I had a chance to interview Briana and Dr. Peter Borten, wellness coaches and authors of The Well Life — How to Use Structure, Sweetness, and Space to Create Balance, Happiness, and Peace. Their book is a treasure trove of achievable tips for attaining a balanced, empowered life.
Your idea is intriguing: That doing what you say you’re going to do can be a life-changing habit. Why does this make such a difference?
When we treat agreements as unimportant. We disempower ourselves and sabotage our relationships. And after years of broken agreements, when we endeavor to do something ambitious, our minds undermine us with a pile of evidence that says we’re probably not going to follow through. But when we honor our agreements with others and ourselves, something almost magical happens. We begin to trust ourselves. Others also recognize us as trustworthy. Our word is a powerful tool of creation. Over time, we experience a sense of inner stability, and we navigate the world with a certain momentum.
How do we change the structural habits that lead to feeling oppressed?
We recommend beginning by simplifying your structure. First, become aware of all the agreements you make with yourself and others, and for now, keep them to a minimum so you can practice keeping them and having a better chance of success. You will quickly gain a feeling of enhanced self-trust. Second, use your calendar to schedule your life, considering every event an agreement to do what you’ve planned. Third, begin scheduling more deliberate space into your days — in the form of unstructured time, creative time, self-care time, etc.
Fourth, when you feel oppressed, see if you can find the thought that’s making you feel this way. What is it? Then ask yourself if it’s true. Haven’t you managed life thus far, even if you’ve freaked out a bit now and then? Let attention drop into your body and see how you experience this overwhelmed feeling on a physical level. Rather than resisting what you feel, see if you can welcome it, be curious about, and turn towards it willingly. Breathe into it, and let it go.
Can you give examples of adding sweetness in your life?
Take a bath — with candles and music and wine. Hang out with friends. Play games. Create art. Enjoy other people’s art. Go to a concert. Stretch. Eat delicious food. Schedule more feel-good, soul-nourishing stuff into your days. Meanwhile, try to discover the sweetness in whatever you’re doing. Where’s the beauty in this? Where’s the humor in this? Where’s the inspiration in this? Where’s the gift?
Space, along with Sweetness and Structure, are your three tenets of a Well Life. How does someone cultivate the space you refer to?
There are a number of ways to do this. Gere are two: Practice mental stillness through meditation and other meditative arts (yoga, tai chi, qi gong, etc.) — every day, even if just for a few minutes. And try to cultivate space by deliberately bringing your presence to whatever you’re currently engaged in. Rather than engaging shallowly with the task at hand while you go elsewhere with your mind, practice bringing all your attention to what you’re doing — whether it’s sitting and breathing on a rock in the woods, sweeping the floor, or listening to someone talk.
Explain our inherent jing — energy — and why we need to expend it carefully.
Our jing is a concept in Daoism and Chinese Medicine that can be thought of as our inheritance of life force. The word is usually translated as “essence.” If our endowment of jing is strong and we avoid abusing ourselves, we can live a long healthy life. But if we hurry life along or ignore our limitations — overworking, not getting enough sleep, eating junk food — we can prematurely “use up” our jing and exhibit signs of aging and decline of our robustness.
We can live entirely on each day’s allotment of energy, which is replenished through good sleep, good food, good loving interactions, meditation, and anything that nourishes us — and in so doing, avoid the need to tap into our jing. We must learn to feel our limits, and respect them.
Learn more about the authors and their book, The Well Life, at their web site The Dragon Tree.