temple bells

A Favorite Mindfulness Tool

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I have chosen to be mindful about the way I live my life, and sometimes it’s easy to get carried away and forget just what is important. I’ve found a tool to help me with that, which I’d like to share. When I find a good solution, I wonder who has the same problem and still needs a solution. I expect a lot out of myself – to nourish my body, mind, and soul every day. Some days seem to be too much of one and not enough of another. I vow to do better, but when there are too many days like that, I find myself out-of-sorts.

bamboo sculpture
This bamboo sculpture looks how I feel on days that are too busy and unbalanced.

I use the Grid Diary, an app on my iPhone.* Every evening before bed, I go through nine questions that I entered for myself, and I give a brief accounting. When I turn my phone sideways, I can see all nine blocks in a 3 x 3 grid, hence the name. This isn’t a place to pour out all my thoughts and feelings. I like those kinds of journals, but it’s too easy for me to spend all my time writing and none of my time connecting with others and actually living.

A restful walk in nature can be very enjoyable without hitting a 10 on the joy scale.

I’ve set up the following questions:

What brought joy? I have a tendency to be serious. For many years, I was convinced that there was no joy in my life. I finally realized that joy is a continuum, seeing a scale from 1 to 10. Was every day an over-the-top celebration? No. But there were things that made me feel good. Not everything is 10, but I can celebrate all the 5s out there. Even a small happy counts!

horse race
I don’t want my life feeling like this – sprints to win, only to find I’ve only been running in circles.

What did I accomplish? I can have a tendency to live in my mind but not ever do anything, so I keep myself accountable here.

How did I connect with others? I believe Brene’ Brown is right when she says that humans need to connect with others to be happy. I work in a job that can be quiet and intellectual without much interaction with other people on some days. If I come home on those days and my husband is out of town on business, and my adult kids are all busy with their own lives, I can go several days without having a personal conversation with anyone. If I have a few days without an entry here, I need to set up a social time with a friend. Otherwise, the loneliness takes over, and my balance is lost.

temple bells
Every bell can have a beautiful song.

What were my prominent emotions? I grew up in an atmosphere where anger and depression were frequent visitors to the home. I need to recognize that I have the capability of being more than that. In some years, anger seemed to be the only emotion I recognized. I’m old enough now that I can see  nuance in what I feel. I’m rarely angry, but I might be disappointed, hurt, or frustrated. Anger is actually a rare emotion for me now. It’s good for me to recognize that no emotion stays forever; they’re always in flux. This question keeps a finger on my emotional pulse without making any one feeling too important. I can recognize them, then let them go.

How did I live creatively? Creativity is vital for everyone. We aren’t all artists or comics, but sometimes our choices can be creative. I could try out a new recipe or read a book that isn’t a mainstream best seller. I can see a foreign film or play a game. I’m happiest when I incorporate creativity in my life.

I want to be a sleek balanced creature full of grace and self-empowerment.

How did I support my physical body? I’ve overlooked my body in previous years and take it for granted. Sometimes I need a reminder to exercise, sleep sufficiently, or eat the way that makes my body happy, so I hold myself accountable here. I will also log things like a relaxing bath, acupuncture, and time with a health professional. After all, my body is in this with me and needs a little love too!

pelican in flight
Yet I see myself as this ungainly bird that looks so awkward that it is surprising that it gets airborne. This body looks hard to balance, yet they fly like large blimps, soaring quietly and smoothly above me. Those wings must be incredibly strong.

How did I support my spiritual life? When I meditate, take a class in metaphysics, or take the time to reflect deeply on why something is, I list it here. This sounds like a small thing, but it’s very big for me.

indoor-outdoor church
Very little of my spiritual work takes place in a church, but one like this looks inviting to me. Nature grounds me and my spirit lifts me up; perfect combination.

What needs to change? I like to think critically. Is there something that I can change to improve my life? This could be anything, or it may focus on recognizing where I’m out of balance as I reflect on my answers to previous questions.

How did I show self-love? This could be stepping up to provide what I need or stepping away from something that isn’t helping me. Sometimes it’s a nap or staying home from work when I’m really too sick to go. Often it means not taking on a project I was pressured to take but that I knew would be a total shit show. You know the kind, I’m sure.

orange and white cat
Russell Sprout balances effortlessly. Oh, to be a cat!

It only takes five or ten minutes to go through these questions every day, but it gives me a chance to identify when I’m not in balance and make a correction mindfully. I’ve found it helpful. Do you have a similar practice? Please let me know in the comments if you have another way to do this or if you find these types of tools to be helpful. Are there better questions that you could recommend?

*I was not compensated for discussing this app; this is an honest representation of my experience with it.

bamboo wave sculpture
I want my life to flow like this – relatively unstructured, but with a cohesive direction and with a range of trajectories, high, medium, and low.


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