August 1, 2011

Living In the Moment

While I was away on vacation, I was usually up before the birds, but never the squirrels. These little critters were everywhere this year (last year it was rabbits) and they kept themselves busy playing with the chipmunks. I enjoyed watching them run back and forth between fallen logs and under piles of pine needles, to and fro, here and there, without a care in the world. Luckily, I had my camera nearby when this little guy decided to take a break and pose for a photo.
It was in moments like this that I was reminded to slow down and just enjoy what was happening, when it was happening, and not worry about what’s coming next. This was especially true this year knowing my sister-in-law was suffering from stress headaches, my youngest daughter from swimmer’s ear, and while I waited to hear the results of another surprise surgery for my Mom. I needed to remind myself that unplanned events will continue to happen and I just needed to breathe and focus on my emotional health, too. It’s easy to let it get away from you.

Life is busy and we’re always on to the next thing never slowing down to enjoy the time we have right in front of us, and often letting the present slip away. We work for the weekends, and when Friday finally arrives, we cram as much as we can into those two days until it’s time to worry about facing Monday. Then, we fly through the weeks as if time doesn’t matter. We give even less thought as to how we will get from A to Z with any sense of fulfillment. It’s no wonder we have trouble taking things in one at a time.

Psychologists believe that if we live in the moment – also called mindfulness – we can reduce stress and chronic pain, boost our immune system, lower blood pressure, and solve a host of other physical and emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Mindfulness (a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present) involves being with your thoughts as they are, neither grasping at them nor pushing them away.* If, like me, you’ve ever experienced a moment when you have no memory of the previous 15 minutes, you’re not alone. These autopilot spans of time are what Harvard’s Ellen Langer calls mindlessness – times when you’re so lost in thought that you aren’t aware of your present experience.* We’re so sure we know what to expect that we stop paying attention to it.

So what do we do? Don’t just do something, sit there. Enjoy each and every moment as the day unfolds. Start small. Wake up early to enjoy breakfast or a morning walk, read or journal. Use a pretty plate and cup for breakfast or tie a colorful ribbon in your hair to keep it out of your eyes as you walk through your neighborhood or the woods. When you’re at work, focus on what you’re doing first, and then pat yourself on the back when you’ve completed a task. Set manageable goals – things you’ll get done between certain times or morning vs. afternoon – in order to feel like you’re making progress. Take it one step at a time and forget the big picture for a minute. Drink and eat slowly savoring every sip and swallow. Pack your lunch with care and tantalize your taste buds with sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy. Sit at the table instead of standing. When you get home from work, take care of any chores immediately so you can enjoy some leisure time. Treat yourself to something fun or indulgent once a week – a soy vanilla latte, a small bouquet of flowers, a night at the movies. Let the things that bring you joy into your daily life and don’t wait for a special occasion, the weekend, or your next vacation.

Like you, I am trying to be mindful of being mindful. It takes effort. Just be careful not to plan too much. I have brought the joy of living outdoors back from vacation and revel in nature any chance I get. I’ve learned that connecting to the outdoors, in any way, improves my mood immeasurably. I enjoy meals more if I eat them outdoors. I feel less stressed about something if I take a few minutes to walk outside and take a deep breath. I even try to work outside to make some of the more tedious parts of my work entertaining. And while I’m there, I do take the time to look around and listen to the wind.

It’s a start.



Anonymous said...

Oh so true. Thank you. Jayne