7 gentle practices that promote healing

Image credit: © 2007 mrhayata, from Flickr | used via CC-BY-SA licensing

Living a kintsugi kind of life means actively working on healing the broken places in our lives in such a way that our healing does become gold to be treasured.

Part of that healing process involves facing our pain head on and allowing it to flow through us, but few of us in our emotion-phobic culture have been taught how to do that. Instead, we are conditioned to keep the pain hidden and distract ourselves from dealing with it through work, shopping, eating, alcohol, drugs, busyness, TV, computer games, and a hundred other addictions.

As I’ve gone through my own process of healing from broken places in my life, I’ve slowly discovered practices that have helped to support my healing in gentle but effective ways. These seven now form the core of my own practices for healing and are practices that continue to deepen my inner resources to prepare me for future brokenness so that it is less damaging when I encounter it.

1. Practice meditation

Meditation is the practice of learning to observe our thoughts and emotions from a place of enough detachment that we don’t get caught up in them.

This detached observation allows us to recognize that our thoughts and emotions are not who we are. They are just ephemeral things that arise and fall away when we do not engage them.

At the same time, we learn about our habitual patterns of thought and story so that we have more choices about what we choose to think, believe, and tell ourselves about our lives and experiences.

When we are in pain, this ability to closely observe our experience, our thoughts, and our emotions without getting wrapped up in them provides a space of freedom to feel the emotions without needing to act on them or buy into any of the stories that we habitually attach to them.

We can allow the emotions to flow through us, tell us what we need to know, and then move on. We have enough distance now to feel them without fearing that they will overwhelm us because we know they are not us and they will pass.

There are many ways to practice meditation. Traditional sitting meditation offers numerous styles and approaches—from following one’s breath to using a mantra to just observing each thought and allowing it to drift on by—but there are other ways to engage in meditative practice if none of these suit you.

Movement based meditations can include walking meditation or some forms of yoga. It’s also possible to reach a meditative state while performing mindless repetitive work, like scrubbing the floor or pulling weeds, if performed in a meditative manner.

Whichever form of this practice you choose to engage in, the increasing ability to be with what is while staying detached is extremely helpful to the healing process.

2. Write about your struggles

Research has repeatedly shown that writing about your pain and your struggles helps with the healing process.

This is not writing for other people or for publication. Nor does it need to involve any fancy equipment or perfect writing skills. Just 20 minutes a day of writing just for yourself about your emotional response to your situation can have profoundly positive effects on your physical health, your emotional health, and your relationships.

The writing helps your brain to express its thoughts about what has happened in a way that reduces its need to continually review it. It also helps the brain work toward making meaning in the situation, which allows it to begin to let go.

As you continue writing about it on subsequent days, you begin to create narrative that helps to shift your perspective, reduce the acuteness of your suffering, and bring healing.

To learn more about how to engage in this practice, read Writing to Heal by Dr. James Pennebaker. This article shares tips about the practice and highlights the many benefits it can bring.

3. Spend time outdoors

In our culture, most of us spend the vast majority of our time indoors, isolated from the natural world, but studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces our stress levels, makes us happier, and helps us feel more alive (among other benefits cited).

And this doesn’t necessarily need to be a time-consuming activity. As little as five minutes has been shown to make a difference.

The reasons for this positive effect range from exposure to beneficial bacteria in the soil (a great reason to take up gardening!) to breathing in organic compounds released by trees that make us happier to increased levels of vitamin D produced by exposure to sunlight.

Regardless of the reasons, getting outside for more than the few steps between your car and the door to the next building will help foster any healing process that’s underway.

I find for me that it eases the stress and anxiety I’m feeling enough for me to feel clearer and more confident in continuing on. I am able to release much of the burden that I am unconsciously carrying about the situation in order to just be present in the moment where I find I always have just enough of what I need.

4. Make space for silence

For many of us, silence is hard to come by. We are bombarded by man-made noise all the time from cars, machines, airplanes, radios, TVs, crowds, and other sources. The constancy of this noise has been shown to have negative impacts on our health.

Carving out spaces for silence, on the other hand, can bring many positive benefits, including stress reduction, restoring our mental resources for paying attention, and allowing the brain to regenerate brain cells.

This doesn’t mean that you need to give up listening to any forms of entertainment permanently, but choosing to leave the TV off for a while in the evening (especially if you’re not really watching it and only using it for background noise), leaving the radio or music off in your car when driving, or leaving the headphones at home when you’re taking your next walk may offer greater benefits than you would expect.

For many of us, this may also mean carving out pockets of solitude as well, especially if we live with others. That doesn’t mean that we need to become hermits or go live in the desert, though. Even small spaces of silence and solitude that allow our brains to relax will give you greater resources for healing.

5. Let your creativity flow

Creative expression has long been known to help with emotional healing and is the foundation for many art therapy programs, but creativity doesn’t have to mean art or craft work. Any activity that creates something new out of chaos is creative work, including home improvement projects, cooking, gardening, computer programming, or decorating your home (among many other examples).

Creativity is a natural part of being human, but it’s one something that many of us have left behind in childhood as our creative expression was mocked or criticized along the way. This is unfortunate because it is such a powerful expression of who we are.

As part of the process of creative work, our body has been shown to release mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. It also engages our brain in a way that helps us feel productive and passionate about our projects.

Personally, my different forms of creative expression—from writing to jewelry making to soap making—have been instrumental in helping me re-engage with the world, find the inner resources to continue my healing, and keep moving forward.

It doesn’t matter what your particular hobby or form of creative expression is. Consider finding an adult coloring book, trying out a new recipe, picking up your knitting needles, or writing a poem—whatever most inspires you to get started. It doesn’t even need to be anything that anyone else will ever see. It just needs to bring you enjoyment in the doing of it.

Creativity can do much to improve your mood and motivation levels to support the healing process and also give you an outlet to express your emotions as you work through your story.

6. Engage your spirituality

Your spirituality is whatever helps you connect to that which is more than yourself.

For some people, this will be synonymous with their religious practices and religious community. For others, it may overlap with spending time outdoors as they connect to being a part of the whole ecosystem of nature.

For others, it may involve spending time with family and close friends to stay connected to relationships that matter most. Or it might involve spending time to help others who have needs to connect with the fact that we all suffer in this life.

It doesn’t really matter what manner of engagement you choose as long as it works to help make that connection to something larger for you.

As important as it is to go inward and explore the emotions you are experiencing during the healing process, this engagement in your spiritual life provides the balance that prevents isolation and offers the encouragement that you are not alone in whatever you are going through.

This greater connection can offer healing in and of itself.

7. Listen to your inner knowing

Of all the practices I’ve listed, this one may be the most foundational. At its root, this is about compassionate self-care and learning to listen to and honor your intuition that tells you what you need as you move through the healing process.

This will obviously involve physical self-care, like getting enough rest, moving your body, and eating nutritious foods that support your body, mood, and mind during the healing process, but it also involves so much more.

It means being able to know what you need most for your healing at a given time even if it goes against the well-meaning advice of those around you. It means knowing when to ask for help and when you need to work it out on your own.

It means listening to those inner tugs that guide you in choosing the best people to ask for help from. Even among those nearest and dearest to us, not everyone has the same skills and abilities to provide the support we need. Some friends are great a providing physical support (e.g., cooked meals, running errands for you, driving you around), others may give great advice or be great a problem solving, and still others can provide a compassionate listening ear when you need to talk.

Listen to your intuition in knowing what you need and who can best provide it in this given moment and situation.

This may also mean listening when your soul uses the healing process to highlight what Elizabeth Gilbert calls a NOT THIS moment, when it becomes clear that some key part of your life is no longer working and needs to change. Sometimes those major changes—as difficult as they can be—become an important part of the healing process as they move you into a life that is healthier for you.

Obviously, this listening to your inner knowing is also a form of guidance to tell you which of these practices you may benefit from most at any given time and in what form.

The beautiful thing is that they have the capacity to overlap and work together in beautiful synchronicity. For example, for some people taking a solo hike might get them outside (#3) in silence (#4) in a meditative way (#1) that feeds their spirituality (#6) while also getting their body moving in good self-care (#7).

For someone else whose creativity expresses itself through cooking, preparing a new dish may evoke their creativity (#5), provide meditative space as they chop vegetables (#1), care for their body’s health (#7), be a chance to work in silence (#4) if working alone, and maybe even be an expression of their spirituality (#6) if they will be sharing the food with others.

You and you alone know which form of these practices will work best for you and how they might best overlap when engaged in from a place of intentionality for healing. Listen to your inner knowing and follow its lead as you discover what best nourishes your soul and supports your healing process.

Questions to ponder

Which of these practices have you tried as a support for healing? How did they help? Are there variations that might be a better support for you?

Which ones appeal to you as things you might want to try more of? How can you creatively incorporate them into your life?

What ideas come to mind for you about activities that might involve more than one of these practices at the same time? What would it look like to engage in those activities in more intentional ways with a focus on the practices and on healing?

I have found that making these practices into habits that I engage in regularly even when I am not in the middle of healing has given me a foundation that helps future healing processes flow more easily. Which practices might you consider incorporating into your life as preparation for future healing?

What other practices have you found to be helpful in supporting your healing that I didn’t mention here?

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