circumstances, but for many of us, the levels of anxiety we experience on the daily can be eased by simply slowing down, breathing deeply and staying in the moment. Walking mediation is an easy, free, portable way to do just that.
Here are a few articles I found helpful as I began exploring this concept:
Walking Meditation (Plum Village/Thich Nhat Hanh)
The Amazing Power of Being Present (Zen Habits)
9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better (Zen Habits)
Walking Meditation - Is It Beneficial (Dan Harris)
A Daily Mindful Walking Practice (Mindful)
I'm working from bed today, as I came down with some rancid head cold yesterday. I'm drinking Emergen-C, resting up and not worrying at all what we'll have for dinner.