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Even though our topic on Wednesday was about not getting lost in thoughts of the future all the time, it’s ok to admit the truth. I know you’ve had your mind on the weekend for a while now. Well, at last, it’s here! The future you wished was the present is now exactly that. So, you officially have no excuse for not checking in, catching your breath, and trying out this weekend’s “no-fail” mindfulness challenge.
Both planning for the future and reflecting on the past can be useful tools for growth. Ideally, though, you’d be thinking about them at times that you’ve dedicated for exactly that, rather than moments when your attention would be better focused on what’s happening in front of your face. Mindfulness teaches us to notice where our thoughts are going, and make choices about whether to go with them. It may not keep you in the present 100% of the time, but it will bring you back when you have unintentionally stepped into your mental time machine, and taken off for somewhere else.
This weekend, your focus will be on catching those glimpses of “tomorrow-land” when they drift through your awareness, and asking them to kindly be patient as you focus on right now instead. For now, at least.
No time like the present to get started! We’re going to take some inspiration from Jon Kabat-Zinn for this one, which is never a bad idea:
- Find a comfortable seat. The goal is to be in a place or position you can maintain for a few minutes, but to also be able to stay aware of your body and your posture.
- Begin to notice your breath. You don’t have to do anything with it just yet, but begin to note the natural rhythm of it, and the way your breath actually feels as you inhale and exhale.
- As you deepen and expand your breath slightly, bring to mind an image of a still body of water – perhaps a lake or a pool. Take a moment to notice the way the water gently reflects the light or shadows above and around it. How the breeze may cause it to ripple ever so slightly, before the waves dissipate back into stillness. An object like a leaf or stone may fall into the water, causing a splash before simply aligning with the surface or sinking below it. Observe how the water can acknowledge these external forces, and adjust itself around them, while then being able to return itself to its original steady state.
- If your mind begins to wander, gently bring it back to the water. In particular, notice how the water seems both contained and free at the same time. No matter what it encounters, it returns to stillness, no matter how often or for how long it is interrupted. It returns to the present. It doesn’t dwell on what just happened, and it can only reflect what is being shown to it right now. There is no future for the water. There is only right now.
- Next, bring your attention back to your breath. It’s still there, supporting you, despite your having shifted your attention elsewhere for a few minutes. As you release the image of the water from your mind, allow your focus to once again notice the rise of your chest and belly as you inhale, and their slow release and collapse as you exhale.
- Finally, on your next round of breathing, take the deepest inhale you possibly can, and let it go. Exhale out of your nose and your mouth, perhaps even making an audible sound as you do.
- Repeat these deep breaths 2 more times, grounding you into your body, into this moment, and recharging you for the rest of your day, and the weekend ahead.
Keeping your attention focused on the present – especially when we are anxious or excited about the plans we have to make – isn’t easy, but even short exercises like this one can help train our minds to assist us in the effort.
The future is definitely bright, but it will sparkle even more if you are present for it when it arrives.
Photo credit: Albrecht Fietz