How to Find Ease in the Turmoil of Life

By Mary Jaksch

When we see a wilting plant, we know what to do. We water it.

But when we are exhausted and stressed, it’s often difficult to know how to recover.

The problem is that the exhaustion many of us suffer from can’t be fixed by a holiday at the beach, or a visit to a day-spa. Because it’s not just our body that’s exhausted, it’s our soul.

When the soul is exhausted, we suffer from loss of joy and hope

Life then seems increasingly difficult, and sometimes even meaningless. In those times we’re estranged from a dimension of being human that adds ease and joy to life.

We’re estranged from our natural spirituality. By natural spirituality I mean the insight and wisdom that comes from a deeper recognition of who we are, and of how our life is interwoven with all other beings.

I came to spirituality the hard way. Twenty-five years ago my life was in tatters: my marriage was disintegrating, I was homesick, having just emigrated to New Zealand, and work was a nightmare. That’s when I started Zen meditation. It wasn’t a magic bullet, but I began to find islands of ease within the chaos of my life.

Maybe you too are suffering, especially in this dire economic climate? In my experience, even if we are powerless to change our circumstances, we can learn to find island of ease within our distress.

I use the word ease because it implies that our body is relaxed and that we are at peace with ourselves. It also means that we are in harmony with everything around us. When we are at ease, even difficult tasks begin to flow.

Here are five ways of finding islands of ease. These five ways will help you to feel more alive and peaceful, instead of preoccupied and stressed.

1. Silence

Silence can heal. But many of us are afraid of it because we think it might make us feel lonely. Or because it might force us to face ourselves.

There are two kinds of silence. There is outer silence which is absence of noise. And there is inner silence when our thoughts die down and our mind becomes quiet. If you are not used to silence, you might like to try this island of ease in small doses.

  • Spend at least 5 minutes each day doing nothing.

Just notice sounds, sights, smells, and so on. Let go of planning thoughts or other distractions. This is a way to cultivate inner silence.

  • Eliminate background music.

Only play music if you can listen to it with full attention. That might be difficult for you if you tend to exercise to music or listen to music in the car. Maybe you could just try silence for one day and see what it’s like.

  • Turn the TV off if you are not watching it.

In many households the TV is blaring, even though nobody is watching it. Try turning it off as much as possible and see what happens.

2. Mindfulness

When our mind is neither in the past or the future and we are completely present, our experience changes in a significant way. Suddenly life seems more spacious, and more peaceful.

Mindfulness means being present with a clear mind, and an open heart.

When we are mindful, we are available for life, and aren’t trapped in our own little world. Whether it’s peacefulness, or anger, or boredom, or elation, or fear: mindfulness allows us to notice what we are experiencing right now.

Mindfulness means bringing full, soft attention to the task at hand.

All of us tend to let our mind drift when faced with a boring task. The good news is that if we pull ourselves back into the present moment, the task is transformed and boredom soon disappears. So, whether it’s washing the dishes, or cutting carrots, or driving in the rush hour – mindfulness can transform ‘lost’ time into islands of ease.

3. Walking

If we’re able-bodied, we do a fair amount of walking, wherever we live. In an urban area, most of our walking might be to get to work, or to the bus, car, or subway, or to the corner shop. And maybe we sometimes go for a walk in a park. If we live in the countryside, we may be used to long walks in nature.

What happens in our mind as we walk?

Often the mind churns away: it worries, plans, re-lives old hurts, or dreams of the future.

In order to turn walking into an island of ease, all you needs is a simple change: you need to focus on the experience of walking and let go of your busy thoughts. The following tip will assist you:

As you walk, touch forefinger and thumb together to remind you of the present moment.

Focus the feeling of your feet on the ground, on sounds, and on your breath flowing in and out as you walk along. Each time you find that your churning mind has taken you away from experience of ‘now’,gently refocus on the present moment.

4. Meditation

As I said before, I’ve been practicing daily Zen meditation for twenty-five years now. I do it because it makes me feel vividly alive. It gives me a sense of ease and peacefulness that is not dependant on my circumstances.

Science has put meditation under the microscope and has found amazing psychological and physiological benefits:

Psychological Benefits

  • Increased feelings of vitality and rejuvenation;
  • Increased happiness;
  • Increased emotional stability;
  • Decreased anxiety;
  • Decreased depression;
  • Greater creativity;
  • Decreased irritability and moodiness;
  • Improved learning ability and memory;
  • Increased insight and wisdom.

Physiological benefits

  • Deep rest (as measured by decreased metabolic rate, and lower heart rate);
  • Lowered levels of cortisol and lactate (two chemicals associated with stress);
  • Improved blood pressure;
  • Drop in cholesterol levels;
  • Improved flow of air to the lungs;
  • Significant slowing of the slowing of the aging process.

The simplest and most natural meditation is a way that Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches: on your in-breath, silently say in, and on your out-breath, silently say out. If you do this even for just five minutes, you will notice that soul and body start to relax and find ease.

What’s really important is that YOU find ease.

I hope that the ways I have outlined above are helpful to you. I’d be interested to read what you think in the comments. Maybe you have found other islands of ease that work for you? Please share them – we can all learn from each other.

There is a lot more to meditation but it’s good to start simple. If you want to learn more, you can find ten important tips on  how to meditate..

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  1. Thank you, Ms. Mary, for this reminder. The holidays can be such a stressful time. A gentle reminder like this is much appreciated!

    I would also add singing to the list. Sure, not everyone feels comfortable singing in front of an audience. But the simple act of using the voice–and the wonderful warm vibrations that soothe a tired soul–well, itʻs strong medicine. (And affordable medicine, too!) No need to sing in front of another–even humming to oneself can be great!

    And laughter. Always laughter.

    With warm Aloha,
    Jason Poole/The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner´s last blog post ..Holiday Parties and ‘Ohana

    • I love this idea! I couldn’t sing on key if my life depended on it but I love singing loud to my small children. Whether it’s a song in my head or something playing on the stereo, I’ll look them in the eye with a big smile and let the tunes fly. I have so much fun watching their reactions. My 2 yr. old looks at me with a concerned face and says, “Dop it!” for me to stop. I just laugh with her and keep singing.
      Paige | Simple Mindfulness´s last blog post ..Mindful Body: Creating the Body You Want With New Choices

  2. Abbie says:

    Thank you so much for these inspirational words. For the past 10 years I have been at the point of no increase just there! my life for the past year or so have been what you describe ‘soul exhaustion’. I left work after 21 years with nothing. I could not continue to work due to this exhaustion. With a failed marriage and 2 young children to look after have been very traumatic but, by God’s grace we are getting there. You have also helped me to relax with your own experience. I know that one day, I will look back and say thank you to this experience. Crisis in our lives come to strengthen, and elevate us to a higher level provided, we don’t give up. One remedy I have used to keep calm is sing songs that uplift the soul. Hey! I know my voice is good because I sing to myself.
    Thanks Mary.
    with a heartfelt gratitude

  3. Mary, your post has created its own island of calm – thank you! 🙂

    I’ve found watching the clock – literally! – also helps. Just keep watching the seconds hand move, and count from 1 to 5 as it goes between two numbers (or dots) on the clock. Just keep time with the seconds hand, counting 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5… If you’ve lost time (the clock is at 3 and you’re still at 2 or have moved on to 4), simply readjust and keep going.

    It works wonders, and anyone can do it anywhere – so long as they have a clock with demarcations for numbers and a seconds hand!
    Vinita Zutshi´s last blog post ..How to Make Your Child Do What’s Good for Her

  4. Mary,
    Your opening hook is brilliant. Who can’t relate to that? I’m going to choose to only listen to music while doing nothing else. It resonates with me.
    Tess The Bold Life´s last blog post ..Tiny Buddha Book Review and 2 Giveaways

  5. This is a beautiful post Mary. Such a pleasure to share your words. Don’t you think that as our entire world becomes increasingly stressed, our responsibility to access these simple truths and DO them becomes all that much greater?

    I’m biased of course. But I especially love what you say about walking, and stillness. Oh dear, I nearly forgot, but I also especially love what you say about meditation and mindfulness.
    Christopher Foster´s last blog post ..Something calling to you

  6. Evie Burke says:

    “Soul Exhaustion” I’ve never heard it put that way. It describes it exactly.

    Beautiful post Mary.
    Evie Burke´s last blog post ..Why Are You Waiting?

  7. Leonarda says:

    Such a wonderful post. I can almost feel calmness and peacefulness just by reading it. Silence and walking always work for me. Gotta work more on mindfulness and meditation though. 🙂

    Thanks for this and I hope you never get tired inspiring people, Mary.


  8. Amelia says:

    I can definitely identify with the concept of soul exhaustion, I think I have been there for several years and now on the path to rejuvenation again.
    I have always found walking to be incredibly soothing. This year I saw a psychologist as I was having trouble with a fear which was interfering with my work. His main technique is EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which I understand to be the emulation of rapid eye movement we do during REM sleep (which is when we process and store events from the day), but while we are awake. I later came to find out that this process has similar effects to any activities which involve continuous Left-Right switch in the brain, hence why people find things like walking and hand drumming so soothing to the soul. Interesting stuff.
    I am definitely a fan of zen meditation but don’t get around to it anywhere near as often as I’d like. Perhaps something for me to work on.
    Thanks for your post Mary, gassho. 🙂

  9. Thanks Mary for sharing such a wonderful timely article during Holiday season. I really liked the phrase “islands of ease”
    My islands of ease are-affirmation, chanting Sanskrit Shlokas (hymns), learning and singing songs, doing tapping as per Emotional Freedom Technique, and doing Yoga.
    Lalitha Brahma´s last blog post ..How Can Follow-up Help An Entrepreneur?

  10. perry singh says:

    Hi marry
    your post regarding how to find ease in the turmoil of life fund to be very beneficial and meaningful as silenc always gives a new approach towards the life and 5 minute meditation realy works
    hope u will fill the life of all with a joy by u r such mails
    thanks with cheers perry singh

  11. Neseret says:

    Hi Mary,

    Meditation and other mindfulness teachings have helped me access my inner peace more quickly than I would have otherwise. I was introduced to mindfulness teachings in 2008 through Eckhart Tolle’s books – The Power of Now and A New Earth.

    Since then I have been practising meditation and yoga. I believe these two things have helped accelerate my healing journey.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. Wishing you many blessings.

    Peace, Love & Gratitude,

    Neseret´s last blog post ..Avoid Stress, Anxiety, Drama and Blues This Holiday

  12. This is a beautiful reminder to stop and care for ourselves in the midst of the chaos around us. If we take a few moments to care for ourselves, we have the capacity to be more present and supportive of those we love. We start to get burned out and resentful when we don’t make the choice to fill our own cup.

    One way I recharge (in addition to the great ways you’ve mentioned) is to watch my children (ages 2, 5 & 7). By absorbing myself in watching them, I forget myself and enjoy the joy they’re experiencing as they play. Getting on the floor and playing with them is wonderful too.

    Thank you Mary!
    Paige | Simple Mindfulness´s last blog post ..Mindful Body: Creating the Body You Want With New Choices

  13. Ken Wert says:

    Great post, Mary! I grew up with TVs blaring, music always on in the background, noises and movement and activity and a degree of relatively controlled chaos almost all the time. Now, we hardly ever have music on unless, like you said, it’s on for a particular reason. We are actively listening to it, it’s there to set a mood (Christmas tree decorating with Christmas music playing to get us in the spirit). You’re right about quiet. There is something profoundly peaceful in noiselessness.

    Thanks for sharing these insights in such topsy-turvey times!
    Ken Wert´s last blog post ..Random Acts of Wisdom II: Living by Principles

  14. Joe Mudd says:

    Hi Mary,
    I think “soul exhaustion” is a perfect description for how it feels when one of your children dies. It’s a hard one to beat.

    I find myself craving quiet. It does have it’s dangers, because all those sad thoughts can take over pretty quickly when there’s nothing to drown them out. I try to do some of the breathing techniques to pull myself out of those times.

    My wife seems to be opposite. She always wants the radio on with talk shows going. This could cause problems, but I find staying up till 2 in the morning usually gets me a lot of quiet time.

    Or I just send her shopping. That works for both of us.
    Joe Mudd´s last blog post ..Crazy Thoughts?

  15. Hi Mary,

    Beautiful post. I love meditation as well for feeling more calm and peaceful. I find that I enjoy quiet so much recently. I can also find ease by being in nature, especially at the ocean or in the mountains. I love the pounding of the waves against the sand or the wind blowing through the redwood trees. Both of these locations can be very restorative. Take care.
    Cathy | Treatment Talk´s last blog post ..What Everyone Ought to Know About Prescription Drug Abuse

  16. Mary,
    Simply beautiful! I am a frim believer in taking what I call, “Life Breaks.” These are short breaks I take for myself 2 – 3 times a day for a few minutes that a free and void of any responsibility. Sometimes, it is as simple as stepping outside and taking in the sunshine! What I find is that I renergize myself! As humans we tend to forget that if we do not find ways to keep our “inner tank” full, then we will deplete ourselves. All of the things you have mentioned here are gifts for our soul to ensure that we are full to capacity. And, it is in this fullness that we are able to give to others.
    With the busy holiday season, it is easy to forget to take mindful quiet time for ourselves. Thank you so much for the reminder!
    Best regards,
    Jeanette Melian´s last blog post ..Filling Our Inner Tank

  17. Emily says:

    Walking and practicing mindfulness at the same time is a serious soul-cleanser for me.
    Emily´s last blog post ..Is Retirement The Ultimate Financial Goal?

  18. Noel says:

    It’s so amazing that we can find calmness when we just try to relax, focus on our breathing and do nothing else. Don’t regret for yesterday or worry of tomorrow but just let the mind free. Be present. You gain – peacefulness. That’s why I enjoy meditation too~
    Noel´s last blog post ..Inspirational Ecards

  19. Noch Noch says:

    Thanks Mary – also important is we need to recognize when we are stressed, and not stretch too far… Denial of our stressful situation just makes it worse!
    Noch Noch´s last blog post ..a new page

  20. Congratulations! You are one of the winners of Best Personal Development Blog of 2011

  21. I love the phrase you referred to often: Island of ease.

    Since moving to Hawaii 9 months ago I have just that. It simply calls for slowing down. There are few street lights and sleep comes easier and there are a myriad of other Island attitudes that are helpful.

    I had a time in my life where I was emotionally exhausted, in the midst of a heartbreaking divorce. I used exercise. When the rest of the people who were training for Ironman would go on group rides I would choose to go for 100 mile rides alone. It calmed my mind. I would run. It brought peace to my inner being. I’d swam laps in the pool and it became a sort of meditation.

    Years later I’m not so hard core about it all and I practice yoga, meditation and I’ve become much more mindful. I still exercise, just have scaled it back to a balanced place. Its wonderful. However, I still have to practice these things in one way or another or chaos could easily take up residence in my mind again.

    Mahalo for the post. It brought a peaceful feeling over me while reading it.
    Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last blog post ..You Are Here for a Reason

  22. Josh Sarz says:

    I love all these tips, Mary. They’re absolutely wonderful. Silence is really nice, especially when you need to get everything to stop for a moment so you can clear your mind from all the junk that happens to us every day, and then once we’re fresh, we get to be more productive and efficient.
    Josh Sarz´s last blog post ..The After-Reading: Every Bush Is Burning

  23. Mikaela says:

    Mary, thanks for this post! It helped tremendously as I prepared by list of goals for 2012.

    I linked back here in a post on my blog today.

    Here’s a more peace-filled New Year!

  24. Annika says:

    I hadn’t heard of Thich Nhat Hanh’s in/out meditation technique before – I like that idea a lot! Reading your post I realize meditation has to be prioritized, scheduled with just as much seriousness as a visit to the dentist. Thanks for that!
    Annika´s last blog post ..Big announcement + your own personal video response

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