My morning alarm goes off, my eyes slowly open, and my mind starts racing like an auctioneer as I stumble into the kitchen. Start the coffee! Let the dog out! Feed the cat! Scoop the litter box! Get lunches made! Sign Isabella’s homework! Take a shower! Check emails! Put the waffles in the oven! “Honey! I need a towel!” shouts my husband from the bathroom, as I trip over the cat to look for one in the laundry pile. He looks perplexed as I hand him an oven mitt instead. I start laughing, wondering where did my mind go?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, says that mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. I don’t know if he has young children to get to school before his workday starts but he has my attention since he is internationally known for his work as a mindfulness pioneer. He says that if we notice what’s going on right now instead of living distractedly, we can reduce stress, improve health, become more productive, and experience more happiness.
Researchers say the average person has up to 70,000 thoughts a day and half of those are wandering and/or negative ones. We aren’t fully present, our work and relationships suffer and we aren’t able to find contentment when we’re caught up in ‘wandering mind’.
Do you know where your mind is? I invite you to try the following two-part exercise from ‘8 Minute Meditation’ by Victor Davich. Take a moment to read the instructions, give it a try and find out.
- Gently close your eyes.
- For the next minute or so, simply watch your thoughts. Just let them come and go.
- As you do this, note how much of your thinking is occupied with the past or the future.
- Gently open your eyes, pause, take a breath, and close them again.
- For the next couple of minutes, summon up the experience of something you really love: This could be anything from viewing a Matisse, hearing the sound of Joni Mitchell’s voice, or maybe something as simple as tasting your favorite chocolate.
- As you immerse yourself in this experience, focus full attention on what you are doing. Really see those vibrant colors, hear Joni’s sublime voice, taste that divine chocolate.
- When you’re done, gently open your eyes.
In which part did you feel more grounded, more present, more ‘here’?
In which part were you more relaxed? In which part did you experience more ‘mind chatter’? In which state would you prefer to be more often? If you found a preference for Part Two, you’re not alone. This is a ‘mindful’ state, the state of being ‘here’ now.
Do you want to have more meaningful relationships? Would you like to stay focused on the task in front of you? How about just remembering what you walked into the next room for?
You don’t have to be an accomplished yogi or learn how to levitate with monks in Tibet to begin practicing mindfulness. A good place to start is to begin ‘noticing what you’re noticing’. For example, are you able to pay focused attention to your spouse or child when you are also checking your text messages or emails? Do you savor your meals or often eat on the go? Are you alert while driving or spaced out with distracted thoughts during your morning commute?
Consider a few simple methods that take only minutes a day to develop more mindfulness:
- Set your cell phone with a daily text alarm to ask yourself “Where are your thoughts right now? Are they in alignment with what you’re doing?’
- Try the Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing” one-minute exercise to ease anxiety and get grounded. To start, inhale for a count of four, and then exhale for a count of four (all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath). Continue to breathe this way for a full minute. Feel better?
- Consider beginning a daily meditation practice. Start with 5 minutes of focused breathing or repeating a mantra or prayer. You can explore other methods and increase the time, as you feel ready. Consistent practice will help to ‘clear the mental clutter’ and also help you connect to a higher awareness. You may even be able to re-wire your brain according to Massachusetts General Hospital researchers who reported that an eight–week meditation program made measurable changes in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress!
If I can learn to ‘be here now’ I believe I have a real chance at finding more inner peace (and that clean towel too). What gifts might you discover by learning to be in the present moment?