A shorter version of this post originally appeared on May 13, 2016, but it’s back and even better than before. You ready to step up for the upgraded version?
This week, we talked about using your mindfulness skillset to catch yourself checking out of the present moment when (you think) the future is really where you want to be. With summer being full of graduations, internships, travel, and other evidence that life’s experiences are fleeting, odds are good that there’s something on your short-term agenda that has “short-timer” written all over it. Even if your calendar isn’t marked with a life transition immediately ahead, you may be doing the same exact thing simply because it’s Friday, and you’re already playing past today in preparation for tonight. Sounds like a mindfulness challenge right in front of you, but truth is, that’s kind of where they always are…
So, in keeping with our Friday tradition (and the point of mindfulness overall), this weekend’s challenge is about checking in. The twist is that you’re going to bring your awareness to (as in, call yourself out on) a situation in your life that isn’t over yet, but that you’ve stopped being present for because you think you’ve just about wrapped it up. I say “think” because even when experiences have fixed end dates, they sometimes surprise you. Hasn’t anyone ever moved a finish line on you? It stinks, but it happens. Regardless, you are where you are right now, and today is a day you only get to see once. Declaring it over before it really is means not only mentally living in a future that may not come to pass, but also missing out on lots of potentially great little moments – and opportunities to shine – today.
This challenge has a lot to do with leaning into discomfort. In this case, it’s the discomfort of impatience, distraction, boredom, and their related friends as you close out something that you wish would just wrap itself up already. Even excitement can be uncomfortable if it makes it hard for you to stay connected to what you are still (yes, STILL) working on.
So, take a look at that list of uncomfortable feelings I just listed. Look familiar? Like maybe all the things that happen to you when you’re trying to sit still and catch your breath for longer than 10 seconds? Aha…I do so love it when mindfulness and life collide. ;-) Alright, so without further adieu, your mindfulness challenge for the weekend:
(Pssst, you can also listen to the challenge instructions here if you want to!)
- Set a timer for at least 5 minutes. You can sign up for more if your mindfulness practice is already more extended, but 5 minutes is the minimum for today.
- Find your breath. By this I mean, start paying attention to it. You don’t need to do anything special with it, but connect with the pace of your inhales and exhales, and the natural rhythm your body has for them. It takes when it needs to, and lets go when it needs to.
- When a thought arises, try to see it without diving headfirst into it. In other words, “That’s a thought” instead of “Great question, Self! Is everyone going out after work tonight? If so, we should go to that place down the street…I wonder if they still have specials until 7:00…?” and so on. Just like that, you’re gone. Nothing wrong with planning for happy hour, it’s just that’s not what your intention is for right now. Label the thought, and intentionally bring your focus back.
- Do some math. OK, not really. BUT, you can bring some numbers into the mix if you want to. Just focusing on your breath might not be quite enough of an anchor for you time, and that’s totally ok. If so, try inhaling to a count of 4, and exhaling to the same count. When a thought arises, call it just that, and come back to your count.
- Recognize that thoughts also often bring friends called “feelings.” So…yeah. Chances are that when you set a thought aside to come back to your focus, you may notice the coast isn’t quite clear. Those remnants are little things we call feelings, or emotions. Chances are, if you were thinking about happy hour later, you’re currently also feeling bored, frustrated, or even just excited. When the thought goes, the feeling may linger. Sometimes, feelings show up on their own, too. You’ll be like, what? What’s this irritation about? Don’t worry about it for now. Label the feeling, and without pushing it away, just turn your focus back to your breath.
- Let it all go. Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn (aka, “Mr. Mindfulness”) has famously said, “maybe just let it be.” When the timer rings, gently let your focus on your breath, or numbers, or whatever was, go. Bring your awareness back to your body, and to the room or space around you.
- Give yourself some major credit. You hung in there despite – probably, at some point – wanting to bail. You got bored, fidgety, distracted, frustrated, etc., yet you stayed in it until the timer went off.
I probably don’t have to say this, but I will anyway. If you can do it in your meditation, you can do it in your life. Hang in there, stay present, and the time will pass. You’ll also have the benefit of having actually been present for the time in interim, though.
This matters because when we aren’t present, people notice. We can all tell when someone isn’t really listening, or even paying attention, even if they think they’re doing a great job looking engaged. As a result, we might pull back on our expectations of them and what we think they are capable of, in that moment or perhaps even beyond. You never know what the consequences of not being present might be, because you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t see what you don’t see. In the worst case, you may realize it later in the form of regret, but often, we are blind to the opportunities we miss by not paying attention.
There’s a famous quote from filmmaker Woody Allen that “80% of life is just showing up.” Presumably he means just physically bringing yourself to the place where good things can happen for you. No doubt, there’s something to that. I’m not sure it’s quite as high as 80%, though…but even if it were, it’s what can happen with that other 20% that I’d be most interested in.
Have a present, full, and happy weekend!
Photo credit: Andres Iga