Once we understand, as Lee explained to us last week (if you missed Lee’s email last week, I highly recommend you go back and read it, as I will use his definitions as a basis for my inquiry), that presence and mindfulness are paramount to well-being, the next question is: How do we be present or be mindful when our mind and emotions naturally want to steer us elsewhere?
Let’s start with presence.
First of all, the more we practice being present, the more we will naturally feel present. (Hint: a daily meditation or spiritual practice is a tremendous way to cultivate more presence!) As you move through your day, when you notice you have drifted off into daydreaming, worrying, planning, etc. just note it, and bring your attention to something happening right now. That can be your breath, or any physical sensations, or any task at hand from which you have derailed. Simply come back to now, and immerse yourself back into each moment.
When we are triggered, or in an elevated state, we may need something stronger. We can go beyond just tracking our body sensations, and perhaps even create some—press our feet into the ground, rub our hands together, do some stretching or exercise. Take deeper breaths into the belly. (Generally, shallow breath makes us less present; deep breath makes us more present.) We may even splash some cold water on our face, get some air, or safely let some intense emotion out.
As one of my favorite psych professors told me, the idea with all of this is not to flatten out the roller coaster of our humanity; it’s to ride it, but stay in our seat. This is the key to the best life.
Once we’ve looked at presence, we move to the layer of mindfulness. Mindfulness makes us more able to find presence, and also, over time, reduces the impact of our insecurities, fears, and pains that take us away from presence at any given moment.
When we practice mindfulness, we want to witness, and sometimes even investigate, the present moment. With presence, we may be with our anger, and it may be quite intense, but with mindfulness, we can acknowledge and see our anger, and even get a little bit of space from ourselves at that moment. (This is what we mean by witnessing—seeing ourselves as if we were seeing another.)
Mindfulness also means taking responsibility for the fact our feelings belong to us. We feel things in response to the world, but we are the ones that feel them. No one is making us react.
To be even more powerfully mindful, we must cultivate deep and specific awareness of our personal version of a human inner world, which is nothing less than a complex hurricane of a bunch of different reactions to a bunch of different stimuli from a bunch of different experiences that all try to organize together into one singular moment. We can look at what underlying inner stuff has us caught. What parts of us ourselves scare us to look at or accept, and what insecurities and old “wounds” sweep us away into suffering?
To give an example of how this looks in real time, not being present or mindful may be saying to your partner, “You can be such a selfish %$#* sometimes! What’s wrong with you?! Why do you treat me so badly?!”
Being present might be, “I feel so much anger toward you right now.” And maybe following it up with a guttural expression of frustration.
Being mindful might look like, “I can feel so much anger right now while we’re having this interaction, and it’s hard for me to be with it. My face feels hot and I feel like I physically need to get it out, but I’m stuck. It’s that same trigger I always have when I don’t feel important. When you walked in you didn’t ask how my day was after I asked you and I made up that it was because you don’t care.”
But, to be clear, this isn’t simply a matter of how we deal with our own negativity. Presence and mindfulness are opportunities at any time.
To summarize, in the times we are not present–stuck, swept away by emotion–we simply want to practice bringing ourselves back to the moment. Then, we start to develop mindfulness of what is happening for us in that moment, so we can be with it and perhaps communicate it. When we diligently practice this over time, it gets easier and more natural. We can aide the practice by continuing to learn about ourselves through coaching or therapy, and continue to have experiential healing and growth through workshops like we have at COR.
I’ll leave you with an important trick to all of this: All you have to do is simply give your best effort to find presence and mindfulness in the moment. If you just couldn’t find it in the moment it arose, the secret is to come back to whatever you were experiencing as soon as you can, and clean it up.
So consider: Where do you most lose presence? Where are your blind spots that sweep you away in the moment? Often we have themes, where it’s the same type of thing over and over again. Over the next week, see if you can find one sore spot, and practice more presence and mindfulness!