Over Thanksgiving I was reflecting on the things I am thankful for. Besides my family and friends, I am also deeply thankful for a change that has happened in my life over the past few years. I am grateful for living mindfully.
When my daughter was a baby and toddler I would walk her through our garden and tell her each plant’s name. I would take her tiny hand and brush it across the leaves or pick an herb and let her smell it. Being so young did she understand what I was telling her, no, but it seemed like a nice multi-sensory activity to introduce her to the outside world. I mention this because it is one memory I have of being mindful, being present with my daughter in the moment. Many of my days as a young mom are a blur because I was just trying to get through the day.
Scrambled eggs. That’s how my brain felt. At 33 I was a business owner and a mom and my day was a blur of immediately hopping on my phone, answering texts, rushing out the door to get my daughter to school, making sure the day’s article got posted, then meeting after meeting, and then the night was devoted to a social event or a frenzy over what to do for dinner. At the end of the day I would find myself feeling like an etch-a-sketch someone had just shaken. Reading a bedtime story to my daughter became a nuisance. I was unable to concentrate on the words, restlessly hurrying through sentences not even thinking about what the story was actually saying, and eagerly glancing to see how many more pages there were. Any success as an entrepreneur or mother I had was never really enjoyed because I was never really present in the moment. I was always thinking about the NEXT thing. The next meeting, the next proposal, the next social media trend, the next event, the next distraction, etc. This was not how I wanted to live. In fact I knew this was not living. Somehow these tasks, these appointments, these invitations that had once given my younger self confidence and purpose, now felt insidious to my enjoyment of life.
When people value the next moment more than they value what is, they are dissatisfied with what is but they are hoping some other future moment is going to free them from this dissatisfaction. But the other moment never actually comes because when the so-called future comes, it appears again as the unsatisfying present. And so when you realize, OK, where is my life? Essentially, it’s here and now, and it will never not be here and now. And suddenly you pay more attention to this. -Eckhart Tolle, author Power of Now
A long to do list but no focus, a full life but no fulfillment, an abundance of joy but not really present to enjoy it. I was mindlessly going through each day.
Scrambled eggs. It’s a move we do in pilates class that when I first started it took every ounce of concentration to move my body and muscles correctly and I was lucky if I made it through the exercise. Now I look forward to that moment that I can zone into my mind and body and complete the movement. Pilates is just one of the many mindful parts of my day that I am so very thankful for. Five years ago I knew my brain was not suppose to feel like scrambled eggs, I knew something needed to change. I didn’t want to be that person who is too busy to sit still, who gloats about how many Christmas parties they had go to, who when in a room full of people scrolls through their phone to talk about what other people were doing on social media, who when their child runs up to ask them a question shoos them away to send a text, who has to reach for wine because this life is just too much to handle. I didn’t want a life filled with ego and distractions, I wanted life filled with wonder, beauty, and goodness. Like turning on a light in a room that had always been there, I became aware of being mindful. My life was a beautiful life, I just wasn’t fully in the present to experience it and therefore every day felt like time was just slipping through my fingers. I prayed to live more mindfully so that these beautiful moments weren’t just passing me by and I began to practice mindfulness every day.
What you’ll find is that the only thing you really want to feel in life is enthusiasm, joy, and love. If you can feel that way all the time, then who cares what happens on the outside? If you can always feel excited about the experience of the moment, then it doesn’t matter what that experience is. -Michael Singer, author Untethered Soul
Wake Up (To The World Around You) – Every morning we wake up but how often do we pay attention to our movements or do we simply just go through the motions? How often do we open our eyes to look outside and see the light change as the sun moves above the horizon? How often do we stretch in the morning to help our body adjust to movement? Dogs stretch every time they wake up, so why don’t we? One of the first mindful practices I started doing was being aware of my mornings, how my feet felt when they hit the floor, how my teeth felt after they were brushed, how that first sip of coffee was so hot against my lips, how melodic the inflection was in my daughter’s voice, how my husband’s kiss felt, how cozy my clothes are on a cold morning. The morning felt like a good place to start practicing being in the moment and being aware of my presence in the world. After sometime I wasn’t just experiencing mindful mornings I wanted to wake up even earlier to see the world come alive, to practice quiet time, to have time to write. And I noticed waking up early usually meant a more productive day.
Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35
It is no secret that many Saints and even Jesus woke up before dawn. A prayerful and productive morning gives a sense of accomplishment that you can carry throughout the day, no matter what else may go wrong. Just think if by 9am you have already taken time to pray, meditate, exercise, feed your family, and gotten some work done, your time throughout the rest of the day becomes much more flexible instead of constrained.
Art Of Noticing – Ever notice how on even given day we can go from dawn until dusk without really noticing the world around us? Our drive to work – a blur; our checking email – a blur; our rushing off to a meeting – a blur; our phone call with our spouse – a blur; our drive home from work – a blur; whether our child even finished their dinner and what time they went to bed – a blur. And while we were blurring through our day, this wondrous life was happening all around us. We have eyes but we do not see. Because in order to really see, you have to take time to notice.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour. -William Blake, poet
Start by watching your children play or taking time to watch the sunset with your significant other. Notice how bright yellow that Gingko tree down the street is in the fall, how your elderly neighbor works tirelessly in her yard, a bee busy gathering pollen. Don’t just glance but really look. The more you practice this, the more you will see beauty around you everyday. Soon you realize that what used it be mundane is actually miraculous. Each morning the sun rises up from the horizon and the world comes alive and if you take time to notice this miracle that happens everyday you will want to feel that energy everyday.
I see so many things now that I did not see before and the only thing that has changed is that I became more mindful of the world around me. Recently during a sunrise beach walk my husband and I were walking along the shore and I heard a splash. I looked behind us to see a dolphin swimming very close to shore with the sun rising like a bright red watermelon in the background. (If there was a rainbow for it to jump over it would have been as ridiculous as those airbrush t-shirts at Alvin’s Island.) It took my breath away and then we saw 3 more dolphins swimming along shore too – they were swimming, playing, and soaking up daybreak. These occurrences seem to happen all the time now, shooting stars trailing across the sky the moment we look up, a deer crossing our hiking path, a baby octopus crawling out of a shell, baby bunnies hopping through our backyard. My friend calls me Snow White and believes that these occurrences are out of this world, they are certainly extraordinary but available to anyone who takes the time to truly notice.
Starve Your Distractions, Feed Your Focus – Maybe you enjoy constant dings throughout the day, I do not. Maybe you enjoy being wrapped up in a 24 hour news cycle and scrolling through twitter endlessly, personally it makes me want to crawl into a closet and not come out until someone knocks on the door and tells me the internet is dead and humans won. With constant distractions provided by phones dinging, emails, and minute by minute news updates, it is not only hard to focus, it is downright impossible. The notification-saturated world of the the internet constantly attacks our focus.
Do you find yourself unable to remember something you read an hour ago or something your husband told you just a moment ago? Don’t worry, you’re not losing your memory. Your inability to remember is likely related to the level of concentration you used at that time. Concentration is key to memory recall. Another term for concentration – attention control. Good concentration is necessary for creating complete memories and lack of focus leads to difficulty remembering crucial and important pieces of information.
Several years ago I put my phone on silent so that the only thing that makes noise is phone calls. I also turned off notifications, because I noticed even those little flashes of light were distracting if I was writing, trying to help my daughter with her homework, having coffee with a friend, etc. Other ways to limit distractions, remember that your phone does not belong by the fork at the dinner table, your phone is not your pillow companion, your phone is not a guest that you bring to a party to hang out with other friends. Put your phone in its place instead of elevating it on a pedestal.
Meditation – Meditation is the number one way to practice mindfulness. It takes no money or special equipment, all you have to do is find a quiet place and dedicate 15 minutes or longer to freeing your mind of thoughts, deliberately letting each thought go until you achieve a state of pure mindfulness. It might take some practice to get used to the process, but once you do, you will notice yourself more hyper-focused each day. Meditation increases focus and concentration while also improving immune system function, improving interpersonal relationships, and reducing stress and anxiety.
Mindful Eating – If you’ve ever practiced any kind of diet whether it’s for weight loss, to control diabetes, prevent heart disease, or just a change in lifestyle, you have practiced mindfulness. Instead of mindlessly grabbing a pack of Doritos or rushing through the fast food line to scarf down a Whopper, you became very aware of what foods, chemicals, and nutrients you were putting in your body. This awareness of what you are putting in your body and your family’s body, and how it fuels the body to be the best it can be, develops a mindful understanding of what real food is and a stronger connection to this earth. Once you become more mindful of eating, you will become more mindful in other areas of your life.
Socialize – You’d be amazed what you can learn from someone simply by talking to them. My grandmother was one of those people who would talk to anybody and surprisingly even when she would visit me in the big city of Birmingham we would inevitably go somewhere where she knew someone. She loved talking. Get in the habit of talking to as many people as possible, no matter their status – talk to everyone, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and strangers alike. You’ll learn new things and new perspectives, all the while, developing your own ability to focus, learn, and analyze situations. Throughout your practice of this exercise, prioritize active listening over speaking. You’ll stand to learn and will be amazed by the conversations God seems to put in your life. I used to be one of those people who hopped in a cab and avoided conversation at all cost, but on a trip to New York year I hopped in a cab with a big smile on my face and the first thing the cab driver said was, “Awww smiles the window to the soul.” What proceeded from there was one of the most delightful conversations I remember having in recent years. He shared anecdotes and wisdom and I made him laugh. In that short time his goal was to simply to spread cheer. What if we all made spreading goodness and cheer our goal and understood the value in the stranger next to us?
Exercise – Exercise is shown to not only have benefits physically, but mentally as well. As an immediate benefit, exercise provides more oxygen-rich blood to your brain, giving you direct and temporarily greater mental stimulation. If practiced regularly, physical exercise is associated with better, more stable moods, increased focus and attention, and a host of other mental benefits. Although a simple jog three times a week is great in itself, some of the best exercises for mindfulness are pilates and yoga because they stress the mind and body connection.
This life is not a nuisance or a burden, it is a gift. A gift that we can receive every day when we are mindful.