Surviving the Busy Life

By Mary Helen Littleton. Mary Helen and Ellery Littleton present The Survival Kit at The Haven July 6-8 2012.

Your life is too busy. Way too busy. You worry that you are not taking enough care of your emotional and physical health. You know what you need to do to feel better, however. The problem is overcoming your inertia and actually getting started on the path toward restoring your sense of balance and well-being.

Sound familiar? This may not be you right now, but I’ll wager you have felt this way at times. There are a lot of people out there in the big complex working/relationship world who share these feelings, to one degree or another. They’re looking for emotional, physical and spiritual sustenance and better ways to deal with our society’s modern malady – the “too busy life,” the daily grind.

The “getting started” part is the first big hurdle on the path to well-being. As a great yoga teacher once said, “the hardest part about doing yoga is getting the butt down on the carpet.” A humble observation, but true. Once the butt is on the carpet, you’re doing yoga, and back on the path once again. The same thing can be said, metaphorically, about any healthful activity.

Speaking of healthful activities … the basic components of “The Survival Kit” – a weekend program we will be offering at The Haven on Gabriola Island in July, 2012 – include:
• yoga
• meditation
• journal-writing
• conscious breathing and meditation
• zen awareness

It might be just the thing for you if you feel like you could use some help getting going, or if you feel you would like to learn some essential skills designed to help you deal more effectively with “the daily grind.”

It’s incredibly important to keep life interesting and fun, and “self-nourishing.” Sometimes we forget this simple truth when we are caught up in intense work or personal issues. And – if you’re like me – you have to be reminded about things you know, but have slipped away from. If you lose this awareness, you create an opening for the “grand ennui” to come along and settle into your life like a bad, ugly old habit.

The busy life keeps you on the surface and prevents you from looking inward to see and understand what is really going on. The sustenance you need lies deep within yourself. What motivates you? What exhausts you? What nourishes you? These are some of the key questions addressed in the course of “The Survival Kit.”

WHAT DOES SURVIVAL MEAN? – It’s not simply existing.
Survival doesn’t mean simply staying alive. As we approach it in “The Survival Kit” program it means developing skills and strategies you need to thrive and grow, to blossom in ways you have always known are truly right for you. This involves exploration and relationship – with your body, your mind, your emotions and spirit, the people in your life, your environment.

YOGA – gathering feedback
In the practice of yoga, each asana, each stretch is a way of coming in contact with the self in a deeply meaningful way. We move into the physical stretch with gentleness and alertness. We gather in feedback from our body, mind and emotions. We stretch and pay attention, as we would to a loved one. And is that not, in fact, what the body is? A loved one, a life-partner. And you have only one this time around to enjoy and explore fully.

Time and time again I have proven to myself that yoga can be one of my finest teachers. Through mindful practice I can learn about myself – my competitiveness, my fear, my ambition, my joy. And yoga can counteract the mental, emotional and physical toxins created by the hectic outer life that most of us participate in.

MEDITATION – tuning in
Meditation involves spending time with the most important person in your life – you. This is true; not arrogant or self-centered. The body-mind called “you” is the only vehicle you have in this life to interact and connect with all that surrounds you. Through meditation you learn to let go of the continual chatter of the inner voice as well as the outer voices. You begin to see more clearly how you cling to your fears, your needs, your prejudices. For a while you experience what it is like to let them go and be grounded in the calm acceptance of what is. A calm acceptance of you. For a while, your inner critic is silent, and in the silence you are refreshed.

Meditation is not a way of tuning out the world; rather, it is a way of tuning in, of seeing more clearly, of being more at home within yourself.

CONSCIOUS BREATHING – feeling strong
Without breath we are dead. Yet most of the time, we take breathing – this vital life function – for granted. Of course, the genius of the body is that it carries on regardless of whether or not we pay attention. But why just “carry on” when a more finely tuned awareness and focus can bring remarkable benefits and rewards?

Breathing acts as a bridge between your conscious and unconscious functioning – a connection with huge potential. Conscious breathing increases your ability to handle more energy. Many of us have our positive energy thermostats set very low so we do not allow ourselves as much rewarding involvement in life as we could have. Conscious breathing can be both calming and energizing simultaneously, a highly desirable – and healthy – state of affairs.

VISUALIZATION – enhancing creativity
Visualization is a multi-faceted tool that can be used in many ways: to enhance creativity, practice a skill, speed up healing time, and learn more about yourself. You can use it to retrieve memories, heal old wounds, alleviate pain and project positively into the future.

Research has revealed that the body and brain take as real what the mind creates through visualization. This means that you can be both the author and director of the drama of your life, as well as the protagonist. According to the research, when you change your mind’s focus you actually change your brain. Neurons grow, the number of synapses increases. Visualization is a gentle, powerful way of focusing the mind in a positive restorative way – a very useful long-term survival skill.

Journaling, as presented in “The Survival Kit,” is not just a recording of events. Again, there are many levels and layers to it. It is, in fact, a potent tool for exploring yourself, for making connections with what is truly important in your life, and for nurturing and taking care of yourself. By allowing your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears, memories and hopes to travel down your arm, through the pen and onto the page, they take on a concrete form as words, becoming your advisors and companions on the journey of your life. They take on a physical presence that validates and makes lucid your life experiences … your story … in a way that is like no other form of self-exploration.

These insights occur not just in the initial writing process. New ones arise when you revisit and reread what you have written. And should you choose to share any of your journal writings with a trusted listener, then the stories that are “you” take on a luminous quality and depth of meaning.

THE ZEN WAY – a sharper awareness
During the course of “The Survival Kit” we will discuss a number of Zen perspectives which will help bring a sharper awareness (perhaps the most important coping skill of all) to the issues and concerns of daily life. Zen offers a remarkable approach to spiritual growth and personal awareness – an approach that brings you back to each moment. The moment is where your life takes place. If you miss the moment, you miss your life.

“Human beings are constantly on the go,” writes John Daido Loori, author of The Eight Gates of Zen. “We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. If we never get in touch with that stillness, we never fully experience our lives.”

The zen approach can be summarized in four words: Pause. Look. Learn. Choose. This approach allows a deep healing of the tensions you habitually carry around, and a subtle but important and positive shift in your way of being in the world.


In “The Survival Kit,” we offer you a place to start on a number of healing paths. We emphasize direct learning and practice, not just theory. You can take these useful skills and strategies home with you to help sustain a lifetime of improved health, well-being and self-understanding.

Mary Helen & Ellery Littleton will be offering The Survival Kit at The Haven, July 6-8, 2012.


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