Pay attention ~ be astonished
I don't know if this is an age thing, a yoga thing, a meditation thing, or a state of the world thing, but I find myself becoming extremely selective about how I spend my time. It is such a precious commodity, and I want every moment to count.
How this looks, for me, is prioritizing the things that make me feel good, make my family happy, and make my home an enjoyable place to be.
I have learned that worrying is a total waste of time. It doesn't mean I don't worry - I have kids, a partner, parents, friends, pets, a business, I live in this mad, weird world - but I kind of get it out of the way quickly. Worry is generally about the future, and much of it is not within our control. Worry and stress and anxiety are huge contributors to our physical and mental health, and learning how to tame this is, I think, one of the most fundamental ways we can change our lives for the better.
If worry is about the future, then one way to counter this is to be here. Fully present.
It sounds like it is too easy, and it kind of is. But it also kind of isn't.
There are things we do by rote, like folding washing or showering where we go through the familiar motions and our mind is off wandering like a rampant toddler. We don't need to be present to carry out the task. But what if we were? How might that change the experience?
I know that when I am showering and my mind is all over the place, I have been known to wash my face with conditioner and shampoo my feet. Ridiculous! But when I am fully present in the shower, I turn my face to the water like it is a balm. I feel it sliding down my body. I dig my fingers into my scalp as I shampoo and give myself a little head massage. I take the time to wash my face and body properly, with care and notice the softness along the way. When I shower this way, when I get out I feel like I have really cared for myself. It rarely takes any longer than the days I rush, but it feels like time expanded to accommodate me, rather than the other way around.
And this is becoming more and more true, the feeling that time is full, rather than scarce. When I walk on the beach with my dog, I simply enjoy the sea air and the crash of waves, and the scrunch of sand under my toes. When I drive my daughter around and she is telling me about her day, I really listen and engage. When I am sweeping up (for perhaps the second time that day) the autumn leaves fallen around the pool, I enjoy the rhythmic motion of the broom against the pavers.
Our lives are these small details. The fancy holidays and epic parties may get added to the social media feed and appear to be a highlight, but really our lives are lived in the spaces in between. These are the moments that truly matter, these are the moments that give our lives texture and meaning.
One of the places I am truly, radically present is in the studio when I am teaching. I get into that elusive, delicious state of flow and am energised by the process of presence and engagement. It leaves me with the same feeling I get from meditation - calm, focused and replenished.
So, how to incorporate more presence into your day? Think of being present as a muscle - it needs to be used regularly to get stronger.
Honestly, the first thing I would look at is social media use. It absolutely takes us away from the present and into other people's lives. Sometimes it's interesting, most of the time it is not. It's just distraction fodder. Turn off notifications - even just for a day. See what happens. See what you miss. It's unlikely to be anything important. Also, notice how you feel after a bit of scrolling. Do you feel energised, happy, content? Or the opposite? Let that be your guide.
Simplify systems. It can be hard to be present when we are hopping from one task to another constantly throughout the day - it really negates any opportunity to find flow and rhythm. I find that batching tasks is way more efficient. Batching can apply to the way you deal with emails, bills, cooking, ironing - anything that you know will never be truly 'done' - freeing up the time you would spend transitioning between multiple tasks. Basically, stop being such a multi-tasker!
Flex your gratitude muscle. I know this can be really difficult - how can you be grateful when you have lost a loved one, been through a toxic divorce, or are suffering from serious illness? Life is made up of the light and the dark. Can you be grateful for having that loved one in your life for as long as you did? Can you be grateful for the strength that blossomed through your divorce? Can you be grateful for the parts of you that don't ache? Searching for something in the here and now to be thankful for doesn't minimise sadness or loss, it simply provides a nurturing place for it to rest alongside.
I think that the poet Mary Oliver summed it up best:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Notice the order of the instructions. What can you pay attention to today, where can you sit in the present and simply be? Be astonished, be awed, be humbled, be grateful?
I want you to know - I am grateful for you. I am grateful for your generosity in sharing your stories, allowing me a glimpse into situations that are heartbreakingly personal. I am grateful for your trust in me, and your willingness to sink a little deeper into yourself. I am grateful for the delicious biscuits and the fresh limes and the rock salt lamp. I am grateful for the sand from between your toes that you leave behind on the mat, the hairs fallen from your head that I sweep up, the damp tears that soak the eye pillows. Because these things mean you showed up, that you were present for your lovely self.
These things mean you were here.