Earlier this week, I fessed up a little to the fact that I’m a distraction. Or, part of one anyway. The world of digital content can be the perfect means for creating distraction when there’s something you’re trying to avoid. I totally get that I was kind of shooting myself in the foot with that one, but you know, some content is better than others…by reading this site, you are obviously making the responsible choice to take care of yourself, and in turn make yourself a better resource for others. Clearly.
When you’re allowing yourself to be present and aware of where your attention is going, you realize that distraction can come at you from lots of directions, though. Virtually anything can grab your focus and pull it away, including the many captivating thoughts generated by your very own mind. That’s usually where distraction starts, actually, and part of our work in mindfulness is to notice when that happens, and make an effort to bring our focus back to our intention for the session.
Just when you think you’ve got that down, though, you remember you’re (probably) not meditating on a desolate mountaintop. You’re right here, smack-dab in the middle of the real world, where distractions of all kinds reside side by side.
It’s the perfect setting for a “no-fail” mindfulness challenge. Fortunately, no matter where you are, you’re in exactly the right spot.
(But that’s always true, if you think about it…right? Sorry, back to the challenge…)
So, find a spot where you can be comfortable but still aware for the next few minutes (you can set a timer if you like), and let’s get a little mindful.
- Close your eyes. I know not everyone likes this move, but it will really help you with this particular exercise. If you really can’t do it, that’s ok, it’s still worth it to stick with us.
- Find your breath. You don’t need to do anything special with it at this point, just check in with it. Is the air making it all the way to the bottom of your lungs, or are you cutting off your inhales at the top of your chest? Does your breath feel different in your nose than in your throat? Check it out, just see what’s there.
- Begin to deepen your breath. Make an effort to intentionally expand your inhales to fill your lungs, maybe even placing one hand just above your belly button to feel your lungs inflate. Allow your lungs to completely empty with your exhales, releasing your shoulders and allowing tension to slide down the back of your neck, down your arms and out through your fingertips.
- Repeat this cycle of deep breathing until it starts to feel natural. There can be intention, but less “work,” if that makes sense. As you settle into this rhythm, begin to turn your awareness outward, keeping your eyes closed.
- Notice what’s happening out there. What sounds do you hear around you, in the room or just outside? Practice accepting that they are there, and then letting them go without thinking about what they are, what they mean, or what they might indicate comes next. They’re just there.
- When your mind takes a ride, come back to your breath. Noticing without engaging takes practice. When you’re trying to sit still, the outside world becomes infinitely more interesting than it already is. So, if you find your focus following the sounds to see what they’re about, that’s totally ok. But, you can choose to simply come back to that focus on your breath. Inhale, exhale, repeat. Reset your focus, and try again.
- Gently release your intention. When you’re ready (or when your timer rings), allow those sounds, shadows, and textures of the world around you to fully re-enter your awareness. Give your fingers a toes a wiggle, and shrug your shoulders up, and then down your back. Let yourself return to the world, feeling a bit more calm and present – for now, at least. ;-)
So, yeah. Mindfulness exercises aren’t always easy. That’s why these are “challenges,” you know? However, you can’t mess them up, because the effort is the meditation. I say it all the time because it never ceases to amaze me.
When it comes to being still in this crazy day and age, any excuse to follow a lead away from the silence seems like a good one. We’re not used to the quiet, and we’re definitely not used to noticing where our mind is going from minute to minute. It can be unnerving to just be.
Given that the pace of our world doesn’t seem like it’s headed towards anything like calm and stillness, it’s even more important that we learn to give these things to ourselves, though. Being able to find your focus in the midst of noise and other distractions means you will be able to do it whenever, and wherever, you need to in your day-to-day life.
You live in the real world, right? Me too, and there are a lot of things I love about it and want to pay attention to. The point of being mindful is to notice what those are, and choose them over the other noise.
It’s called intentional living. And also, for what it’s worth, a great way to escape the vortex of lost time. ;-)
Photo credit: Rodion Kutsaev