Sometimes, I don't always take my own advice. Sometimes, I am not grounded or rested or calm. Sometimes, I snap at the kids. Sometimes, we all get upset. Sometimes, I get swept up in late nights stuck in front of my computer screen, trying to finish a blog post or put the finishing touches to my course and when this happens, I wear myself out. My eyes throb from the tiredness of it all, from all the conflicting emotions going around as I try to figure out a million things, from how to be a better mother to how to figure out what I'm doing with my career to what to make for dinner tomorrow. Sometimes, when I'm pushed right to the edge of my energy levels, I crave more space than I can find in our little home, space I feel I need to breathe, and then, when it all gets to this point, when I feel like the walls are closing in, that's when I can't sleep.
And that's where, I'm sorry to have to admit it, I've been lately: staring into the blankness in the middle of the night, the street lights seeping in through the shutters. I generally try to be intentional in the way in which I balance the stuff that makes up my daily life, especially when it comes to my kids, but when I get to this point and I can't sleep - which is hardly ever, incidentally, but when it does happen, it is still quite distressing - then it's the big, loud, screeching wake up call I need to slow it right the way back down. It's when I need to remember to breathe. It's when I need to find what I call my still.
Finding my still is sort of like my mind taking a nap, my soul curling up under the covers. It's the way I retreat into myself. It's the way I find calm and balance. It helps me in everything I do, all the roles I hold from wife, mother and creative, writer, too.
I find my still in many different ways. Yoga is one of them. It sounds cliche, but it's true. I've taken yoga classes for years, but mostly in a gym, and never really in a holistic way. It was always just another way to exercise. I was the kind of person that used to lie there, one eye half open, finding it hard to completely switch off when it was time for shavasana. It's only been in the last eighteen months or so that I've really begun to connect to the mindfulness, well-being side of yoga. I'm not about to go all yogi on you, but it's changed things, it's changed me, it really has. It allows me to remember to set an intention, no matter what I do. It reminds me that whenever things get too much, I need to breathe. That with each breath, I can quieten the noise. It reminds me to not let it get too much in the first place (but I'm still working on this one). It's also started me on a personal journey as a trainee yoga teacher, a challenge purely for myself.
There's other ways I find my still too. I will prioritise childcare so that I can have an afternoon completely alone, not just to work but also just to read or write for myself or think quiet thoughts or do nothing at all. And when I'm in this moment of needing still, then I make sure I read the work of my favourite writers, to lift me up and inspire me; to make me feel better.
Sometimes, I find my still from stepping away from my computer or leaving my phone in another room when I know social media is making me weary. Sometimes, it's in making time for some quiet faith, simply holding onto the belief that everything is going to be okay. Other times, I find getting everything out helps me find my still too - in some moods, this might be slow, contemplative journaling, but in others, it's more frenetic than that, and I'll end up navigating my way through some burst of energy that must be worked through or else will haunt my mind in the early hours. In these latter moods, I'll brainstorm, making reams of notes that help me find clarity. Sometimes these bursts make no sense on paper, but serve to simply declutter what's in my head and leaves me lighter.
Often though, it's the simplest things that have the most profound effect on helping me find my still. A walk with my beloved, hand in hand, when or if we have a rare chance to be alone, one of those walks when it's enough to simply be, to rest my head against his side and not even have to speak because he gets just what I need. Holding Jude in my arms for his bedtime feed, watching and feeling as he nestles into me warm and sweet and sleepy. Lying down between my older (yet still so little) boys as they fall asleep, their milky snores soft and low. When I lie there between them, my breath settling in tune with theirs, I marvel at how real they truly are. It gets me every time. For me, more than yoga or reading or journaling, it's these little reminders, these human connections so simple and yet so boundless, that help me find my still most of all.
And when I do this, when I work hard to remember to do this, when I find my still and hold on to it, something rather remarkable happens. First, I manage to sleep - which in itself is a joy and relief. And then - after a few days, I find my mind is calmer. And when I find my still, and when I am calm, I find I am more open to exploring my creativity again - and my creativity feels strong. I find ideas come to me - not disturbing or confusing me in the half light, but fully formed, come morning. Or even if an idea is not quite fully formed, I am calm enough not to be scared by it, not to talk myself out of pursuing it. So for me, finding my still means connecting with my creativity in a really astonishing way. And when I make time for my creativity, making time to write either for my blog, or for other people, or for more, then I'm generally a nicer person - a better partner, mother, friend, daughter - a kinder one, a more understanding one, a more patient and forgiving one.
When I find my still, I am confident about who I am. I don't let my boundaries be pushed or nudged and I can hold those boundaries with grace, not ill-temper. When I find my still, I am brave. I don't listen to my self doubt and I don't cave or crumble into the expectation of others. So I'll say yes to being on the radio again or writing an article for an old editor of mine or signing up to a yoga teacher training course. Or I'll say no to going somewhere I don't want to go, or doesn't fit in with my family's routine.
When I find my still, I follow through. I'm decisive but also in a flexible enough state of mind to simply shrug my shoulders, and say - let's see where this goes. That's what makes it exciting moment too - exciting, but not so much so that it leaves me windswept or unbalanced. I'm the one in control. That's what I like so much about finding this place of stillness inside me. It comes from me.
You may already know what works best for you to find your own still, and I'd love to know what that might be. It may be time alone walking in nature, meditation or immersing yourself in what you love - be it art, music, poetry - to lift you to the place you need to be. Stillness may feel like a momentary rest, but it is constantly moving you towards some better place. It is as though atoms of magic are shifting inside you, tipping you forward into the next realm of creativity you are yet to explore.
How to find your still if you don't know where to start
Prioritise alone time. Then when you're ready for it, surround yourself with the people you love, your team, the ones that get you most without begrudging you your needs.
Immerse yourself in what you love, in what lifts you to some higher place of creativity or connection. Read the writers that move you. Give yourself permission to sit in a gallery for as long as you like in front of your favourite painting. Listen to your favourite music until you feel it's inside you.
Do nothing at all. Sleep. Restore yourself.
Escape. Take a walk. Peruse a book store. Or hell, get on a train, go some place new. Experience something different for a day or an hour. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you break your routine.
Turn off your phone and your computer. Don't let anyone disturb for you. Doesn't matter even if it's just for half an hour. Take a break.
Take some time out for your well-being. Yoga, my friends. Or if not that, then switch your phone back on and download Clementine, a free mindfulness app for women that helps you destress and for me, was the key to sleeping better again.
Journal. If you can't think of what to write, then simply brainstorm. Write down everything you've done since the start of the year or the month or the week (depending on how much time you have) that you're proud of. Just let yourself enjoy blowing your own trumpet, for once. Or if that doesn't come easily to you, then a tip I once received was to write down everything that's making you anxious. Figure out the ones that you can actually do something about in the here and now, the ones that you're most in control of (because your anxieties do not control you). Park them for later. Draw a line. Deal with them another day.