FOUR SIMPLE ACTIONS THAT CAN GROUND US IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
Daily life can be hectic. Chores, kids, work, friends, relationships, traffic, health issues, we all deal with at least some of them and more often than not, they cause stress, anxiety and anger. Our tendency is to go through the motions and we dive head on into things with preconceived notions. We like certain things, dislike others, consider certain activities useful and rush through others because we deem them boring or meaningless.
When we settle into the present moment, we can see beauties and wonders right before our eyes […]. We can be very happy just by being aware of what is in front of us
It’s because of this discriminatory mindset that our general tendency is to go straight into automatic mode. Actions are performed by habit, mechanically and we don’t usually stop and pay attention to what we do. Our hands could be washing something while our mind is singing a song, or finishing an argument, or worrying about something. How many times are you actually focused on what you’re doing when it comes to trivial activities like cleaning, cooking, sitting, walking, taking out the trash etc? It’s not hard to catch ourselves lost in thoughts.
But what is the price we pay for that?
Zen monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains in this short clipa what mindfulness is.
In his book “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment” zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says: “ When we settle into the present moment, we can see beauties and wonders right before our eyes […]. We can be very happy just by being aware of what is in front of us”. Running from ourselves, from the present moment and from awareness keeps us from experiencing what IS right now. We usually become so busy we forget where we are, who we are and what we’re doing. We live between the world outside of us and the world inside of us. Our bodies can be in one place and our minds in various others and they might never meet during the day.
So how do we stay present? How do we unite the outer and inner worlds? What can we do during our daily activities to come back to awareness?
1. Remember your breath
Breathing is one of those activities that we take for granted, mainly because we don’t need to control it or do it willingly. It just happens and we’ve always done it. Most of the time we’re unaware of it. That is precisely why focusing on our breath for a few seconds is a great way of returning to the present moment.
So how exactly do we do that? It’s pretty straightforward: whenever you catch yourself lost in thought during any time of the day, stop and focus on your breathing. By “focus” I mean, follow it. Pay attention on how you inhale, how your lungs fill with air, how your chest inflates, the sensations inhaling produces in your nose or throat and the amount of air that your body pulls in. Allow yourself to feel all of it. Pay attention to how you exhale. Feel the air leaving your body, your chest deflating. Pay attention to that small gap between inhaling and exhaling when the body stops breathing and enjoy it. Repeat these steps for a few seconds. The point of this process is not for you to control the breathing, but to observe yourself doing it, to experience it fully.
This simple exercise snatches your right out of your thinking and firmly grounds you in the present moment giving your mind a nice break and allowing you to re-center and become aware.
2. Acknowledge your body
Becoming aware of our bodies is a great way to break the pattern of thinking. The idea is to simply perform a quick mental scan of the entire body. As soon as you place your attention on any part of yourself you’ll realize you become aware of it and its state in that precise moment. Start with the tip of your head, move down to the face, observe the position of your tongue, move to the back of your neck, notice if there’s any tension there, continue to the back, chest, legs and feet. Allow yourself to feel every part of yourself and to become aware of the placement of your limbs, the sensations in them, the connection between your feet and the floor, your fingers touching each other etc
The whole exercise should barely take a few seconds so you can do it at any point during your day without anyone ever noticing.
3. Recite a gatha
A gatha is a verse recited (usually mentally, not aloud) in rhythm with the breath as part of mindfulness practice, either in daily life, or as part of meditation or meditative study. The word comes from Sanskrit and literally means song or verse. The practice of gatha recitation is more common with the communities created by Zen monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Practicing with gathas can help us return to ourselves and to what is going on in the present moment. While there are Gathas provided in books written by Nhat Hanh or online in mindfulness and buddhist websites, we can always create out own based on our needs. It might be helpful to memorize existing gathas, a few at first, and more as you go on with the practice. So how do we practice gatha recitation? As you silently recite the first line, breathe in; and as you silently recite the next line, breathe out. When the gathas are finished, continue your activity, and you will find that your mindfulness has increased. You’re probably wondering what Gathas you could recite during your day. Here are a few examples:
Calming the Breath:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment!
Sitting here is like sitting under a Bodhi tree.
My body is mindfulness itself, free from all distraction.
Beings all over the Earth are struggling to live.
I aspire to practice deeply so all may have enough to eat.
Driving the Car:
Before starting the car I know where I’m going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.
The mind can go in a thousand directions,
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a cool wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.
4. Take a moment
Taking a moment is as simple as it sounds. It means literally to stop what you’re doing and observe the moment you’re in. Allow the eyes to see, the nose to smell, the ears to hear, the skin to feel, the tongue to taste. Your body has the ability to perform a complete scan of your surroundings in a fraction of a second so you can always take advantage of that. Whenever you catch yourself lost in thoughts, or you feel your mind drifting away, stop whatever it is your doing and re-center yourself in the moment by acknowledging first your location, then what you see, hear, taste and feel. Doing so allows you to realize that the moment you’re in is complete in itself while you experience it without judgment or discrimination. Simply be where you are in that precise moment. This exercise might seem way too similar to number 2, acknowledging your body, but there are considerable differences. In this case we actively watch, listen and feel in order to ground ourselves. It’s en exercise meant to place ourselves within our environment and in a particular moment whereas when we acknowledge our body we simply locate and recognize the existence and state of our physical parts.
There you have it. Four simple actions that we can all do to stay present during our day. The point of these is to snatch us out of automatic mode and help us be aware of ourselves, our surroundings and others. It’s sort of like pressing a reset button on ourselves or cleaning the cache memory on a computer. They provide a moment of clarity which at times is all we need to be able to continue our daily activities mindfully.
Are you practicing any of these? What other things do you do on a daily basis to sty mindful? Let us know in the comments or on social media.
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