This is a small part of an article by psychotherapist Ashley Davis Bush. She has devised short cuts to finding inner peace, suitable for busy people. They are ingenious, you will enjoy them!
Below are a few shortcuts that when used alone or together create a daily thread of peacefulness and calm.
Go with the Flow (triggered by hand washing)
Each and every time you wash your hands say to yourself “I go with the flow” (or “I flow with life’s direction” or even “I trust the divine flow of the Universe”). Do not to say this mantra hastily, by rote, but to use the moment as a restorative, reflective pause . . . to really absorb the moment of acceptance and calm. Also use use warm water, a further boost to activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Morning glories (triggered by brushing your teeth in the morning)
As you brush your teeth in the morning, think of 3 things that you will be facing in your day. Don’t identify them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘fun’ or ‘stressful’, simply view them as an observer and imagine that you will be ‘open’ to them as experiences, much as a morning glory will open to the sun. State your intention of receptivity and feel yourself relax into each one as you say: “Today, I will be open to the meeting with curiosity; Today, I will be open to the class with curiosity; Today I will be open to the phone conference with curiosity.” As you encounter the 3 things during your day, remember to be ‘open’ and to be curious. Perhaps you’ll need to exclaim, “Oh! this is how it’s going to unfold today.” Optionally, you could identify 3 positive qualities (rather than 3 events) that you wish to be receptive to, such as love, patience, or abundance.
This tool uses intention, or ‘inclining the mind’, as a means to adopt a more positive feeling throughout the day. When we consciously and repeatedly redirect our mind to positive emotions, it not only stimulates the calming effects of the PNS but the feelings become part of our emotional memory and we begin training our brains to think more positively (Hanson 2009: chap 4).
Stop, Drop and Roll (triggered by sitting at a red traffic light)
‘Stop’, ‘drop’ down into your heart, and ‘roll’ out a little good will to your fellow travelers. Look at the people in other cars in front of you, behind you, passing around you and recognize that each one of them is just like you: they want happiness and they want to be free from suffering. To each person you focus on say or think something like:
“May you know happiness.”
“May you be free from suffering.”
“Peace be with you.”
“I hope you have a nice day.”
With each person, let the feelings of good will and love sink into your heart. You can even put your hand over your own heart for added emphasis.
This tool is inspired by the Buddhist practice of metta, or loving kindness. As a habit, it opens the heart, cultivates compassion, and increases feelings of peacefulness. The practice of loving kindness has been shown to produce positive emotions (Fredrickson et al. 2008). By stimulating the neural pathways for compassion in the brain, our attitude of loving kindness toward others becomes increasingly ‘wired’ into the brain. Warm feelings toward others also stimulate the PNS (Oatley, Kelter and Jenkins 2006:128), calming our resistance and putting us in a place where loving kindness flows more easily.
Shakedown (triggered by approaching the door when you come home from work)
Before you walk through the door, spend a moment shaking down your body, as if you are shaking off water. Shake and relax your right leg and foot; then your left leg and foot. Shake and relax your right arm and hand then your left arm and hand. Gently shake and relax your head letting your shoulders and tongue relax. Finish with a little twist of your torso to shake off any remaining energy from your day. Take a deep breath and heave a hearty sigh (a prolonged exhalation.)
This tool uses relaxation and breath to activate the PNS and down-regulate the SNS which further relaxes the body and reduces the production of stress hormones (Hanson 2007) allowing us to leave some of our stressful energy at the door.
Rest In Peace (triggered by having your head rest on the pillow before you go to sleep.
As you are in bed starting to fall asleep, review your day and list 3 things that happened for which you are grateful. Don’t just vaguely remember each instance but actively recall it and recreate the experience of it. Hold the feeling and attempt to absorb it in your heart.
Gratitude is a practice known to enhance joy, cultivate happiness, and connect us with a feeling of inner peace. This tool is a way of training our brains towards positive emotions. Much has been said of our human brain’s “negativity bias”. But by focusing on and re-experiencing specific aspects of our life in an intentionally positive light, we create positive emotional experiences which improve our psychological well-being (Fredrickson and Branigan 2005).
Like most people with families, friends, work and overall busy lives, I often feel that my body’s stress response has the upper hand. But when I practice these and other shortcuts throughout my day, every day, they become habitual. As a result, I feel happier, calmer, and more grateful.
Simply put, linking restorative tools to daily triggers actively and positively changes our brains and nurtures our nervous systems. In response, we can’t help but feel a little more at peace.
Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW has been working as a psychotherapist for the past 20 years. She is the author of several self-help books, including “Transcending Loss: Understanding the Lifelong Impact of Grief and How to Make it Meaningful” (Berkley Books, 1997) and the forthcoming “Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity” (Berkley Books, 2011). She writes a weekly blog on her website, http://www.ashleydavisbush.com/ and maintains an interactive Facebook site for grievers (Transcending Loss). Ashley lives in Epping, NH with her husband, Daniel, and their five children.