As I sit and type these words, my home feels quiet. My daughter and husband have stepped out on an errand, my son is napping in my bedroom. The only sound I can hear is the on again, off again snore of our English bulldog, Bubbles, as she also naps and dreams. I am drinking a cup of warm water with ginger, lemon, and honey. The room is darkened with the exception of the soft glow of the table lamp next to me. The world outside gradually dims to a grey dusk.
These days, I treasure quiet moments. I have to seek them out, in between the rambunctious sounds of children playing and screaming, dogs barking, phones ringing and beeping. There is the internal noise of thoughts and emotions and running commentary. These sounds in their own ways are important. I am blessed that my home is full, that there is life and vitality. There is the resting edge of awareness, that one day I will look back and wish for these noises again.
And yet, in order to keep my center in the midst of activity and volume, I must create islands of solitude and quiet too. I don’t remember always feeling this way in my twenties, when my sole responsibility was myself, studying, and getting through medical school and residency. I had lots of time to myself, in LA traffic jams, and wandering the hallways of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the middle of lonely call nights.
Now, with children, patients, a practice to manage, solitary time must be created and cultivated. This has evolved into a daily reflective practice, that usually book-ends my day. In the early mornings, I meditate. Sometimes five minutes, sometimes twenty minutes. Sitting in the dark of my sleeping home, with a warm blanket across my lap and dogs at my feet, I simply breathe, and know that I am breathing. And from there, I try to write or type a few pages of free flowing journaling, to release whatever rose to awareness during my meditation, the residue of the night’s sleep, the tasks and anxieties of the day ahead. There is a clearing of my mind that occurs, a feeling that I have honored myself and my needs before taking on the world. Occasionally I will set an intention for my day, if it feels right.
At night, I take a few moments to read what I had written during those morning pages, and sometimes I can barely remember. It often feels like a lifetime has passed. I jot down a few more words to process the day, and then come to a moment of gratitude. I write down what I feel thankful for. Of course, there are the consistent, daily remembrances of my health, my family, my friends, my work. But I try to bring forth the small things too…my morning cup of coffee, a funny joke that I heard, a patient who turned a corner, a spontaneous hug from my children. I try to feel the gratitude in my bones, in my breath, let the warmth take over me.
These daily practices, perhaps no more than 20-30 minutes of my time, have become the anchors of my day. They are the moments in which I befriend myself, and they are the moments in which I step back and cultivate an awareness of who I am and the world within me and outside of me. And in between, sometimes I can reconnect with those soft threads of compassion and awareness as I go about living my life…a little less reactive, a little more present.
In the day to day work of psychiatry, parenting, and just living in this world, I feel like I am often overwhelmed by the trauma and chaos that exists. It is almost too much to bear. Moments of reflection and quiet may not change the world, but I am not sure how else to start. Perhaps all we can do is create an opportunity to try and be still and make sense of it all. Perhaps we can create a pause before we speak or act or harm others in small or big ways.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in creating moments to seek a greater awareness of ourselves. It need not take lots of time, but simply an intention to turn inward and reflect. Let’s pray that this translates into the greater energy of peace and compassion.
With gratitude, Monisha