When asked about being fully present and focused, my client answered something like this: I don’t know that I am ever present or fully focused. My mind is all over the place and my friends tell me I don’t know how to relax. I am a type A personality, and I am always busy.
I mentioned to him that being mentally and emotionally somewhere other than where he is physically, being engaged in thought unrelated to his present circumstances is anxiety producing because he is a man divided unto himself. Our mind-body-spirit is designed to be whole and fully present for each second of our life…to function in unity. When we are not fully present, when our mind and emotions are not at the same location as our body, we miss more than a few sentences of a conversation. When we are fully present and in the moment, we are aware of our natural mind-body-spirit responses to our experiences, our work, our relationships, our mistakes. There are insights for us: things we need to know about ourselves, another person, or our environment. There is personal growth information available in every breath, in every step, in everything we see, smell, hear, taste and touch. Sometimes we can learn these lessons by observing nature.
One day a very young squirrel climbed up the tree by my deck and stretched out on a slender limb for a nap. She looked around to see if all was safe, closed her eyes, put her front paws around the limb and held on for dear life, then instantly fell sound asleep. I watched fascinated. There are hawks that circle our neighborhood. I watch them wait in the trees sometimes and wonder how the squirrels and other small animals seem to know when one is there, even though their presence is almost invisible. But on this day, there were no hawks. No other squirrels were around to disturb her. She was warmed by the spring sunshine. She was content and fast asleep. Occasionally her little paw dropped a bit, and although sound asleep, she sensed it and grabbed hold again. After a few minutes she startled awake, just like a human child does when he or she falls asleep watching TV or eating lunch. After a few hits to the snooze alarm, she was able to keep her eyes open, ready to run and play. She scampered down the tree and ran off into the woods, ready for the next segment of her life. She did what any wise squirrel does before napping: she surveyed her environment, trusted her instincts, relaxed, and then slept.
The little squirrel lives a now focused, aware life. We humans struggle to achieve the same state of being. Many of us rarely experience in-the-moment relaxation and contentment. Why are we the only animal in creation that thinks we can out wit life, Mother Earth and Creation itself? We miss so many moments worrying and dodging the unpleasant. We dwell on our past, worry about our future, criticize the present, and judge others and ourselves harshly. We know our habits are not producing happiness and joy, but we don’t know how to create change.
Mindful awareness, now focused living, and positive thought set us free: liberate us from chronic stress. Here are some easy-to-follow tips that have the power to help you as you work toward a more conscious life. One of the goals of mindfulness is to create a stillness within so you can stretch out on a limb, fully comfortable and in the moment, nap like a baby, accepting self, exhibiting complete trust.
- Join a tai chi class. Tai chi teaches us to be fully present and committed to moment to moment awareness.
- Begin a walking meditation practice. Walking meditation asks you to take a now focused walk during which you concentrate on your breath and your relationship with your breath, your steps, and your relationship with nature and Mother Earth.
- Breathe consciously and try Gap Breathing. Gap Breathing incorporates two mindfulness skills: aware breathing with focus on the silent gap between the inhale and the exhale. That gap, or short pause, is our built in gift of complete silence.
- Begin to listen to your thoughts. Learn to recognize negative thinking by naming your negative thoughts: anxiety, fear, grief, sadness, embarrassment, unworthiness, frustration, disappointment. Gradually you’ll begin to catch some negative thoughts as they occur, and instantly re-frame them into positive thoughts.
- Notice your body sensations without judgment. Notice itching, aches and pains, areas of stress, and your physical response to your emotions. Once you begin to do this, you learn about yourself and your responses. Awareness is the beginning of positive change.
- Intentionally breathe through physical pain. Don’t start with the big stuff. Maybe you slept uncomfortably and woke up with a stiff neck. Maybe your shoulders feel tight. Notice the spot that is most uncomfortable and begin to breathe into it. Imagine yourself inhaling and exhaling through the area causing discomfort. As you breathe, be aware of the changes that take place within you, whether the discomfort eases, whether you become more accepting of the discomfort, whether the area simply loosens up and becomes comfortable.
- Practice Self-Compassion. Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel, accepting yourself as you are at this moment. Believe it or not, self-acceptance and self-compassion are necessary for positive change to occur.