Have you ever gotten to work, or school, or wherever you go, and not really remembered how you got there? This used to happen to me a lot. I would spend the morning, including the drive to work, thinking about what I had to do that day. And sometimes, I wouldn’t remember how I got to work! I mean, I knew I drove there and all, but I just didn’t really remember it because my mind was somewhere else. I think we all do this to some degree throughout our days. But when we live this way, we often miss out on some pretty cool things going on around us.
What if we practiced being where we are more often? There is a trendy term for this called mindfulness. To me, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to what is going on right now. Paying attention includes looking, listening, and feeling. This can be paying attention to outward or inward goings on. I’ve been practicing this for a while now and I can say that it has helped me in many ways, often with interesting and unexpected results.
I was first introduced to this idea of mindfulness through some Buddhists. Mainly through the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn. “The Miracle of Mindfulness” is a wonderful resource! Like I have said before, many things that Buddhism teaches can help anyone, from any faith, or non-faith, background. I think it was the Dalai Lama that said, “Don’t use Buddhism to become a Buddhist. Use Buddhism to become better at whatever else in your life you are doing already.” Well said. 🙂 Ok, back to mindfulness. There are endless ways to practice this. Let’s look at driving a car. As I’m driving I can say to myself, “I’m driving south on Front St, going 40 mph, I can hear the truck in front of me, and I can smell the exhaust fumes”. It’s that simple. Nothing forced, just taking a moment to notice what’s going on, right now. After practicing this for a while, there is something about being in the present moment that can be very calming. Dwelling in the past can bring regret, and dwelling the future can bring anxiety. I can get so used to mentally being in the past or thinking of the future that I never enjoy what’s going on right now. If I’m working on a project at work, and at the same time, thinking about all the other work I have to do, it adds stress. And it keeps me from doing what I’m doing now to the best of my ability. In today’s world, we love to multi-task. Mindfulness says to do one thing at a time, fully present to that one thing.
I would encourage you to practice this on the easy things at first. It’s easier to learn how to sail a boat when the water is calm that it is in a storm. It’s the same with being where you are, on purpose. Things like brushing your teeth, getting dressed in the morning, washing dishes, sitting outside watching the birds, or just breathing. I’m going to insert a few quotes from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” as I go here. “While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes.” “Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention. Enjoy and be one with your work.”
The breathing thing is a really good practice for mindfulness. What’s easier than breathing? It’s happening all the time, on its own, with no effort on our part. One practice that I like is just being aware that I’m breathing. What does it feel like as I inhale, and what does it feel like when I exhale. Something I learned from Hahn is to say this to myself as I inhale and exhale; “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out I smile. (Inhale) Dwelling in the present moment. (Exhale) I know this is a wonderful moment.”
So, we are paying attention, on purpose, to what is going on right now. Looking, listening, and feeling. This has also helped me in more challenging areas of my life. One of the most challenging areas for me right now is not drinking alcohol. I didn’t start drinking until later in life. I was probably 42 when I started. And I have enjoyed drinking. But, I’ve been drinking heavily for a while and have decided that I want to quit. I don’t see anything wrong with drinking, but for me, it is something I need to let go of. So I want to quit. I’ll tell you, it’s been hard! To quote a couple bloggers who write about this subject, “It’s fucking hard!” So, I’ve been practicing paying attention to the cravings when they come. Yesterday was really intense! Maybe the hardest day yet. But instead of fighting or resisting or trying to ignore the cravings, I gave them my full attention, without judgement. I looked, listened and felt. I started asking questions. What do these cravings feel like? Is there some place in my body that is feeling them? What are they saying to me? Obviously, they were saying, “I want a drink!” But as I continued listening, there was another “voice”, so to speak. Underneath the loud voice, there was a softer one, saying gently, “No, you don’t really want that.” And you know what, that was enough to get me through. I can’t really say that the cravings got any less intense, but just knowing that a part of me wasn’t demanding a drink gave me the strength to not give in. Does it work every time? No, not yet. Is it some kind of magic? Nope. I don’t claim to know how mindfulness does in me what it does, but I like it. It’s a practice that brings more peace and joy to my life.
This is a quote from the Plum Village mindfulness page: “Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.”
There isn’t anything spooky about it. It’s bringing your mind and body into harmony. This helps cut down on suffering in our daily lives. If I’m here, but I wish I was somewhere else, there is not harmony. It usually that means I’m dissatisfied with where I am and frustrated that I’m not somewhere else. That’s not fun.
Now, with all that being said, I also believe in balance. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing some day dreaming or remembering good and fun times we’ve had in the past. Learning from past mistakes and victories is a good thing. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking forward to future events. In fact, I have a trip coming up soon that I’m very much looking forward to. In 9 weeks from right now, I’ll be on a layover in the Phoenix airport on the way to my destination. Woohoo! 🙂
So I encourage you to live in that balance. Looking to the past, and to the future is part of being human. And sometimes, we need to do some day dreaming and let our minds wander around a bit. But I also think that a good dose of mindfulness each day will do us a whole lot of good.