Practicing Happiness: Gifting Your Mind a Breath of Fresh Air

From the moment I wake up, a spell of thoughts about the day in wait begin buzzing through my mind.

Shower, dress, breakfast, shoes and I’m out the door. The subway car: packed like cattle, (and sardines) I hear hip-hop leaking out of a nearby passenger’s headphones. I see corporate suits, pink shoes, Minnesota Twins tattoos. I hear kids whining in French as I grip a stainless steel pole to steady myself against the shudder of this car on rails. This is Brooklyn. This is also my state of mind.

Pema Chodron writes:

If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.

Not everyone enjoys their commute to work. Some days I dread the claustrophobic should-to-shoulder ride into the city but being in a place that’s “endlessly interesting and alive” does sound pretty attractive. So now most days I use Repeat as many times as necessary.those 20 minutes to practice keeping my mind open. I have enough clutter upstairs worrying about who I haven’t called back and how hard it is to find a couple hours to do my laundry.

For those 20 minutes, I give myself a break.

It’s a break from judgment, worry, criticism, analysis and stress. This is time for my mind to get quiet, for my eyes to get soft, my breath to get deeper and my muscles to relax. Essentially I just sit there. Sounds a lot like meditation, but it’s on a subway and besides don’t you need a cushion and some fancy mudras for that to be the real deal? The truth is, I am meditating, I just don’t call it that anymore.

For those averse to anything too new-agey or “far out there,” don’t let vocabulary keep you from experimenting with an activity that serves you as a caregiver. Reclaim its essence on your own terms.

Quieting our thoughts makes hearing them easier.

In our go-go world, success is derived from efficiency (and many of us translate efficiency to working on something all the time). Yes, I am being “efficient” by meditating while commuting but honestly I’m not doing anything; I’m just sitting there (if I’m lucky enough to get a seat). Our minds though over time are conditioned into this frenetic pattern and it’s in the act of committing for short periods (10-20 minutes) not to encourage or follow our rapid thought feed that we’re able to drop out of that whir of cerebral chatter.

When a thought arises, opt not to follow the narrative it invites. Acknowledge the presence of the thought and then resume intentionally tracing the path of your breath. As a caregiver, these little “breaths of fresh air” can be harvested when your family member is resting or maybe on your own commute over to their house. This practice firms up our mind just like any other muscle with exercise. The practice leaves me feeling more focused, calm and confident to tackle the rest of my day. I find myself enjoying myself more when I begin looking around afterward because I’ve primed my attention to look at my life with fresh eyes and appreciate parts that I sometimes take for granted.

The small things in life do matter and the few minutes to yourself are worth it.

I invite you to step out of your ordinary routine and gift yourself a break from your harried thoughts. The opportunity to positively affecting your mind and mood require tools you already carry.

Pause, breathe and repeat.

Written by Jonah Okun
Jonah served as our Operations Director for two years. He holds a degree in Comparative Digital Communications and Happiness Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His intrigue in promoting well-being through new digital platforms pairs perfectly with the organizations goal of making online support for caregivers a reality. Prior to his time at The Caregiver Space, he spent seven years as a professional chef, baker and restaurant manager. He now happily resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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