Another name for staying present is "mindfulness." It involves paying attention to what's going on in your life and inside yourself right this second. The scent of the flowers outside your open window wafting in, the sounds of your children laughing upstairs, the sight of your cat curled up and napping peacefully on an easy chair next to your desk, the grumbling of your empty stomach, the feeling of being rushed to meet a deadline--anything. You notice what's going on, enjoy your life, accepting it as it is, not reacting absently or negatively. It's the opposite of living on "autopilot."
There's nothing fancy about mindfulness. You don't need any special equipment. You can do it anytime, anywhere by taking some deep breaths periodically throughout the day. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, holding for a second between the two. You can practice mindfulness by silently repeating a mantra as well. Examples are: "Breathe," and "I am in a good place." You can also start by going for a walk and looking at and listening to what's going on around you. Stay present. Acknowledge negative emotions that come up but then let them go, and return to the present. Mindful eating is another great technique to adopt. Savor your food, chew slowly. Notice the taste, smell, and texture of the food you're eating. Are you eating because you are hungry, or because you are bored or worried? Notice the sensations you're experiencing without judgement, and then let them go.
Other mindfulness techniques include:
1. Losing track of time: Getting totally lost in what you're doing means you are super-focused on it. You're living in the moment. This is what happens to me when I write. I'm so engrossed in what I'm doing that I am unaware of what else is going on around me. I'm in "the zone." If Jim come in, bringing me out of that zone, I feel light-headed and admittedly, sometimes a bit grouchy. I like it in "the zone." You might be saying, well, I thought losing track of time was a bad thing. It's not advantageous when you're so crazy- busy that you don't know what is going on around you. You go from one chore or meeting to the other; you're in hyper-drive. Mindfulness is different. When I'm losing myself in my writing, I'm totally into it. I'm concentrating on the moment of writing, the pleasure of it. You can't force this state, it just happens. And, oh boy, does it ever feel awesome! That's the opposite of crazy-busy.
2. Move toward, not against, an antagonist: When you try to fight negative feelings, they tend to keep mounting, am I right? So, how about trying to face what's bothering you instead? Accept it for what it is in the present moment, feel it, own it, and then gently put it aside. For example, you've recently lost a loved one and the feelings of grief are so intense that you think you will never feel happy again. You just want this terrible feeling that has engulfed you to go away. Again, accept it, feel it, own it, grieve, cry, do what you need to, to heal, then move on.
3. Embrace the "newness": Do you travel the same route to work or school every day? Do you go for a walk at the same park all the time? This can cause mindlessness. It's the same old, same old; so much so that you don't even notice what going on around you. Time passes and you're suddenly at your destination and you don't remember anything that happened on your journey. It's time to inject newness into your routine. Make a point to notice changes along the way. Hey, did the neighbor paint his house? Wow, look at the way the sun is shining on those mountains! Doesn't that cloud formation look like a camel? I love looking at clouds to see what figures and faces I can find in them, by the way.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is accessible. Anyone can do it. There are also books and DVDs on the subject if you want to learn more about it.
There are many potential benefits of mindfulness including improved ability to face adversity; less worrying, over-thinking, and regret; reduced chronic pain and stress; increased happiness, self-esteem, empathy, and feelings of security, improved immunity function and sleep; reduced risk of heart disease; and increased perspective regarding irrational thoughts. It also encourages alertness and attentiveness and may be used as a weight maintenance tool. Mindful meditation is also used in the treatment of:depression, as well as eating, obsessive-compulsive, and anxiety disorders.
How about that! Something so relatively simple, yet it packs a powerful punch when it comes to improving our health and well-being.
- Staying in the present takes practice. It won't happen overnight. Be patient.
- Mindfulness requires letting go of what you want and just "being." Of course we want rewards, but we need to let go of those desires in order to reach mindfulness.
- Start out with 20 minutes of meditation and work up to about 45 minutes 6 days per week.
I admit my attempts at meditating and being mindful over the years have not been very successful. My mind insists on wandering all over the place. I haven't been able to stick with it for any length of time. Maybe I'll try it again sometime; or maybe not. I have the DVDs already. I just have to decide to do it. Or not. That's the way with anything, isn't it? We can do anything we want to do. We spend hours absently surfing the Internet, puttering around doing busy work, and watching TV. But dedicate 20 minutes to mindfulness? Nope, too much work; or too freaky. Okay, I hear you. But switching gears may be just what you need to shake things up and get on the road toward living a more fulfilling life.
Do you practice mindfulness? Do you meditate? For those of you who don't, I challenge you to give mindfulness and meditation a try, and I will too. I will report back again soon on my progress, and I would love to hear about your mindfulness journey as well.