Updated: Dec 12, 2022
By Jenni de Jong, I Start Wondering Columnist
As women, we can become so engrossed in our roles that we often forget to nurture ourselves. Women tend to identify so strongly with being a caregiver that exploring ways that might help “fill our tank” takes a back seat to everyone else’s needs. Our society does not teach us the lessons of self-care, and in fact, celebrates how productive we are.
There was a time in my life when discussions with my girlfriends would start with each of us sharing how busy we had been. The number of activities in a day became a source of bragging rights, no matter how varied our lives were. Success was measured by how much we accomplished in a day and how tired we were.
How can we live in the moment and become more aware of our essence? Why do we live so fast? Why is life so hectic?
I thought I was different. I thought I was doing the right things. I would begin each day with 30 minutes of quiet time including prayer, meditation, and reading from the Bible and other spiritually inspiring books.
But life seemed to only go faster. The minute my feet hit the ground I was on a mission to complete a list. I was on to what I needed to do next or what I had just missed. When I was at the grocery store, my mind was on the meeting I had later that afternoon. When I made it to the meeting, I was checking my watch to make sure I was going to make it home in time to see a client.
My body was tense as if bracing against the starting blocks in a race. Even when I thought I was participating in activities for stress relief (running, exercise), they too became another box to check. My mind was constantly in the future or the past: planning or worrying. I felt depleted of energy, both mentally and physically. Again, I did not think this was abnormal because most of my girlfriends lived this way. I could brag with the best of them.
Stepping Off Culture’s Treadmill
In 2017, a wise friend mentioned to me that she thought I might enjoy the practice of Sheng Zhen Meditation. She described it as slow, gentle movements that helped relax the body, calm the mind, and open the heart. Something in me knew I needed this because the way I was living was creating anxiety and tension.
At the same time, another good friend gave me the book “Too Busy Not to Pray” by Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. The first paragraph of Chapter 1 hooked me:
“From birth, we learn the rules of self-reliance as we strain and struggle toward independence, and frankly, prayer flies in the face of all that. It is an assault on human autonomy, an indictment on self-sufficient living. To people like me, who are fond of racing down the fast lane, determined to make it on their own, prayer can seem a really annoying interruption.”
It dawned on me that my quiet time had become just one more box to check off my list. I realized I had not slowed down enough, even first thing in the morning, to really listen to my Heart or to God. I was not present in the moment.
Sheng Zhen, the practice of meditation in motion and stillness, emphasizes how we all need to slow down both in movement and thought. The movements themselves are meant to be practiced slowly and with a measure of fluidity. There is a change of pace in the physical movements and these slower movements start to inform our inner environment. It became a very welcome change of pace and relief to allow myself to unplug from the frenzy of the outer world.
As I practiced the forms, little by little my body started to relax. I added them to my morning routine, and I found that once my body relaxed, my mind became calmer, and I could focus with more clarity and connect with my heart. As that happened, my mind stayed with the movements instead of creating lists to accomplish or planning ahead for all the things I needed to “get done.” I was able to move “out of my head” and travel to my heart; a much longer journey than I first realized.
Once I connected with my heart, my time in prayer completely changed. I felt connected and open to receiving love. For me, this made all the difference in my relationship with God. I will admit it did take time to let go of “accomplishing stuff.” Staying with the practice, slowly I began to notice changes. I could relax in my mind, body, and heart. This led to a felt perception or connection each morning, which also translated to changes in my day in the “real world.” When my mind started racing and/or worrying, I began to catch it, or notice what I was doing, because the worry and anxiety felt so uncomfortable. Using the Sheng Zhen movements throughout the day allowed me to redirect my pace, release outcomes to God, and refill my energy.
There have been challenges for me, however, because of my well-worn operating system. My Sheng Zhen practice became something to accomplish. I tried to learn as many of the forms as possible in an attempt to make straight A’s or gain approval, an old mechanical way of thinking that I could trace back to earning my physical therapy degree when the desire for top grades and the approval of others really took root. At a certain point, I could feel the energy cost of continually driving myself to succeed.
This fast pace even created an atmosphere of competition with other women, which was an undercurrent in many relationships and at times became outrightly overt. Competition for me showed up as never measuring up. I always looked at someone else and thought they were better than me, smarter than me, or better looking. This put me in the position of constantly trying to prove myself because I was comparing myself to other women, and not valuing my unique qualities.
How did I become aware of this repetitive pattern of reacting? The beauty of Shen Zhen was that it helped me see this pattern and my behaviors as I practiced. The combination of consciously slowing down and relaxing the body – which are the gifts of the practice of Sheng Zhen Meditation- helped me understand this.
Slowly, I began to re-evaluate my definition of success. What if success had less to do with ambition, competition, and getting ahead of other women? What if success was living a more balanced life? What if success included finding ways to nurture ourselves and fill our tank, so we could truly be present with others and be of service? I started to notice that when I released my egocentric–and many times petty–agendas, I was more and more able to celebrate other women’s success instead of feeling like somehow, I had missed out, or something had been taken from me. I started to realize we each have our own special parts to play.
It takes work to go against the stream of our fast-paced culture. This way of living can lead to tension and burnout within the body, mind, and heart. My practice of Sheng Zhen meditation was the catalyst to notice how much energy I was burning by rushing about.
Your path to being more present in your life may be different. Discovering your catalyst is part of the magical journey back to yourself. Maybe it’s a walk-in nature, reading something inspirational, prayer time, or other practices like yoga or tai chi. All of these help us slow down so we can connect with our own inner wisdom.
A teacher once told me that if we are in a rush, we are not in the present moment. Yes, we all have roles to play and things we need to do in this world, but slowing down, relaxing, and being present in our lives brings peace and joy to our inner self, along with greater self-knowledge, so we can choose to live from a more loving place. If you think about it, this moment is all that matters.
Editor’s Note: Jenni is a certified Sheng Zhen Meditation teacher. You can find online meditation opportunities here. You also can locate a Sheng Zhen teacher in your area or connect with Jenni through this link.