It seems counter intuitive to have to "practice" being present, but this seems to be the nature of the human experience. If we let the mind go where it will, it goes everywhere but here!
We can become familiar with what kind of mind we have for the purpose of staying more present. In the present moment we are more steady and open to what is arriving, or what needs to be dealt with in a skillful manner. Not to mention, connect to the deeper meaning, beauty or invitation of the moment—this sacred moment.
Is your mind one that holds a plethora of discursive thoughts about the past? Or about the future? My mind tends towards the future most often, having struggled with anxiety for many years. My mind may want to catastrophize about what's wrong or could go wrong. The phone simply needs to ring unexpectedly and my first reaction is to think, "Oh, no, what's happened?" especially when it comes to my children or mother. I tend toward anticipatory anxiety when it comes to travel, deadlines, or big life events too. The practice of staying present has saved my sanity over and over again, and minimized unhealthy responses to what isn't true and may never be true.
That said, many people have minds that dwell on the past. They may swim in a sea of regret, anger or sadness minimizing the gift of the moment or its many possibilities.
It doesn't matter which kind of mind you have (and there certainly are other varieties, I'm simplifying here), only that you recognize it kindly, with warm-hearted curiosity, so you can know how to be with it in the most generous and skillful way. Ram Dass once said,"My thinking mind is a perfect servant and a lousy master." I tend to agree.
How do we invite the mind to serve us? I believe we invite it back to a place of neutrality—calm, equanimity— again and again. This is the practice. And it has been my primary practice for over 25 years now. My breath has saved me from my wild mind again and again.
Here is a practice for doing so yourself. I call it "Breathing for Well-Being." And here's an affirmation to go along with it. I hope it helps you stay connected to your wise self and sacredness of the present moment.
"Whenever I feel off balance, I bring my awareness to the earth, feel my feet upon its sacred soil, and allow its solidity to hold me in Presence."
(Excerpt below from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook)
Early spring sunset over the wetlands of mid-Michigan
I feel so blessed to live in a state with four seasons. It is this turning of the seasons, each with its unique splendor, that helps me stay present. Each day there is something new to notice and appreciate.
This week despite cooler temperatures, tiny crimson leaves are unfolding on the maple tree in our yard. The grass is greening ever so slightly. Canadian geese fly overhead, honking their way home to Canada. It is these small indicators of "holy newness" heralding spring that invite me to stay firmly rooted in the present moment because I don't want to miss a thing.
In observing the well-time cycles found in nature,
*Excerpted from Awakening the Spirit Within.
On any given day, in any given moment, what brings you back to center, to the magic of the moment so you can create memorable “Kodak moments”?
Moments like these are often triggered by an event that stirs the heart: a tender word, an image, a musical score, a sunset, a child, one of nature's creatures. The list of what can "make the heart quiver in response" is long and varied.
No matter what that trigger is you can be grateful for it. Grateful that you were awake enough to pause and pay attention. In a pivotal moment of noticing, you return from living on auto-pilot to a place of wide-open awareness. And if you are truly paying attention, you may be lucky enough to embrace timeless beauty or boundless compassion—the privilege of being human and walking upon this precious earth.
Doing something you absolutely love naturally "raises your vibration" and lands you in the lap of well-being. You've probably noticed this yourself. When you are engaged in something you truly enjoy, there is no sense of time or struggle. Perhaps even conscious thought is absent. You are just "being" in the moment.
Because each of us is unique, we'll have different activities that raise our vibration. From mountain climbing to sun bathing to tending the garden, we can each find and regularly engage in activities that root us in calm.
Take time to ensure that you know what activities or hobbies immerse you in feelings of timelessness, purposefulness, and inner peace. Then, give yourself permission to engage in the—regularly. Remember that you are a "human being," deserving of leisure and enjoyment, not simply a "human doing."
When was the last time you allowed yourself to simply "be" with yourself, doing something you loved?
It is healthy to slow down, to give yourself well-deserved R & R—rest and relaxation. Author Robert Gerzon explains in his book, Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, that our bodies are not intended, nor constructed, for such fast-paced living.
As a passenger on the train of life, you may often move through your days at breakneck speeds. And when you do, this speediness is felt in your mind as racing thoughts, stress and anxiety. It manifests in your body as health disorders —heart arrhythmia, headache, neck and shoulder pain, digestion woes, and more. When you slow down, you immediately feel better; your body and mind tell you so.
The only thing we really need do is slow down and listen—intently, deeply—and trust our body's wisdom. We'll instinctively know what to do or not do to be well. But first we must slow down enough to listen. Are you listening today?
I've been doing a lot of traveling lately. And by my own admission, I am not the best traveler. I like my home and the comfort of familiar surroundings. Over the years, I've tended toward travel anxiety (after a few harrowing experiences), and so it's supremely important for me to feel present within myself wherever I am.
I also believe that each moment is sacred and when we are traveling, the Sacred Itself can rise up to greet us in unexpected ways. When it does, if we are not open and willing, we can miss wonderful opportunities to connect, dabble in wonder, or dive into beauty. One of the best ways to ensure this sublime state is to "be here now."
“Be here now” is a term that came to the forefront in the 1960s with the teachings of Ram Dass, a Harvard professor who traveled to India to study meditation. His book of the same title stirred the hearts of thousands of people who longed for a calmer, less frenetic, more meaningful experience of life. I have adapted this term to mean not only a mindset, but an actual practice that we can use when we need to be fully present, both to ourselves and to our current experience. When we are fully present wherever we are, we feel more at ease in our body and in our world.
To practice “being here now,” bring your attention to your physical form. See if you can cultivate a feeling of actually being inyour body, fully inhabiting it; tuning in, as mindfulness educator Jon Kabat-Zinn says, to “the envelope of your skin.” Feel yourself simply being a living, breathing body.
Begin a slow and methodical process of bringing your awareness to each major body part, beginning with your head and moving down to your toes.
For each organ or appendage on which you focus your attention, take a complete breath (inhale and exhale) and say to yourself, “Be here now.” Pause and rest into that body part before you go on to the next one.
For example, when focusing on your thighs, feel them pressed into the chair. When focusing on your hands, feel them open or fisted. When focusing on your feet, feel them resting on the ground. By repeating “Be here now,” you will more firmly inhabit your physical body and be fully present in the world. Take your time, moving gradually from brain to bowels to the bottoms of your feet.
The point is to be fully present to yourself in your body in this very moment with no other agenda other than to be more fully you. Feel yourself just as you are: sitting on the bleachers watching a football game, lying in bed, sitting at your desk.
With time, with practice, you can “Be here now” within just a few minutes. This practice, like any other practice, gets easier each time you do it.
For me, "Be here now" practice is one of the very best things I can take with me wherever I go—portable peace! It helps me minimize anxiety and stay attuned to the Sacred within me and all around me because I don't want to miss a thing ...
Adapted from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook
©2015, Janice L. Lundy.
All Rights Reserved
In last week's post I wrote about holding presence for yourself. Here's the thing. It's much easier to hold presence for yourself when you're feeling good and things are going well. It's not so easy when life gets difficult. In fact, it can get downright hard.
When I find myself struggling with a mood, dealing with bad news, or unexpected outcomes, I try to remember what a wise Buddhist teacher once wrote: "Life is so very difficult, how can we be anything but kind?" The being kind part, in this case, is pointed toward myself.
Self-directed kindness may take the form of compassionate breathing, stepping away from a situation, setting a healthier boundary, resting, taking a walk to move swirling energy from one's body ... there are so many ways to be kind to oneself. So many! Hopefully, we can pick one that can turn us back toward a little bit of equanimity.
But if we can't, there we are. We're stuck. In the muck. In the yucky feelings. And that is not a pleasant place to be. But it's part of being human, not perfect, and so when we are up against the wall of ourselves, let it be. In time, the feelings will calm down. They'll move on like storm clouds across a Texas plain.
Sometimes we just have to wait out the difficult moments. Kindly waiting, breathing, being. This can be good enough. No need to beat ourselves up that we couldn't get over it faster. No need to criticize, feel shame or guilt. We bit the hook as Pema Chodron teaches and what happened happened.
Let's not be afraid of difficult present moments. Let's meet them as best we can with gentleness, trusting that we can begin again when we feel a little more clear, a little stronger, a little wiser. Tomorrow is another day.
I recall sitting on a bench in the Meditation Gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, CA in 1999, tucked in amongst giant palms and soft ferns, journaling these words:
Living in the present moment takes full effort and concentration.
I knew when I recorded them they were "a gift from beyond." I've carried these words in my heart for all the years since then and they never fail to point me back towards what matters most—to be here, now.
How easy it is for us to lose our way, to spend our energy unwisely, supremely focused on the past or the future. Granted, reflection on what has gone by is fine; reliving beautiful memories is wonderful too. Learning from mistakes, so wise!
Leaning into the future, exploring infinite possibilities, can be beautiful as well—the stuff of dreams—and we are definitely meant to dream.
But when we lose our equanimity and fall with misery into either camp (regret, worry, anxiety), we lose touch with the glorious gift of the present moment. This precious moment. This moment. This.
When I am able to stay attuned to this glittering jewel, fully embracing its one-of-a-kind gifts, the present moment holds everything—past and future, what's gone and what's yet to come—and in that generous holding, I am at home in the world. I can breathe. All is well.
The same can be true for any of us. For you.
Today, may you find comfort and ease in the present moment. May you be well, at home in yourself.
Photo courtesy of encinitastemple.org
The aphorism above became an entry in my book Awakening the Spirit Within. It's now out of print but used copies are available at Amazon.com.
Without exaggeration, it's safe to say that a tiny yellow book titled, Slowing Down in a Speeded Up World, pretty much saved my life. At the time, I was operating like the cartoon character, Speedy Gonzalez, the Mexican mouse, living on overdrive. Author Adair Lara was the first wise woman who gave me permission to get off the fast track and begin to live in a way that was more grounded and slow.
In truth, everything is speeding up these days. Even time seems to race by. That speediness is definitely felt in our bodies as stress, in our minds as racing thoughts, and in our emotions as overwhelm or disconnection. I do not believe we are meant to live this way. Moving so quickly we miss the magic and meaning of life.
Moving quickly also sends constant messages to our body-mind to be on alert (hurry! move! get going!), and what this does is create a continuous stream of cortisol moving through our body. Cortisol is a hormone that is released into our bloodstream when stress is activated. In regular doses, it's necessary and good for body health. Too much cortisol, surging through regularly, is not a good thing, and will ultimately take its toll on us.
The bottom line is we can't be healthy (body, mind and spirit) when we are always struggling to keep up. More and faster is not better. It is up to each one of us to find the pace of life that suits us best, and, more specifically, one that truly nourishes us. Going slow is not a bad thing, it's a mindful thing, and one that, when fully embraced, will allow us to experience the world in a whole new way.
Author Robert Gerzon explains in his book, Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, that our bodies are not intended, nor constructed, for such fast-paced living. As passengers on the train of life, we often move through our days at breakneck speeds. This speediness may be experienced in our bodies as anxiety and other stress-related disorders such as heart arrhythmias, headaches, and insomnia.
When we do slow down or come to a screeching halt, we immediately feel the difference. Our bodies and minds tell us so. If we could just listen more intently to the signals our body-mind sends, we would instinctively know what to do (or not do) to be well. But, first, we must slow down enough for inner listening to take place.
You can begin slowing down by actually changing your pace. You can choose to walk more slowly—from the car, through the parking lot, into the store. You can walk more purposefully by looking up at the blue sky or at the green trees, instead of robotically downward. You can do things mindfully, with full and present attention, instead of multi-tasking. As Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh advocates, when you are washing the dishes, just wash the dishes.
Any practice that roots you more deeply in the present moment will help you become aware of how quickly you are moving through your day. It will also help you discern how satisfying this feels and if the pace of your life needs to be altered to meet your deepest needs.
Adapted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy
My new blog post for Spiritual Directors International:
It was my 18-month old daughter who deepened my experience of wonder. As soon as she could toddle, her chubby little legs carried her outside to explore the big, wide world.
I can still see her in my mind’s eye, crouching down in the grass to point her tiny finger at any number of nature’s surprises: ants busily building a house, fragments of a pale blue robin’s egg, the delicate tapestry of Queen Anne’s Lace. “Look, Mama,” she would say, “isn’t it pretty? Come see!” And she would continue to crouch and wait until I did the same. Every waking moment of her day, all she wanted to do was go outside to explore nature’s handiwork. This little soul lived in a world of wonder. (Continue reading here)
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.