How often are you really here, in the present moment of your life. My guess is that like most people you are almost never really present. You are either thinking about the past, both good and bad, or you are worrying about the future. Many of us are so disconnected with what is actually going on in our present lives, that we really miss out on living.
We get wrapped up in our thoughts (which aren’t real, they are just thoughts) and we fail to see all of the beauty in what is truly around us. You may be sitting there thinking, “why does this matter?”.
It matters because our thoughts are usually what causes us the most stress, not what is actually taking place. We can think back on the past and beat ourselves up over mistakes we made, opportunities we let pass by, or we can be angry at those who caused us pain. This does us no good whatsoever. Thinking about the past only forces us to cling to something negative in our lives that isn’t even real; it already happened.
Thinking too much about the future is a problem, too. While it is good to make plans, we often get worried about the “what-ifs”. Again, these are just thoughts, there is no predicting the future. We can drive ourselves mad if we think about the future as if it is happening (when it really isn’t). There is no benefit in worrying about the future when it hasn’t even occurred.
Worrying too much about the future takes away our ability to be open to opportunities in life. If we pigeon hole ourselves into thinking we can predict the future by worrying about it (in a manner of speaking), we close off all of the wonderful things that could happen to us.
Lately, I have been very interested in this topic, which stems from Buddhist philosophy and gives rise to something called Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of learning to be in the moment. You allow yourself to have thoughts (which is natural for all of us), but as the thoughts come to you, you take a moment to acknowledge them without judging them (very important) and then bring yourself back to the present.
Last week I attended a workshop in Mindfulness Meditation at Canyon Ranch and we did a very interesting activity. We went for a walk outside in the snow, and for half of the walk we focused only on our foot steps. We were instructed to focus on the three parts of a step; the heel strike, the ball strike, and the push-off. We walked very, very slowly (I kept losing my balance). As I walked, I looked down at my feet and tried to think only of the three steps. It was hard, but any form of meditation takes years and years of practice (so if you try this at home, don’t be hard on yourself for having racing or wandering thoughts; it’s normal).
For the second part of the walk, which I personally enjoyed better, we were allowed to look up and notice all that was around us. It was hard for me because the winter time and snow in New England stir up a lot of memories for me. I realized during this exercise how often I allow myself to be wrapped up in past moments due to how much the environment reminds me of events. There is a comfort in some of my pleasant memories of the past.
Remembering these types of moments is not bad, not bad at all! But in meditation we must bring ourselves back to the present. So I looked around and noticed the snow on the pine trees, the animals scurrying around, the smell of the air (love the smell of winter), how the breeze felt on my face, and the natural lighting around me. It was very peaceful.
The nice thing about this type of meditation is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need to break out the yoga mat and find a quiet place. When you get caught up in your thoughts and feel your stress or anxiety levels rise, remind yourself to focus on something real that is around you and bring yourself back to the present moment.
For some people this can be the simple act of breathing. Don’t just focus on your breath, but focus on how you feel when you breathe, all of the sensations you feel in your body. My preferred focus lately is trees. I really like trees and I like to look at the leaves, the designs in the bark, the height of the trees, and so forth.
Oddly enough, I have been doing the act of mindfulness meditation for years and never knew it. I discovered early in life that solving math problems was enjoyable to me because it forced me to focus on one thing (solving a problem), and when I would work on a math problem I wasn’t thinking about things in my life that were upsetting me, I just focused on the math problem. Pick something that works for you.
Life doesn’t have to be so stressful. Don’t allow your thoughts and worries to trump what is really there. Be calm, be in the moment, enjoy the beautiful world around you, and be open to positive possibilities.