The practice of mindfulness being present for your life
By Diane E. Lykes, LCSW
“Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle”. Thich Nhat Hanh
Years ago at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, led a group of 100 people on what appeared to be a simple walk through a garden. Omega co-founder Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen observed Hanh: “the way that he was walking made it seem that with each step he was kissing the earth. He was totally present, obviously immersed only in the act of walking. I could almost feel him savoring each moment, feel the sensation of grass on sole, feel the way his body seemed at one with each moment. He was present in that walk. At that moment, nothing else mattered; he was living only in the now.”
A derivative of Buddhist teachings originating more than 2,500 years ago, “mindfulness” refers to being aware of and paying attention to the moment in which we find ourselves. Our past is gone, our future is not yet here, and what exists between them is the present moment.
Why is this practice so important? Living in such a fast paced, multi-tasking, 24/7 world has led many people to feel they are not fully experiencing their life. It may feel easier to “go through the motions” of our day, but this is not where our deepest fulfillment can be found. In order to feel fully alive, and experience all that life has to offer, we need to return to the present moment as often as we can. Here are some suggestions to do just that.
Mindfulness meditation. The practice of meditation is based on using the breath, an object, a sound or a visualization to increase awareness in the present moment. The benefits include reducing stress, promoting relaxation and enhancing personal and spiritual growth.
It is commonly thought that meditation means stopping all thoughts and resting your mind in a thoughtless place. Having many thoughts during meditation is generally expected. The goal of meditation is to gently bring your thoughts back to your breathing when you notice you are distracted.
There are many different types of meditation, but we will focus on the practice of “mindfulness meditation”, which comes out of traditional Buddhists practices. In this type of meditation, the meditator sits with eyes closed and focuses their attention on the sensations and movement of the breath for approximately 45-60 minutes at a time, once a day.
It may be overwhelming to think about sitting for this length of time so start small. Just allowing yourself 15 minutes each day will significantly affect how you feel.
Begin your meditation practice by sitting on a chair, a cushion or on the floor. Sitting upright is best in order to stay alert and resist the urge to fall asleep.
Simply watch the breath and silently repeat the word “rising” with the in-breath, and the word “falling” with the out-breath. Your mind will likely resist and your thoughts may begin to race. You may feel bored and have the strong urge to get up and get moving again. Don’t give up! Meditation takes practice and each session will produce a different experience.
In his classes, Dr. Rechtschaffen tells his students: “Sit quietly. Breath deeply. Watch your breath. Count your breath. Experience it. Come home to it. Sit and breathe and let time flow, with no engagement of your mind, no thoughts – just awareness. Take your time. Don’t run. Impatience signifies denial, boredom signals fear.”
Make time to be alone each day. Every human being on this earth needs time to themselves every single day. Parents often find this very difficult given all the demands on their time, but they also recognize that this is one of the things they long for most. Time to just “be”.
At preferably the same time each day (perhaps before your family wakes up in the morning or for 15 minutes in the evening) take time to do something for yourself or to just do nothing. Contemplate, write in a journal, read, sit in nature, enjoy a cup of tea—whatever makes you feel most in tuned to yourself and the most relaxed. All of these practices are restorative and provide more opportunities to be present in your life.
Experience the mundane. Zen philosophers often remark that we miss much of our life when we only focus on the “highlights” of our day rather than all the things that happen in between. It may be difficult to get excited about doing dishes, paying bills or driving to work, but these tasks are a part of our life.
If we can learn to be present for even the mundane, we can certainly learn to be present for the more enjoyable aspects of life. For example, the next time you eat an orange try enjoying the entire experience, from peeling the fruit to smelling the orange scent to fully tasting the citrus flavor in your mouth. Be present for the entire experience and it may be the best orange you ever had!
But don’t forget to be spontaneous: Appreciating the mundane parts of our day doesn’t mean we forget to break up our routine once in a while. A single act of spontaneity will bring us quickly into the present moment and create more joy in our life.
If you are finding your life full of only routines and scheduled appointments, considering shaking it up a bit and adding an unexpected day trip or a “scheduled” appointment in your work planner to take the afternoon off with no actual plan in place.
Get in your car or on your bike and ride away to wherever your spirit takes you.
On your path toward mindfulness you will find not only a greater appreciation for the world around you, but a greater connection to your true self. Deeper fulfillment and joy await you as you bring yourself into the present moment.
“We can just sit on the grass and open our eyes. The beautiful sunrise, the full moon, the orange, all these things reveal themselves to us when we are truly present. The blue sky is for us. The white clouds are for us, as are the trees, the children, the grass, and the loving faces of our dear ones.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. Synergy is a unique counseling practice providing compassionate, solution-oriented treatment for adults, children, adolescents and families. She can be reached at 466.3100 or email@example.com