We live in the Age of Distraction. Yet ironically, the success of our future is influenced by the ability to pay attention to the present.
The behaviors of being still and slowing down are not only dismissed but carry the reputation of being unproductive, a waste of time, even lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. By slowing down and being present, our ability to see our situations with more clarity improves, as does our mental resilience and flexibility. Some of the most profound moments come from watching the grass grow.
Mindfulness is in part about observing the ‘monkey mind’, the constant chatter that is ever present. Instead of directly trying to quiet or calm the mind (because lets face it, this is very difficult to do), it is more about looking at the spaces between thoughts. Living in the moment is a very active state. It is the the practice of being active, open, and placing intentional attention on the present, so that you are not dwelling on the past or projecting into the future. When this is practiced you become an observer of your thoughts from moment to moment without judgment, neither grasping a thought or pushing it away.
Most of us are constantly running away from something or towards something. For example, not wanting to deal with argument that you got into yesterday with your partner or counting down the days left before you leave for vacation. Of course we all have mundane tasks that we would rather not do, as well as having things we look forward to. If you are able to stay in the present moment, accept what is in front of you, take some deep breaths, re-center your attention, watch your thoughts as they rise and fall, you will be able tend to the task at hand in this moment, rather than being caught up in the past or the imaginings of the future.
So why do we want to do this? This non-judgmental awareness of the present imparts several benefits. It has been shown that mindful people are happier, more enthusiastic, more empathetic, and more secure. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the impulsiveness and reactivity that may underlie attention problems and binge eating. Mindfulness reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune functioning, and reduces chronic pain. An article in the Washington Post taught the beneficial effects of mindful meditation for war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
We need to keep in mind that mindfulness is not an end goal. We don’t achieve mindfulness, we practice it. There are more formal ways of practice such as mindful meditation, but don’t let this intimidate you. Simply set your intention to pay attention to what is happening right now. You can perform any task in a mindful way. You are basically doing the opposite of multi-tasking (which none of us can really do efficiently anyway). The very act of being present, focusing on the here and now, will paradoxically improve your ability to manage more things with less effort.
Here are here are a few ways to practice being in the present.
Who doesn’t worry about the future? As Mark Twain said, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Anxiety about the future is often driven by imaginings and fear. Some suggest setting aside to ‘just worry’ in a non-judgmental accepting way. If you can sit with the sensation in the here and now, usually the anxiety will start to dissipate.
When you find yourself feeling consumed with thoughts of the present or past focus on your breath. This is a centering exercise that will bring you into the present and into your body. there are several breathing techniques. One of my favorites is belly breathing: Put one hand on your belly and the other on chest. Breath in through your nose and feel your belly expand and your hand rise. Hold for a few seconds and exhale.
Give your self a break
This doesn’t need to take up hours in your day. For as little as 15 minutes, set aside some time where there is little distraction. Turn off anything that beeps, rings or buzzes. Stop the knee jerk reaction to check your cell phone/computer or electronic devises. Tend to yourself verses others around you. What are your senses telling you? If you tap into your senses you will be amazed as to how often you perform things on auto-pilot. A common habit is to eat meals while surfing the Internet, working or watching TV. Try not doing this. Eating mindfully will no only improve your digestion, but you will enjoy your food in a completely different way.
Nina Paroo, ND