How’d the week go for you? Was it a quick one, or is it hard for you to believe it’s only been a week since it was a week ago? More of the latter for me, personally, but as we talked about on Wednesday, time seems to move differently depending on what’s going on from one week, day, or even hour to the next. When life gets (and often stays) busy and stressful, we retreat into our heads, planning, strategizing, problem-solving and worrying, usually about everything other than what’s right in front of us. As a result, time flies by, but we often feel like we aren’t accomplishing enough. We’re doing it all but truly focusing on none of it.
This weekend’s “no-fail” mindfulness challenge is going to help you attempt to do something pretty amazing: stop time. OK, so not really stop it, but definitely slow it down. Although, to be honest, as with all mindfulness exercises, it’s not really the external thing you’re affecting with your effort. You and I both know that time isn’t really the variable that’s changing from one day to the next. It’s you. Fortunately, you are exactly what you’re working with when it comes to mindfulness.
Some of the most common reasons I hear from people telling me that mindfulness isn’t for them are: 1) “I don’t have the time” and 2) “I can’t make my mind stop for any amount of time.” So, breaking news, and you heard it here first: 1) you don’t need any more time than it takes to brush your teeth (but you can take more if you want to) and 2) you’re not supposed to stop your mind, you’re just trying to get better at noticing what it’s up to.
No excuses, y’all. You can at least give it a shot, and fortunately, you can’t get it wrong. You have nothing to lose except maybe a little of that distracted stress you’ve been carrying around all week.
Your “no-fail” mindfulness challenge for this weekend is a fairly straightforward one, but it touches on some complex stuff. As always, you’ll need your 3 basic ingredients: your attention, your intention, and your breath. This time, you’ll also need a timer. (If you have a phone, which I know you do, then you have one.)
Decide on a mindfulness activity of your choice. Maybe a seated guided meditation (see some options at the bottom of this page, or give the search over to Google), take a mindful walk, do some yoga, engage in a visualization exercise, as just a few possibilities. Before you begin, decide how long you are willing to commit to it. Any amount of time is fine, but once you decide, you’re going to stick with it.
Oh, except for also, you’re going to add one minute to it. If you decided on 5 minutes, now it’s going to be 6. And you know how math works, so if you chose a different amount of time, I’ll let you figure it out from here.
Set your timer, and get started. Find your point of focus – whether it’s your breath, movement, or something you’re envisioning, and connect with it. If you start noticing that your mind is full of thoughts that it would like you to engage with, that’s ok. It’s doing its job, and doing it well. Your job here is to gently and intentionally come back to your point of focus. Resist the temptation to get mad about it, and just come back. If you slip away again, just come back. Come back as often as you need to, because as you’ve heard me say before, that is in fact the meditation. You noticed, you made a choice, and you reclaimed your attention. That is mindfulness.
When you start to notice a little corner of one of your eyelids trying to slyly check out how many minutes are left on your clock, that’s ok. Tell yourself it’s alright to look, but in a second. You’re not going to do it right now, because you may want to but you know you don’t have to. The timer is keeping track of the time. You don’t have to. When it’s time to stop, it will tell you so. It’s there for you, and it will keep you on track. Your brain can let that go, for now.
When the timer rings, take a deep breath. Then, take a moment to reflect on how long that period of time seemed in relation to how long it actually was. Your answer may depend on how present you were able to stay in the exercise today, since a wandering mind loses time while a present mind is immersed in every morsel of it.
Regardless of how it went down today, it’s ok. It is exactly what it is, and whether you liked it or not, it will not be same tomorrow. When, by the way, I strongly recommend you try this one again.
The ability to stay present for one minute, or even one breath, longer than we really want to can be a deeply insightful experience. To me, it is at the heart of why mindfulness matters. Recognizing that you don’t have to flee from discomfort the moment you start to sense it – that you have a choice about what you do with it and when – is an incredibly powerful piece of self-knowledge. It is, in fact, power itself.
And to think, all you needed to do to discover it was catch your breath. The potential for what comes next is unlimited.
Photo credit: Alisa Anton