Influential Women Share Advice on Staying Calm and Centered in Hectic Times

In our materialistic society, our quality of life tends to be measured by what we have and produce in the outside world, rather than the experience of our inner world -- our sense of peace, fulfillment and joy.
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The autumn flower of sun flare.
The autumn flower of sun flare.

In today's modern world, we sometimes feel like a hamster on a wheel, going round and round through the non-stop responsibilities that run our lives. And then, when we stop, we are often tempted to spend our breaks "relaxing" on our electronics, taking in the latest techno-reality: news, tweets, texts, emails, Facebook, etc. All this just adds creates further mind-crowding and as a result, we can feel drained and burned out. And the most unfortunate thing is that we accept this drained and burned-out state as normal.

In our materialistic society, our quality of life tends to be measured by what we have and produce in the outside world, rather than the experience of our inner world -- our sense of peace, fulfillment and joy. Cultivating and keeping in balance a relationship with our inner self is the focus of a special gathering taking place on May 16th, Our Inner Lives: Spirit, Faith & Action. The event, which will be held at NYU's new Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life in New York City, is focused around the concept that caring for our inner lives makes us more effective in the outer world and, simultaneously, being passionately engaged in the world nourishes us inside. The event is a fundraiser for the non-profit organization I co-founded and am Executive Director of,, and features a keynote speech by best-selling author Marianne Williamson, a performance by Grammy-award winning artist India Arie, a multi-faith panel moderated by Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser as well as the presentation of an award to religious leader, international author and humanitarian Sister Joan Chittister. In line with the themes and purpose of the event, I felt compelled to ask some of the esteemed speakers the following question, to see what steps they personally take to nurture their own inner worlds. And, since I have often asked this same question during my interviews over the years, I added in additional responses I have received from other well-known luminaries I have profiled. It is my hope that their answers offer inspiration on how to stay grounded, so that you are guided by your calmest, kindest, wisest self.

Life is so busy for so many of us today. We have so many responsibilities and inputs that we often run on autopilot. What do you do in your own life to keep yourself centered, reduce stress and remain joyful and connected to your core?

"I spend a lot of time, or as much as I can, in silence and at home... I think all this zipping around the world is overrated. One of the things that I've learned is that I need to be more rooted, and so I've been working on that. I feel that has been so helpful to me -- to cut out movement wherever possible instead of going here and there all the time. Talking a lot less. Being much slower and much more grounded with my animals, with my friends. Staying extremely simple. Dancing more, too. Just learning to really, really love the ordinary -- that nice, well-made bowl of oatmeal in the morning and walking with my dog... just what is ordinary, what is simple and true."
- Alice Walker

"My 12 principles for happy life!
1. Breathe deeply.
2. Drink plenty of water.
3. Eat organic food.
4. Go to bed early and get up early ( try to sleep 7-8 hours)
5. Meditate and pray
6. Write daily diary
7. Walk in the sunshine
8. Work in the garden to grow flowers and vegetables
9. Get connected with loved ones including my true self and God/dess
10. Always study Tao of Life
11. Work for justice, peace, and the health of Earth
12. Celebrate life any time, any where.( Make sure to keep my sabbath)"
- Chung Hyun Kyung *

"You know what happens if you're completely still? Your mind -- that little tape that's running 'bup, bup, bup,' all the noise -- it eventually runs off the reel. And you have nothing left to think. All of a sudden, the answers are just there. I think we are way too busy, we are way too noisy... and we need some stillness in our lives. "
-- Melissa Etheridge

"The way that I keep my life balanced, energized and flowing is through my daily Sadhana (spiritual practice). I do 30 minutes to an hour of Kundalini yoga and meditation daily. This practice helps me reduce stress, connect to my inspiration and expand my electromagnetic field. When you meditate, life is much easier. "
- Gabrielle Bernstein *

"I just do the best I can and try to make some balance between what needs doing and what I can uniquely do. "
- Gloria Steinem

"This is a very important question in this culture and at this time, Marianne. Thanks for raising the issue again. In the first place, I live in a community of committed Benedictine women where periods of reflection, sacred reading and regular and daily prayer times interrupt the professional, the mundane and the social for the very sake of nurturing and nourishing the core. In the second place, I believe in delete buttons: my little parrot and my keyboard, my chess games and my reading list. And finally, however much I travel, however many speaking engagements or meetings I attend every year, I also make room for a regular rest period annually. Without all of those things, I can't imagine how I would have gone on so steadily and so long for so many years."
- Sister Joan Chittister *

"I meditate. Sometimes I meditate by sitting, sometimes I meditate by walking... I hike a lot outdoors. For me, sometimes, meditating is being on top of a mountain. But drawing inward and becoming still I think is the important thing. "
-- Jane Fonda

"I look UP. It sounds simplistic, but sometimes, just looking up into the sky (no matter what time of day) gives me perspective and can easily be transformed into exactly the prescription I need in that moment -- whether it be to feel more grounded, realize how small I am and give me humility or to truly appreciate life and all its wonder."
- Maria Ebrahimij *

"I take an hour-long walk in Central Park almost every day. I try to observe what the seasons are doing -- snow, flowering trees, falling leaves -- and get beneath the everyday hum of my life to what I am feeling and wanting. I like to watch what people are doing; what the animals are doing. I go to synagogue on Shabbat; prayer, meditation and music are healing for me. I go on retreat sometimes. And I work with my dreams, with a dreamworker and with a dream circle. Dreams provide us with a picture of what is happening in the soul, below the surface. We can see in our dreams when we're skating along the top of things and when we're getting to a deeper place of love and trust. "
- Rabbi Jill Hammer *

"I'm very lucky that I live in nature. I feel really blessed that I get to be in the wildness of nature because it reminds me of the wild parts of my mind and heart, and I do take time to just be alone in nature. I am grateful that I learned to meditate and do other spiritual practices starting at the age of 19, because I can at will calm the voices in my head. And that comes from having a practice and I highly recommend it. I recommend learning how to come into the presence of stillness and vastness. Learn any form of meditation. Spend twenty minutes every day if possible, in meditation, listening to the crazy monkey mind inside you, and learning how to still the thoughts and discover that big, deep soulful part of yourself. If you do that, it actually becomes something that you can call up at will in a hard meeting, on a crowded subway, in a difficult conversation - you can return to that still, wise voice within. Those are things I do, nature and practice."
--Elizabeth Lesser *

"I think for me, one of the best ways to do self-care is to surround myself with people who are real models of it and who are also really motivated to inspire me to do it. I also just think paying attention to my own body -- I really am one of those people who gets up from the computer when my eyes are going blurry and my back's hurting. And I just have tried to work on my own relationship with the idea of being productive and what that means, and honoring my need to go on a walk outside in the park... and doing yoga almost every day, because I find that that's something that really feeds me. And just having a lot of joy and fun in my life. "
--Courtney E. Martin

"I have a very demanding job that I love! I spend lots of time mentoring my staff, connecting with colleagues, and having conversations with people in my congregation. Connecting to their stories lights my soul on fire and gives me joy. It is amazing to see Spirit at work in people's lives. Often, and especially on weekends, my husband and I do this walking. We also have movie-fests almost every weekend. I love to read, and so I might immerse myself into a novel by Junot Diaz, a narrative by Isabel Wilkerson or Toni Morrison, or a memoir by Barbara Brown Taylor. I have a spiritual, therapeutic coach I talk to twice a month. I meditate and pray as I walk to work; every breath and the rhythm of my feet on the pavement help me focus and imagine the breath of God in and out of my lungs. "
-Rev. Jacqui Lewis *

"I try to put myself first. For me, I've had to do that. If I don't kind of put my own physical and emotional health first, then I'm not really useful to any movement, to any work of art, to any creative endeavor. I have to be aware -- not selfish and self-absorbed and self-obsessed -- but I have to be self-aware of what my needs are and be willing to take care of my own needs. "
--Kerry Washington

"I deeply value the time in my day when I meditate, and when I take a backward step and go into deep solitude at my hermitage in the mountains. These are times of renewal for me, where I have a chance to integrate the social and environmental transformation work that I do in the outer world. If I was just driving straight on as a social activist, without ever taking an inhale, I don't think I would still be alive. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and too often we feel like we have to exhale all the time. The inhale is absolutely essential -- and then you can exhale."
-Joan Halifax Roshi

"I'm always working on be-ing more than do-ing. Embodiment is my highest intention right now and my biggest struggle. It is so tempting to live in my head in a fast-paced culture. I try to listen to my body and take my cues from my heart and my gut. When I feel tension in my body and my breath is shallow, I know it is time to breathe, to pause, and to go within in the form of daily prayers, affirmations, meditations, visualizations, and breathing exercises. I travel with calming essential oils, relaxing tinctures and healing teas wherever I go. I also keep a list of affirmations and a gratitude diary on my iPhone to remind me to live more compassionately towards myself amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. There's something about the reclaiming of my body as sacred space that invigorates me -- I love the joyful defiance of it all. "
- Jamia Wilson *

* Indicates Our Inner Lives event speakers. For more information on the Our Inner Lives event, May 16, 2013 in New York City, click here.

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, In Style,,, the Women's Media Center, and many others. Marianne is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51 percent The Women's Perspective. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's web site and non-profit organization, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women. Marianne's forthcoming book, "What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power" will be published by Seal Press in Fall 2013. You can visit her website at

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