The Spiritual Stuff

One of my favourite things about Dr. Andrew Weil is that in his philosophy how we feed our minds and souls is as important as how we feed our bodies. Far too often, every aspect of our health is siloed and handled independently from the others, ignoring the wide array of evidence (not to mention common sense) that suggests they are all interrelated.

In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, Dr. Weil assigned three tasks related to mental/emotional/spiritual well-being.

The Tree Bowl

The "Tree Bowl" in Finnerty Gardens, one of many weird and wonderful things to check out there.

First, Mini-Resolution #15: Be one with Nature. This one required — well, not much really. Simply to go to a favourite place in nature, hang out there and feel the “energy of the place.”

I opted for Finnerty Gardens on the University of Victoria campus. This was, in part. out of convenience (the building I work in is a quick five-minute jaunt from the gardens so I went on my lunch break) but also because I can’t think of any other places in the city that have the same wow factor with so few people enjoying it.

Finnerty Gardens is UVic’s best-kept secret. It boasts more than 4,000 different trees and shrubs  on 2.6 hectares of land. Plentiful trails run through the gardens, bordered with dozens of benches on which to sit, relax and take in the splendour. And it’s easy to enjoy because there’s hardly ever anyone there.

It’s the kind of place you just can’t be pissed off in. The moment you step inside the gates you’re in a place that seems totally removed from the stampeding students and speeding cyclists that make up the university campus.

I spent a half-hour there, just wandering around, touching and smelling the greenery, listening to birds and being slightly annoyed that as idyllic as the gardens are they still can’t shield you from the traffic noises beyond their gates.

It’s so rare that I spend time outside doing nothing in particular. I’m usually walking to get somewhere, walking for exercise or running. This was a nice, new relaxed pace and I definitely returned to work with a much brighter attitude than I had left with.

I also took a few minutes of my time in the gardens to work on Mini-Resolution #17: Breath Observation V.2.0.

When I started on this program I was really excited about the idea of incorporating breathing exercises into my life. Dr. Weil touted them as the simplest form of meditation and I eagerly hopped on board since learning how to meditate has long been one of my desires.

Not long into Week 1, I realized that if this was the simplest form of meditation, I was in trouble. I struggled to do just five minutes of breath observation a day. It was boring, so I generally put it off until I went to sleep and then — more often than not — just fell asleep doing it.

In Week 2, Dr. Weil tacked on another breathing exercise: following the five minutes of breath observation, we were to spend one minute focusing on the breath cycle itself, beginning with exhalation as Phase 1.

I wish I could say this week of breath observation went better. I can’t, really.

I did make an effort to do my breathing exercises during the day instead of at the end of it, but I’m still having issues with just quieting my mind. It doesn’t want to focus on breathing. It would rather remind me of what I need for groceries, what wedding stuff I should have done by now, what emails I need to send when I get into the office and how I’m wasting time sitting around doing nothing.

When I can quiet my mind enough , there’s usually a pay-off in the form of slower, deeper breathing, a lowered heart rate and a general sense of lowered tension at the end of my six minutes.

On one particularly awful day in the office, I actually stopped everything, pushed my desk chair away from the computer and did my breathing exercises right there in the hopes of calming me down. It actually worked. A little.

Maybe this is just one of those things where practice makes perfect?

The last spiritual/emotional/mental task Dr. Weil set out was a one-day newsfast. Recognizing that what we see and hear in the news can solicit emotions of rage, anxiety and sadness, Dr. Weil proposed the fast as a reminder that we must be mindful not only of what we put into our bodies but also what we put into our minds.

In my own twist on this, I made Mini-Resolution #16: The Twitter/Facebook Fast. On Sunday, I did not tweet or Facebook creep. I didn’t post pictures or comment on other people’s statuses. I spent the day in the world of the three-dimensional people, mostly lounging around with my fiancé watching movies and being lazy.

And it was fine. I didn’t miss it. It was nothing extraordinary. I guess it’s fortunate that I’m not a chronic social media user. I can do without. For one day at least.

I didn’t notice an impact on my mood, but then I think perhaps I’ve spent so much time tweeting and Facebooking (and MySpacing and MSN Messengering and ICQing, etc.)  in my life that very little I see there has much of an impact on me anymore.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a week without Facebook or Twitter would make a brand new person.

Doubtful. Probably a slightly more productive person, at best.

Nonetheless, I think it’s probably a good thing to spend at least a day a week detached from social media. If for no other reason than to fully enjoy the company of those real-life, touchable, tangible loved ones.

And with that, it’s tally time:

Days to go: 337

Mini-resolutions to go: 244

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