When we are playing a game with our kids, sitting in a meeting, or driving around town, we realistically may be thinking about a zillion other things such as:
- What am I actually cooking for dinner? Did I get everything I need at the grocery store?
- Did I organize presents for all the birthday parties this weekend?
- When is the last time I had sex with my spouse/partner? Oh…that’s kinda long. Gotta fit that in soon.
- I really need to get back to my meditation routine.
- Why does it feel like my heart is palpitating? Could I be giving myself a heart attack?
If you have thoughts like this when your attention should be on the task at hand, you are not alone, and most likely you have learned how to act like you are present. You smile at your kids even though your attention is somewhere else. You nod at the appropriate times in a conversation or meeting, and you haven’t (hopefully) crashed your car yet.
But think about those moments, or maybe even hours where you are totally engaged, like when you are reading a great book, or watching a funny show, or laughing with your kids. You may notice that your mind didn’t wander at all. You were fully engaged in that experience, which in fact means you were being really mindful.
Most children have the amazing ability to be truly mindful naturally. When they are playing a game, they are typically in it 100 percent. They aren’t thinking about what’s for dinner, or their homework, or even what happened an hour ago.
The question is how can we be more like that so we can get the most out of our experiences?
It may help to first understand that our emotions give us clues as to where our attention is. If you are feeling sad or depressed, most likely your attention is in the past. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, most likely your attention is in the future. If you are feeling at peace, your attention is in the present moment.
It is impossible to think that we won’t ever be in the past or future, but we want the biggest chunk of our attention to be in the present moment. So how do we do that?
The first step is awareness.
When we notice that our attention has drifted from the task at hand, and is in the past or the future, we must choose to come back to the present. This is called a choice point in meditation, but it really can be any moment in time that your attention has drifted and you choose to come back to the present.
The second step is connecting to our body or breath.
Connecting to our body or breath is an ideal way to refocus our attention in the present moment. There are so many ways to do this, but here are a few of my favorites:
Do a quick body scan-start at your head and work toward your toes. Pay special attention to your facial muscles, your shoulders, and your belly. If you notice tension anywhere breathe into it and relax your entire body.
Pay attention to your senses– What can you feel, see, touch, hear and smell in the moment? For example, if you are washing your hands, notice what the soap feels like on your skin. What does the fabric of your clothing feel like?
Take three nice long deep breaths– It takes three deep breaths to begin to settle your nervous system. Really notice the expansion and contraction of your ribcage as you breathe.
The third step is practicing the techniques as well as self-compassion.
Truthfully, some days this feels easier than others. If you have an off day, don’t beat yourself up, simply commit to trying again tomorrow. I can assure you that the more you practice being aware and connecting to your body and breath, the more natural it feels, and the more you begin to crave it.
The more time we spend in the present moment, the more joy and connection we feel to our life. Practice these steps and see your relationships improve, and your overall feelings of contentment soar.
Hit reply and let me know your thoughts!