Those of you who have been to my live workshops have heard this story before:
One day, a few years ago, my son who was about ten years old at the time, came to me looking rather concerned. He said: “Mom, have you ever noticed that we are never in the present moment?” And I said: “What do you mean, sweetheart?” (well, in French but I am translating this conversation for you 🙂 ) and he replied: “Well, I am either grinding the past, thinking of things that made me angry, or that were unfair, or things I missed doing or I am looking forward to or worrying about the future. I am never in the present. Mom, my life is passing me by!”
My son’s comments made me reflect on many things: the hectic pace of our lives, the rare times when we sit and simply enjoy the present moment and the fact that he’s a wonderfully wise old soul.
Let me ask you: How often are you in the present moment?
Many of you are familiar with mindfulness meditation and mindfulness stress reduction (MBSR). Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn over thirty years ago, MBSR is a holistic mind-body approach that emphasises the importance of practicing daily sitting meditation where we simply sit, focus on our breathing and stay in the present moment. I wrote a full-length article about MBSR and its effectiveness in helping us manage compassion fatigue in 2009. Click here to read it. If you are not familiar with mindfulness, I encourage you to take a few minutes to view Kabat-Zinn’s Youtube videos on the topic. To find them, simply enter “Stress Reduction Kabat-Zinn” in the Youtube search engine. You will see videos entitled “Stress reduction one of 6” and so on.
Sitting and doing nothing other than focusing on our breathing is incredibly difficult at first: many people talk about being distracted by thousands of fleeting thoughts, ambient noises and sometimes boredom. This is completely normal. Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages us to simply refocus on our breath, and gently redirect our minds to the task at hand, without beating ourselves up about the distractions. The goal of mindfulness is not to reach a state where our mind is empty, the goal is simply to be here, right now, in the present moment, and, as Kabat-Zinn says, if you need to bring your mind back a thousand times, then bring it back a thousand times.
In his video, Kabat-Zinn explains the tremendous health benefits of learning to connect with the present moment:
“When I am teaching meditation, we use a tennis ball and just remind people that they can drop into the breath virtually at any time. So it’s not just like when you are doing some kind of formal meditation practice – that’s the least interesting part of meditation: The real interesting part of meditation is that your whole life becomes a meditation – that you’re here for all of it, and you are able to be with it with a little less reaction, a little less judgemental and, in that way, these hidden dimensions and opportunities and options appear to us and we can navigate with much greater wisdom and with much greater self-compassion in our own lives and deal with the full catastrophe of the stress, the pain and the illness that is inevitably going to come up because we’re human and we have bodies and we’re mortal and we are subject to huge forces that we have no control over.”
The incredible power of mindfulness is that once you practice it regularly, it becomes a tool that you carry with you into all aspects of your life: you can reduce the stressful experience of being stuck in a traffic jam, in a heated meeting or working with an angry client by dropping into the breath.
Jon Kabat-Zinn acknowledges that learning to practice mindfulness is indeed difficult: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” How about starting small and trying to sit without doing anything for the next few minutes? Simply take normal breaths, focusing on your in-breath and your out-breath and perhaps closing your eyes if that is easier. You can also visit this website for an easy introduction to being in the present moment: www.donothingfor2minutes.com
Here’s a link to Kabat-Zinn’s first stress reduction video: Stress Reduction 1 of 6
Update: (January 25, 2012) How timely – I just came across two short instructional videos on various uses of mindfulness that may be of interest to you. They feature Dr Ron Siegel, author of “The Mindfulness Solution.” In one of them, Dr Siegel interviews a physician’s assistant who works in the Arctic. She describes how useful mindfulness has been for her both in her patient work and in keeping herself grounded and reducing her stress while doing challenging work. Another short video discusses times when mindfulness may be contraindicated and a final one discusses anxiety and mindfulness. These videos were produced by NICABM (The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine). I subscribe to their newsletter and often find telecalls and webinars that I enjoy on their site. In order to view these, you need to sign up by sharing your email with NICABM but they guarantee that they will not share your email or spam you. Let me know what you think of the videos! Here is the link to register to view them. Just so you know, I have no affiliation with NICABM, nor do I profit financially from sharing these resources with you. Just thought you’d be interested, as I was.