Lots has been said lately about mindfulness, meditation, presence, being “in the moment”…and if you are anything like I have been for most of my life, you are confused. I had a roommate who set her alarm so she could wake up early and meditate. WTF. Not a chance. I’ll sleep, thank you. Twelve step recovery programs tell us to take “quiet time” daily. I basically fell asleep or used the time to think about things. It was good, it was something, but it still made no sense. I never saw the impact that so many were fawning over. Over the last 30 years, I’ve amassed a distinguished record of failed attempts at meditating by way of studying meditation, buying apps, doing 30 day challenges, taking action on it, reading as much as I could, listening to podcasts, and whatever else. I finally chalked it up to a biological incapability to quiet my mind. Yes, that’s all I wanted. A quiet mind where the list of things to do wasn’t flowing freely and often causing panic.
I remember coming home from an early morning meeting one Saturday and finding my husband asleep. It was 8:30 am. I immediately reacted to the fact that he didn’t have time to sleep because there were curtains to be hung and a lawn to mow. I’m so grateful that he didn’t divorce me right then and there.
So fast forward to 2018, four kids later, when I was introduced to a spiritual mentor who simply said this: get comfortable, breathe, and focus on your breath without judgement. That’s it. What I loved about this is that she added, “don’t change the way you breathe, just breathe.” You mean I don’t have to count to 8 at every inhale and count to 9 at every exhale? And if a thought comes into my mind, let alone whole conversations with people against whom I hold resentments or need to speak with about any number of things, just notice it without judgement and refocus on the breath? Really? Over time, I learned that when I’m focusing on the breath, I have no thoughts, other than the up and down of my belly or chest. As I did it more, I noticed other sensations in my body; I noticed what was painful or where I felt the bottoms of my feet in my socks and my socks on the ground. I felt my butt in the chair, usually sinking into the chair in my office, and the tightness of my forehead or my neck or my shoulders. This time gave me the opportunity to shift and to stretch and to crack the bones and shift the muscles around. Sometimes, I even imagine myself connected to the earth or the sky and whatever else is outside of the sky. Generally, I keep it simple and just breathe.
When I started thinking about this 30 years ago, I had no idea what I was longing for other than a chance to give my brain a break. It needed to rest. Having practiced this way consistently for almost a year now, I notice the impact outside of those moments of quiet. Over time I have seen that when someone pisses me off, I feel a nudge in my body – usually in my back – and it is like an early warning signal to the rest of me. It reminds me to check in and and ask myself a question. Sometimes, it’s “What is true for me now?” The question allows me pause. It allows me to notice that I’m about to lose my shit and so I put space between my feelings, thoughts and reactions. Other times, it is more immediate – but checking in always tells me that my reaction is not about the other person despite how hard I’m trying to make it about them. Almost always, I feel an emotion: sadness or fear. And my sadness is usually about fear. Or loss. Which is also about fear. It’s all about fear. That moment of checking in allows me to pull away from that reaction I was about to have and notice that the fear or sadness have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with me. Tara Brach says something like “an emotion felt all the way through lasts about 90 seconds.” I have also heard that anger not reacted upon lasts about 8 minutes. It is when we resist the feelings by acting on them and not acknowledging them and letting them just pass through the energy of our body that they last for hours, or days, or years. Really, it’s our resistance that lasts for hours, or days, or years. When practicing this breathing, or presence as I refer to it, for a few minutes a day, I yell less, I listen more, and I relax into my skin in a different way because it brings presence into my day in those moments when I most need to be an outside observer of myself. More often than I’d like to admit, my outside observer says, “What the hell are you doing? Stop making everyone cray cray and just feel what you feel!”
My fears about whether or not things will ever get done if I spend 5 minutes a day practicing this presence are assuaged by the fact that I am happier, calmer, and have pause. I’m more curious and less convicted. I’m more empathic and less a victim. My kids haven’t told me that I have no chill in at least a couple of months.
So what is this? Meditation? Mindfulness? Presence? Who cares? I refer to it as my presence practice because it takes me out of the future, away from the past, and gives me the moment I’m in and then the next moment and the next one and the next one. It’s all a form of mindfulness which is a form of meditation, but my presence practice has no chanting or mantra. I will add that at some point, I assume, but for now, I’m happy with what I have.
I am grateful to have a work life that allows me to practice this with my clients which is good for me, too. It allows me to just release all that I have with me and show up fully, 100% with them and what they have brought to the session. I am a better coach because of it. Teenagers love it. Executives love it. My college aged clients really love it. I never would have understood it at that age. I really didn’t and I tried so hard. Resisting the fact that I had a quiet mind is actually what perpetuated the busy mind. The occupied mind. The frenetic mind. Coming out of the present and into the future is what causes my distress. I wonder what you’ll notice when you try it. I’d love to hear.
I can share some resources from others who practice. I’ll add a recording to my facebook page so you, too, can experience it. I am not great at it outside of doing it with another person, but that’s ok for now. I don’t suck. I am not a failure. I am just a girl on a journey to increase the positivity in the energetic field that I take with me wherever I go, one breath at a time.