wellbeing zen stones: a balancing process

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This week was a bad mental health week for me. I felt like I was continually walking around with a dark fog around my head. I’d float from place to place — subway station to bus to home to gym to friends — and feel low-grade panic. My chest felt tight. Everything my mind touched felt clouded with doom and dread. My imagination was continually employed in concocting futures tinged with melancholy, suffocation, and loss.

By now, I’ve learned that this anxiety isn’t my de facto way of responding to uncertainty in my life. It’s just how I respond when things are hard, and I’ve neglected an essential part of my wellbeing. Those essential pieces — like eating regularly, or sleeping early — feel very small and inconsequential. But time and time again, I realize how they’re not.

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I lifted the dark cloud the way I usually do, though reflecting on my days, visually mapping out what happened, and bringing awareness to what needs I neglected. I found the triggers for my anxiety — not the objects of anxiety my mind was obsessed with thinking about — but the conditions surrounding it, which were:

  1. Sleeping late multiple days in a row

  2. Eating at odd hours, going long periods without eating

  3. Clutter in my home / workspace

  4. Being off my work / daily creative routine

  5. Having 6 intense social interactions in 7 days.

The last one was the hardest for me, because I’m an introvert who loves people. But I’ve learned that it’s like chemistry. Create this base environment, add a few areas of uncertainty and life stresses to the concoction, and I will slowly burn. My mind begins to eat itself.

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Yesterday, I created this wellness pyramid (right) while sitting at a crowded Whole Foods market in downtown Brooklyn. This morning I made it into a zen stone painting (left). The premise is this: what if there was a collection of metaphorical stones that formed the basis of our individual wellbeing? What if the life and uncertainties that happened to you were simply the addition of stones? If your stack was solid, you could deal with anything. But if one or two things were off, the whole structure might topple.

For, the toppling happens when my mind begins to feel like my worst enemy. I can’t breathe, create, think, or be present with myself, let alone anyone else. For you, being off balance might look and feel very different. Your zen stone stack might also look different.

But I have seen that there are some practices which form the optimal base for everything else.

The general order of priority

  • When I eat and sleep well, I have the most energy to exercise, and inner calm to meditate.

  • When I feel mentally and physically well, I can create my best work.

  • When I spend time on my life’s work, I’ll be able to indulge fully in self time (like reading, watching movies, or even shopping), and organize my life (home, finances, workspace, errands)

  • When I feel fully nourished and tidy, I can give and receive wholeheartedly in my relationships

  • When I’ve nourished my relationships, I can tackle bigger life challenges, questions, and miscellaneous issues with ease

Think of this as a very flexible concept. Of course, tidying up might help me with my work, enable me to meditate, or inspire me to go to the gym. And certainly, I still see friends when I feel like shit, haven’t done the dishes in two days, and didn’t go to the gym for a week. But usually those instances are when I need a friend to fish me out of a dark hole, rather than me being present for them 100%.

This zen stone stack is about seeing clearly on paper the overall structure that I need to be and feel fully alive — what I need to show up as my greatest self — for myself, and for the people I love.

Your wellness zen stone stack

I’m considering making this into a process kit (with paper cut-outs of painted stones) that you can order from my shop. (Let me know if you like this idea!) In the meantime, some questions to help you create your zen stone painting:

  • What does being “off balance” look and feel like for you?

  • How do you feel when your stone stack is solid?

  • What are the high priority stones in your life that get the most attention? (for me it’s my art and relationships)

  • What are the stones underneath support those high priority stones?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, you might like to check out my post, Self Care for Accomplishment Junkies and False Comfort vs. Nourishment. I’m an artist and writer using art as a tool to help us live and love more deliberately. You can sign up for weekly intimate artist letters (stories from my deep feeling life in NYC, and updates on art and work) here.


do you know a friend who might find serenity and joy in these ideas?
you could join me in my art & wellbeing mission by forwarding this post to them. thank you!