Being and Breathing

In this series of letters for the new year, we asked some of our collaborators to answer the question, “What’s the opposite of burnout for you?” Here, sustainability designer Maria Mariano reflects on finding ways to slow down and reconnect with the present moment.

Text & photos—Maria Mariano

As our world spins into uncertainty, many of us try to take solace in faster, better, and smarter technologies: the promise of the new. I know sometimes I do. But what if our continued existence on this planet also requires that we cultivate ways to be still and unhurried?

I generally feel enriched by the cultural exchanges of city life, but lately I’ve been seeing more clearly that this way of living — always wanting more engagement and more contact — comes with a cost. Existing in a mindset of perpetual availability distracts us from taking part in the mundane and magical grounding activities of our daily lives. By continuously preparing for the future, overcommitting to others, and always expecting more from ourselves, we fail to live out our moments with intention and care.

Morning rituals help me to remember this need for mindful contact with the world. In the quiet time before the neighbours wake and the day begins, I’ve been ceremonially writing in two notebooks. In one book I release all my tangled thoughts in a brain dump. In the other, I fill a daily page with affirming intentions for the hours to come. And as I gaze out the window from my desk, I see the sun’s first promising rays and acknowledge my desire to prioritize presence. Only then do I start making a list of the tasks that await me.

Working from home and juggling different projects and passions has challenged me to sustainably manage my 24 hours each day. I’ve learned to accept that there’s always more to be done and that I can’t possibly do it all alone. And when my mind forgets these lessons, my body sends gentle reminders, with tired eyes, tense shoulders, a sore back: it’s time to reconnect. I use my breath, counting to four on my inhale, pausing, and then exhaling to a count of six. In this moment of conscious breathing, I can interrupt my constantly refreshing mental to-do list and check in with the present moment instead.

Connecting with the environment around me has been another way to rejuvenate my spirit. I feel restored when I take time to detach from my screens and partake in the joys of being in nature. This can be as simple as taking a walk in a park and admiring the changing trees. I like to imagine others in the past who have taken a similar stroll. With each step, I practise shaking off my isolated thoughts. I take note of the squirrels, birds, and other critters who also partake in this ecosystem. I am reminded of our collective interdependent relationship with other living beings.

Working part-time with my hands in the soil at Bee Balm Botanicals flower farm, I’ve discovered a more intimate connection to the earth beneath my feet. Through soil preparation, sowing, watering, weeding, and crop harvesting, I’ve witnessed the cycles of our world. In these moments, observing nature’s timeline, the inescapable turn of seasons, I relax into the renewal it offers: perhaps not suddenly, but reliably, change will come in its own time.

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