Sometimes life is running so smoothly that you are sure you can’t do anything wrong. No matter what direction you take, the wind easily fills your sails and off you go traversing an ocean of calm waters. Other times the wind is so violent and the waves so tall that you are sure your ship will split in two and you will drown.
Times like this remind me of the words from an Old Breton prayer inscribed on an old block of wood that sat on President John F. Kennedy’s desk at the Oval Office.
“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
If you are in the middle of times like these, then you know firsthand how the feelings of despair can overwhelm you. Like the old Celtic poet who wrote this prayer, you wonder how you could ever survive the tsunami of confusion you are experiencing. It was while I was traversing a very difficult transition in my life I discovered how valuable and helpful a daily routine could be in keeping me sane.
I am not minimizing the difficulty posed by times of difficult life changes. They can dismantle your old and trusty view of yourself and make you believe you lost your identity some place along the way. There is a void inside and a horrible sense of detachment from everything that had ever meant anything to you. At least with your old self there was at least some familiarity, traditions and routines that brought you comfort. Now, you fear you are becoming unrecognizable to family and friends and to your self. As though stuck in neutral, you can’t seem to move in any direction. This is why spiritual leaders refer to these periods as the “dark night of the soul”.
You are probably wondering how an inconsequential grouping of inane activities could help you while In the midst of the pain and confusion of depression. There is a simple answer, a structured routine teaches you to do what is in front of you. This is your lot for the moment and taking one step after the other is the way to get past this time of confusion. Let me further explain by using my routine as an example.
Get out of bed. It is easy during a time of transition to crawl up in your bed and want to stay there. But for as tempting as staying in bed might be, you still must live your life. Remaining in bed means you are avoiding your day-to-day responsibilities be they work and family related. Although you may need time alone, your boss, customers and coworkers may not be so understanding if you don’t show up to perform your obligations. The same goes for your family members. Children still need your guidance. Ignoring responsibility makes things worse, which is why you need to get up. During the roughest periods of my life, I have set an alarm and placed it so I have to get out of bed to turn it off.
Practice good hygiene. I brush my teeth, shower, shave and dress appropriately for my next occasion. If I have a day off, I still get out of my PJ’s and dress so I am ready to greet the world. This is vitally important because you don’t need feel worse about yourself than you already do. Nothing deflates your wounded spirit more than to see yourself in the mirror in your rumpled sleeping clothes and uncombed when it is late in the afternoon. Engaging in good hygiene reminds you that you are worthwhile and that you still belong among the people in this world. At a minimum, it is one less thing to worry about.
Make the bed and pick up after yourself. It was the nuns at Sacred Heart Orphanage, where I lived for almost four years, who taught me to make the bed right after I got up. This little chore has become second nature to me, but it has paid a lot of dividends, especially during difficult times. Making the bed is a symbol of orderliness, so is picking up your clothes and putting them away. There is something about being orderly that soothes my soul. It is proof I am capable of handling what is in front of me. Besides, getting a good night’s rest can be particularly difficult during transitions, and going into a disheveled bed and messy room with clothes all over the place can make you feel dirty and dingy and add to your sense of worthlessness. Making the bed and picking up after yourself can transform your bedroom into a quiet, soothing temple where you can lay your daily worries to rest.
Meditate. It is important to have a daily spiritual practice. I meditate twice daily, the first right after I have completed the aforementioned duties and the second just before dinnertime. I practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) for twenty minutes each time. Meditation centers and calms me and provides a much needed daily respite. I wish I had learned to have a spiritual practice earlier in my life, for I would have suffered less depression and discouragement during times of great life changes. By connecting daily with that higher intelligence that lives in each one of us, I have found an invaluable sense of optimism, creativity, hopefulness and courage even during the dark times. If TM is not for you, you, then find something that connects you to your higher source. This could be yoga or another form of contemplative practice.
Eat a good breakfast. It is said breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Chances are that ten to twelve hours have passed since you ate your last meal, so your body needs fuel, especially if you spent a long night tossing and turning. I love breakfast and I take time to fix one right after I meditate. I pretty much eat the same meal every day, two eggs and a mashed avocado spread over wheat toast. Sometimes I vary it with a bowl of cornflakes with unsweetened almond milk and a sliced banana on top. Regardless of your eating preferences, there is no reason why you can’t come up with a good breakfast that contains both protein and carbs. A good breakfast gives your body and mind their best chance to function properly.
Exercise. I exercise every day either playing tennis, weightlifting or bike riding. I am better exercising in the morning than in the evening. When I needed to report to an office, I woke up early to get my routine in. Exercise is a great thing to do. Scientists have found that the link between exercise and mood is strong. There is good epidemiological data that suggest that physical activity thwarts depression. Without getting into the biological explanation, scientists have found that exercise provides similar hormonal effects to the body as do antidepressants. Other Benefits included improve sexual function, gene expression, improved sexual function, clearer skin and improved mood and sleep. They have also found that a little exercise each day goes further than a lot once or twice a week. Other benefits are that you will look and feel better about yourself if you are more fit.
Yogi Berra one said ‘it’s tough to make predictions, specially about the future.” When you are in the middle of a difficult time, making predictions about where you will end up seems impossible, but having a predictable daily routine helps you feel like you still have some control over your life. It doesn’t make your boat any bigger nor the ocean any smaller, but it does give you an invaluable vantage point from where to view your life as you sail forward.
Call to Action
We are all immigrants! Whether we left a country for a fresh start in another, or whether an unforeseen life change has sent us on an unexpected path, this cycle of death and rebirth is at the center of our human evolution and. If you are going through such a period, I can help. If your organization is going through a challenging phase or serves people whose lives are in flux, like immigrants, seniors, or communities that are unappreciated, I can help as well. The combination of years and experiences have molded me into a messenger uniquely qualified to write, speak and mentor on the subject of discovering the inner resource that will convert difficult transitions into positive triumphs. Check out my website for the services I offer and to subscribe to receive my weekly blog.