Conscious Consuming: How to bring mindfulness into our shopping

I recently went down to the Wairarapa, and visited the gallery of iconic New Zealand potter Paul Melser, who’s been in the trade for over 50 years. His handcrafted pieces reflected the beauty of his natural surroundings, and seeing his pieces in context resonated with my soul. I hadn’t anticipated a shopping experience to be so profound, but it was.

Paul Melser Pottery Studio

It made me realise that most often when we buy things, we are utterly disconnected from the the source of our purchases, from the craftsman, from their creative process, from their intentions in their work, from the humanity present in each piece. Mindlessly choosing pieces from shops that are drowning in mass produced products that really hold little meaning and value to us. The polar opposite of the experience I had.

I chose pieces that were made with love and care by a true craftsman. I was present, in the moment, aware of my surroundings and of how each piece made sense in that context. The experience steeped each piece with such significance, and now, when I use them, they retain that memory and value. They are both useful and beautiful, and pieces that I’ll keep for a very long time.

We obviously can’t meet the craftsman behind every piece we buy, but I wish there were more opportunities to buy directly from the source; the impact this experience had on me makes me want to hunt them out.

I’d encourage you to seek opportunities to buy direct from the crafter, the maker, the source. Even just going through this experience once will increase your attention and awareness as you make purchases. Buying local and ethical can be more expensive than cheap mass produced imports. But it won’t be more costly in the long run. You’ll tend to think harder about what you buy, and buy less but better. You’ll buy because you really need something, not because you’re having a bad day. You’ll be helping the planet, helping your fellow human beings, helping your own soul to feel less burdened.

And while there’s a lot more to the soul than buying stuff, choosing pieces carefully, thoughtfully and mindfully can tap into a place in the soul, to what makes you come alive.

And that’s the goal. To become more present and mindful with all our actions.

The 6 keys to decluttering your mind

I’ve just been going through my blog archives and found this post I wrote 3 years ago. Reposting it here as it’s still so relevant, so important, and so essential in our overloaded, plugged in 21st century world.

~

I’ve written about decluttering your physical space, but there’s somewhere else that you live, that tends to get cluttered. It’s your mind.

Because we can’t actually see the mind-junk, we all too easily allow a cacophony of unchecked noise and distraction to run riot in our heads.

So what are the best techniques to tackle the mental clutter?

1. Switch on your brain

We have thousands of thoughts racing through our minds each day, and we need to learn to reign these in. Mindfulness meditation is scientifically proven to tame our distracted, unfocused minds.

  • If you’re just getting started, mindfulness of the senses is a great place to start. This technique brings your focus into the present, into your body, away from the racing thoughts in your brain. Even just 2 minutes a day can reduce the noise going on in your brain for the rest of the day.
  • If you’re looking for a great app, try Headspace.
  • And if you live in Auckland, the mindfulness courses at Renew Your Mind provide a brilliant introduction to mindfulness. I highly recommend it.

2. Don’t switch

We associate multi-tasking with efficiency. But research has shown that you are far more efficient when you do one thing at a time. Despite what you may think, your brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. The more you try to do at once, the less productive you become. By being fully present to the task at hand, you allow your brain to function optimally, rather than being divided and distracted.

3. Switch off

Multiple browsers, notifications, text alerts, news updates … endless noise and distraction are constantly pulling you away from the present. If you want to learn to have a calmer, more uncluttered mind, switch off all the noise. Turn off notifications. Learn to work without hundreds of browsers open. Move away from your phone. Focus on the present. If you haven’t already, check out this clip. It’s pretty powerful.

4. Switch foods

The more I’ve pursued a diet of whole, unprocessed food, free of refined sugar, additives and preservatives, the clearer my head has felt. Want some convincing about the effects sugar is having on your brain? You have to watch this.

5. Switch on your body

Exercise. We all know this one. Since I’ve prioritised exercise as a daily part of my routine, my anxiety levels have been lower and my head’s been clearer. I know, because the days I skip it, I notice a shift in my mental state. I exercise first thing to make sure it gets done before the demands of the day squeeze it out.

6. Switch off the excess

If you’re doing too much, your brain will be on constant overdrive. You need to do less. Declutter your schedule, and get rid of all but the essential things in your life. Look critically at every commitment you have, and assess whether it is truly important to your life. I’ve written more about this here.

 

None of this is rocket science, but we all (myself included) need constant reminders of these key activities, that we all too easily neglect in the hustle of life.

First published 12 Oct 2015 here on lifeedit.co.nz

Why simplicity is the answer to our destructive culture of consumerism

Simplicity vs Consumerism

The entrenched culture of consumerism we Westerners live amidst, reaches its tentacles far further than just the physical stuff that we buy.

We consume entertainment. We consume experiences. We consume social media. We consume news feeds. We consume relationships (to the point that we throw them away and get new ones when they no longer work for us). We consume holidays. If we can find a way to consume it, we will.

And this paradigm of consumption is destroying us.

It’s rendering us stressed, unhappy, unfulfilled, discontented, and always in pursuit of the latest thing to consume that will fill the gap.

We know none of these things will. But we continue to live as if they do.

The more I continue on the journey towards simplicity, the more convinced I am that this is the way we were designed to live. To embrace being as more important than doing.

How do we navigate through our culture of consumerism, towards the pursuit of a life of simplicity and meaning?

Simplicity vs Consumerism

Start with your stuff

When you deal in the tangible and the concrete world of your material possessions, you can see the results of living with less. You feel lighter, more peaceful, less stressed by clutter screaming at you on all sides.

But don’t stop there. Once you’ve dealt with your stuff, it often compels you to look around at what other intangible clutter you’ve accumulated in life.

Resist Busyness

Why are you so busy? Until you’ve addressed the why, there is no point tackling the how. Ask yourself what is driving your pursuit of more. Generally it’s a combination of the sense of importance you get from being busy, and being so addicted to busyness that doing less feels uncomfortable, even painful.

But start to sit in this discomfort. Force yourself not to run from it. If you find yourself with a moment of having nothing to do, resist the urge to pick up your phone and fill the void. Sit. Wait. Breathe. Notice what’s going on in your body. In your head. In the world around you. Because it’s in these moments that we can retrain ourselves that it’s ok to stop consuming. That waiting is ok.

It’s in these moments that our souls have a chance to breathe. And we can start to listen to our very selves. And begin to hear the story of our lives speak.

Happy Monday everyone xx

Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete

Looking at Mindfulness

There’s so much to learn in the pursuit of living a more simple, mindful and intentional life. It takes a strong act of the will to resist the strong current of busyness, distraction, haste and urgency that most of us live our lives in. I’ve been reading, and loving, “Looking at Mindfulness” by Christopher Andre. I love this description of learning to pay mindful attention to the present:

“It’s now, right now. In a little while it will be something else … it won’t be better, or not as good, it will just be different. So now is the time to stop walking, feel the cold air sting our nostrils, listen to all the muffled sounds and admire the extraordinary light of sun on snow. We must stay here as long as we can, not waiting for anything in particular – quite the opposite! Just stay here, doing our best to perceive the countless riches of this moment … everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete. With mindfulness we can simply be present to this ordinary moment of light and grace.”

I love this: “Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete.” If we could all grasp a little more of this truth, it would go a long way to stilling the urgent, hassled, stressed pace that we all think is an inevitable part of life. Most things are far less urgent than we make them out to be.

Here’s to this moment, and to celebrating it for what it is. Everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete.

xx

Looking at Mindfulness

Decluttering and Mindfulness: How Getting Rid of Stuff Can Help You Live More Mindfully

Decluttering as Mindfulness Practice

We are living such distracted, plugged-in-but-tuned-out lives, many of us have lost touch with our ability to be still, to sit in silence, to do nothing. Mindless distraction is at the tips of our fingers, at all times. But in the midst of this distractedness, we find ourselves craving stillness, singularity of focus, and mindful appreciation of the present moment.

So what does getting rid of stuff have to do with mindfulness?

Anuschka of Into Mind says:

“The state of our living space also tends to be a pretty accurate representation of the state of our mind. Psychological research has shown time and time again how physical clutter overloads our senses and stresses us out. We need a clutter-free environment in order to feel rested, calm and content.”

 

Our stuff pulls us in all directions, and prevents us from living more mindfully in the present. I’ve identified three main selves that our stuff pulls us towards:

Our past self

If you’re sentimental, you’re probably being drawn into this self by your stuff a lot. Those things that were once important or special to you, or that you once loved, and once served a purpose. But do you love them now? Are they serving a purpose now? We can of course make space for a few keepsakes and special memories, just not a houseful of them. A very small handful of the most special things, things that you still love now. Like an old tea set from your Granny, that you still use. Things shut away in boxes tend to burden us, and pull us into the past.

Our future self

It’s far too easy to use the line “I might like (or need) this again one day”, but we can end up overwhelmed by stuff that we are hanging onto, “just incase”. It’s weighing you down. It’s costing you. Give yourself permission to let things go, and live freer and lighter for it. And make peace with the fact that if you need that thing again, go buy it. The benefits of living with less FAR outweigh the cost of replacing the odd thing that you discover you need again after all.

Our imagined self

How many of us hang on to things because we thought we were a certain type of person but aren’t? Did you imagine yourself as the snowboarding type but it turns out you aren’t? Or the type that would wear 6 inch heels everyday, but they’re killing your back and they’re just not “you”? Be honest with yourself about which things are really serving you, and cull the rest.

The more we clear our houses of stuff that no longer serves a purpose in our lives, and keep only that which does, the more space we create to be mindful, present, and to get in touch with our true selves.

[ This post originally published on 7 July 2015 ]

I’m presenting a workshop on “Mindful Decluttering” in Auckland next week, on Wednesday 10 May. I’d love you to join me. Head here to buy tickets. 

Silence + Christmas

Silence and Christmas seem like mutually exclusive words in this stressed out, rushing, overloaded consumer culture in which we dwell.

Silence is not given much of a platform in our society.

It makes us uncomfortable.

It makes us restless.

It feels like it lacks purpose. Meaning.

But maybe the secret to noticing moments of meaning lies in the silent spaces. Maybe if we are silent long enough, we’ll give our true selves time and space to begin to emerge.

There’s truth to the phrase “pregnant pause”. Lifes’ pauses, or silences, can be pregnant with meaning if we are still long enough to hear them.

I love love love this quote from Irish poet Michael Longley, interviewed on the podcast OnBeing:

“If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing. Silence is part of the enterprise.” ~ Michael Longley

I’ve written less on here lately, for a number of reasons. One small part of the reason is that often the internet just feels like shouting to me.

And I don’t want to join in with more meaningless noise.

I want there to be a reason for saying what I say.

And so sometimes saying nothing is as good as saying something.

Silence

It’s a busy time of year to be contemplating silence, I know.

But what better time to force ourselves to carve out moments of space amidst the noisy, chaotic lives that we create for ourselves.

I can tell you that it’s possible, and your body and soul will thank you for it.

Wishing you all moments of silence this Christmas time,

Rachel xx

5 Powerful Stress Busters To Find Your Place Of Calm

We are a culture addicted to stress and busyness. And it’s killing us.

stress2

I used to use stress as my motivational tool, but I’m slowly learning that I can function better and get stuff done more efficiently and effectively, when I operate from a place of calm.

So I’ve stepped off the stress treadmill, and on to a different path. This one looks more like a country road than a treadmill. There’s time to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes I forget where I am, and start acting like I’m on a treadmill again, and get focussed on reaching the finish line. But then I remember that’s not the goal anymore. That being present to this path I’m on is what it means to live life to the full. Getting to the end, fastest, is not.

Here are the 5 best ways I’ve discovered, to spend less time on the stress treadmill, and more time enjoying the beauty of the country roads:

1. Think about dying

Death freaks us out. So thinking about it seems a counterintuitive approach to reducing stress. But there’s a method to my madness. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, outlines the habit to “begin with the end in mind”. He’s talking about reflecting on your mortality, and one of the exercises involves writing your own obituary. It’s pretty powerful. Taking the time to sit down, and reflect on what you want your life to have looked like when you come to the end of it, will help you assess whether your current state of play accurately reflects where you’re planning on ending up.

The more I’ve reflected on what’s important to me, the more my to do lists and priorities have changed. Because I’ve realised life isn’t about completing the to-do list. It will never be complete. I’ll be chasing it for life. So as I let go of the need to achieve, and refocus my priorities, I’m learning to embrace life’s “interruptions”, realising that often those interruptions are what life’s about, far more than completing that relentless to-do list.

2. Buy less stress

The purpose of advertising is to make us feel dissatisfied with what we have, and with this comes a constant low level stress. The more I’ve jumped off the bandwagon of consumerism, and pursued a lifestyle of less, the more free I’ve felt. Learning to be grateful for what I do have has brought down that niggling stress of always wanting more.

Hand in hand with this comes decluttering, and owning less. Having less stuff in the house means less tidying, less hunting for stuff, less cleaning, less visual clutter, more space, and more peace.

3. Give yesterdays and tomorrows stresses the flick

Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present. A lot of our stress revolves around what might happen (stressing about the future), or what’s already happened (stressing about the past). The more focussed on the present we can become, the more we can relax in this moment. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a great mindfulness app to check out.

4. Run the stress off

We all know this, but why is exercise so often the first thing to go? This year, I’ve prioritised exercise, as a non-negotiable daily activity. I’ve done this by setting a regular time each day, early in the morning, before the demands of the day swallow it up. And it’s had arguably the biggest impact on my stress levels of anything I’ve done.

5. Eat less stress

Changing my diet to healthy, sugar free, whole foods has changed my life. When I had 3 kids under 3, I existed on coffee, chocolate, and the kids’ left overs, followed by a glass of wine at night to bring the stress levels down. Over the last couple of years, I’ve drastically cleaned up my diet, and now follow a whole foods diet, along the paleolow sugar, lines.

I’ve made the changes incrementally, as drastic changes generally result in blow outs, and going back to where we started.

 

So as you enter the busyness of the Christmas season, is there one small change you can make to start the process of bringing the stress levels down?