Mindfulness Based Practices
There is nothing other than this present moment; there is no past, there is no future; there is nothing but this. So when we don’t pay attention to each little this, we miss the whole thing.
—Charlotte Joko Beck, "Attention Means Attention"
Cultivate Pathways in your Brain that Support Living in the Here & Now
Every night, for seven nights in a row, spend time (5-15 minutes or more) recalling moments during the day where you felt present and open to the moment. They may be moments of joy, serenity, calm, love, beauty or simply a sense of heightened “aliveness” that you felt for just a few seconds. They could be with others or moments by yourself, but they must all moments where you felt embodied and present.
Focus your attention on each one of these memories--no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to you now. Connect with the sensations in the body and notice the quality of your heart and mind. Imagine that the experiences are melting into you, becoming an important part of who you are and a resource you can draw upon. Try to cultivate a feeling of gratitude for these moments, for taking the time to reflect on them, and reinforce your decision to develop the art of living in the here and now.
Every night when we sleep a process of consolidation occurs which allows us to forget unimportant things from our day and to store the salient events. When we attach meaning and gratitude to memories/events/reflections, we take an active role in making them salient so they become an integrated memory that is easily accessed. Neurons that fire together wire together, so when we pair an experience of being fully alive with a recognition of the importance and value of this experience we lay neural networks that will support more and more of these experiences.
Live in Acceptance Instead of Fear
For most of us, when life feels out of control our fear-based reaction is to fight, flee, or freeze. When fear dominates, our sense of possibility disappears, we withdraw, and we are restricted even within our closest relationships. At times, we pull back so much that we end up feeling separate from our own inner truth, wisdom, and heart. Unfortunately, these fear-based efforts to protect ourselves prevent us from dealing with difficult situations effectively, or worse, they escalate a conflict, leaving us in even more distress. It takes concentration and effort to overcome our impulses to withdraw from painful experiences. Mindful practices help us recognize and accept our inner experiences without shutting down, running away or freezing. It is when we stand in awareness and acceptance that we are able to turn toward our painful experiences and find a wise path through them.
Utilize Your Body's Wisdom
When we turn our attention to our senses and intuition, we tap into a limitless potential for expansion and engagement. We experience our lives through our bodies whether we are aware of it or not. We are usually so mesmerized by our ideas about the world that we miss out on much of our direct sensory experience. Even when we are aware of feeling a strong breeze, the sound of rain on the roof, or a fragrance in the air, we rarely remain with the experience long enough to inhabit it fully. In most moments, we have an overlay of inner dialogue that comments on what is happening and plans what we might do next.
"It's easy to get lost in the past,
which you can't change anyway,
or to get lost hoping for the future,
which is not yet here.
If you do that, it's like you're not really alive."
Then she paused and looked at me, her eyes shining, and said "I choose life."
Quote from "Faith, Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience" by Sharon Salzberg, p.15
Past, Present or Future?
I have often wished I could invent a scale that would measure how much time we are spending in the past or future as opposed to the present. Are your thoughts oriented toward the past, looking forward into the future, or balanced and focused in the present moment? Close your eyes and imagine what this scale would show you.
Are you falling backwards into the past
leaning forwards into the future
or balanced in the present moment?
If you are like most of us, you are spending far more time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or adrift in whatever preoccupies your mind than you are in the present.
To spend more time in the present moment, practice being mindful in different ways throughout the day:
- When you brush your teeth, keep your full attention on each stroke, swish and sensation related to this activity.
- Simply stop what you are doing and focus your attention on your surroundings, becoming aware of all the sensory details: color, air temperature, texture, sound, rhythm...
- Visualize yourself walking the teeter-totter of time. Aim to keep more of your energy and focus in the here and now, instead of on what has already happened, or what you imagine might happen.
Breath is a soothing presence and constant companion, that is both underrated and underutilized. Our breathe is deeply connected to our quality of life and, if followed, leads to feelings of well being.
Breath is a powerful resource that is readily available, but when we are tense, stressed, anxious, or afraid, our muscles constrict, and we take shallow breaths instead of full ones. Shallow breathing ends up depleting our brains of oxygen that in turn triggers a stress response.
Resetting our brains, along with the central nervous system, is simple:
Take three deep breaths.
On the inhale, attend to the feeling of the breath entering your body
while saying to yourself, "breathing in, I calm my body."
On the exhale, attend to the feeling of the breath leaving your body, while saying to yourself, "breathing out, I calm my mind."
Try this breathing practice throughout your day, and enjoy a little cleansing brain-shower that will rejuvenate your mind and body.
To deepen the calming effects of this exercise, you can activate a stronger parasympathetic nervous system response by emphasizing the exhale on each out-breath.
To maintain an inner sense of balance and calm, evenly balance the attention on both the inhale and the exhale.
"Sometimes all the change we need is to see things from a different perspective."
At times, we can do this on our own. Sometimes, a friend, a group, or a book can help us see things just a little differently. If you are already employing these strategies, and are still having trouble shifting your thoughts or feelings about something, therapy may be of great benefit to you.
Don't know how? Click on the links to download instructions for a few different types of meditation practices that help calm the mind and open the heart. In addition, there are many meditation centers that offer instructions on how to meditate.
Visit your local Vipassana (Insight) Meditation Center's website to learn more about meditation, resources, groups, workshops and much more.
Tanya T. Wiser, LCSW
Phone: (650) 269-8126