“Life is found only in the present moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
If there is one thing we human beings love to do, it’s prepare for our future and dwell on our past. Unfortunately, when our view of the past and future isn’t pleasant it leads to suffering. This resentment and anxiety is where many of our negative expectations and perspectives come from. We tend to focus on all the concerns and worries that plague our life, and become preoccupied with past regrets. This is because we are highly motivated at the basic level to avoid pain at all cost. When we become emotionally upset or feel threatened in any way we can react without awareness based on fear. When we lack this awareness we are at the mercy of our “monkey mind,” where thoughts are jumping from place to place out of our control. When in this state we are living on autopilot, and our thinking and emotions are driven by external events, past conditioning, and set programming. Fortunately, there is a simple yet difficult solution – present moment awareness through mindfulness. This is not “living for the moment” where we act spontaneously on impulsive urges, but is the opposite, where we are “living in moment” with mindful awareness of our present experience. Mindfulness helps us be present and aware of our emotions and thinking no matter what the circumstances. This is crucial when going through a difficult experience, and for navigating the much more complex and rapid world of today. Mindfulness can help us cope with stress, realize greater fulfillment, and manage change and transition with calm resolve.
4 qualities for developing mindfulness
Being non-reactive to inner experience – When we have distressing thoughts and images, we can notice these without reacting or getting caught up in them. Observing and attending to thoughts, feelings, and perceptions – During emotional moments learn to become aware of changes in our body, such as our breathing or heart rate, as well as any racing thoughts that emerge. Describing and label with words – Having a vocabulary to describe how we feel and the perceptions we have can help us become aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Nonjudgement of experience – Practice accepting your thoughts and feelings for what they are. There is no right or wrong way to think or feel. We just want to be aware in order to respond in a healthy manner.
How to be more mindful and stay present
Savor the present moment Whatever you are doing, practice being fully aware of the experience. Use your five senses to enhance the experience and make it notable. Focus on the sensations involved whether taking a shower, brushing your teeth, eating a meal, etc. Focus on your breathe This is a great distraction from our mindless thinking, and a good starting place to stay in the moment. Simply concentrate on your breathing as you inhale and exhale, and say to yourself, “I am breathing in” and “I am breathing out.” Repeat this over and over again. Fully engage in what you’re doing Look at things in a new way. Be open to what you experience and don’t try to avoid the emotions involved. Avoid being on autopilot by changing your routine and forcing yourself to stay alert and try new things.
Learning to stay mindful through pain and suffering – My Connection
As I mentioned in my previous post, my puppy was determined to have congenital kidney failure last week. We knew he didn’t have long and were holding out hope until the end. Unfortunately he got progressively worse. He wasn’t eating or drinking and it became difficult for him to walk. We had done all we could do, and it was time for him to pass on. It can be difficult staying in the present moment after experiencing any sort of loss, and sometimes we don’t want to. It’s certainly important to grieve and process our feelings during something like this. However, this was the first significant loss in my life since I began studying and practicing mindfulness, and it offered a profound situation for growth emotionally and spiritually. Despite immense sorrow from this loss, (and being in the hole $6,000 from vet bills) I believe mindfulness helped me remain balanced emotionally and to alleviate much of my distress from the whole experience. Not only did mindfulness help me deal with the moment to moment circumstances, it also helped me gain perspective on the situation.
What I learned from my loss
Life is not always fair We all must come to this realization at some point. When we assume that everything is fair it will lead to suffering and disruptions in our life. I believe in a benevolent universe, though recognizing that our expectations will not always be met, and that complaining will get us nowhere is an important understanding. Remember the Stockdale Paradox We want to keep our faith and hope alive, but be aware of excessive optimism. Having a realistic outlook can help us from getting discouraged if our hopes do not materialize. We want to expect the best to happen without neglecting the brutal truth that there is a serious problem. We are free to choose our attitude in any situation No matter what we go through, or what life circumstances we experience, we are free to choose our attitude. Sometimes altering the way we look at something is the best medicine. Relationships are the most important thing in life During moments where our relationships are in jeopardy, not much else matters. We forget all the things we “need” to do and recognize that life would be pretty meaningless without others to share it with. Everything is interconnected The incarnation of my dog was purposeful and his death was meant to take place at the time it did. For me, it allowed the development of greater compassion and empathy, along with a greater understanding of this oneness. Life must go on when loss occurs. Stress and emotional pain is something we will experience, though overwhelming suffering doesn’t have to be. Don’t let life’s tragic outcomes dominate your view of the world and your ability to embrace the joy in the here-and-now. Reference Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). “Using Self-Report Assessment Methods to Explore Facets of Mindfulness.” Assessments, Vol. 13, 27-45. Photo by: ShedBOy^