This is the season when it’s especially easy to get caught up in the rush of life. So many of us find ourselves stressed out by gift buying, social engagements, and even strained interactions with certain family members. We feel the pressure of all that needs to be done; of everything pulling for our attention. We find ourselves frantically rushing to get everything done. Even in these busy, chaotic times, there are actions we can take to bring our attention and energy back to ourselves and move gracefully through. The following inquiries and practices can help us return to our center, even when we need to move quickly:
Part of slowing down is becoming mindful to what it is that you want. We can look at the actions we are taking in our lives with curiosity to see if they match with our desires. If we want things like spiritual growth, for example, we can ask, “are we saying yes to things that nurture and support that growth?”
How badly do we want it? Are we able no say to other things in life when it comes time to make choices? What elements do we really need in our life? What elements do we really love in our life? Are we saying yes to the things that matter? Or are we saying yes to things that just keep us busy? This can be especially tricky at this time of year, when we are told that it is normal to abandon ourselves and follow the endless stream of obligations. Check in and see which of your actions actually bring you closer to your desires.
So often, we focus on quantity over quality. However, if we are focused on a few things, then we can go very deep with these few things. We do not have a lot of time, and the time we do have can be spread very thin. Out of all the things you do, how many of them really matter?
Being selective in choosing the things that we really want to experience in this lifetime is very important. It’s very easy to get sidetracked with “life”. Sometimes I work with patients who are dying. With them, I see that when death comes up, then we really look at how we spend our time. The lesson is to live as though we are dying, as the say, because we are. Creating boundaries can help keep us focused on what we do want. To create boundaries you have to know what you really want–to be able to say yes or no accordingly. What are your boundaries?
Watching Your Attention
If you are like me, you see your attention being pulled away by more distractions in more frequent intervals. When I was a kid, we did not have computers or cell phones so my attention was not pulled away as much. I think it’s obvious how life has sped up. Device addiction is a very real thing. How do we combat that? And why do we combat that?
If we sit down to meditate and our mind is used to being pulled away time and time again, we recognize that this is a tendency, a habit. Every time we allow our attention to be pulled away, we are cultivating that habit. Mindfulness is a habit too. We always have a choice. The choice is between distraction and mindful awareness.
One trick is to use a distraction as a moment of mindfulness. For example, every time the phone vibrates or computer dings, we can take a mindful breath. Just as in meditation, we can tie that moment to our true nature.
Say your text message goes off as you are driving. We know we really shouldn’t check it. We can use the moment of wanting to check our phone. We can sit with the desire and ask: “What exactly is the craving that I am feeling? What exactly is the grasping? What do I feel I “need” by checking my phone? Is it connectedness? What is it exactly?” We feel like we get something out of this doing. If we look with openness, we can find the “why” behind the doing. It takes courage and honesty, but we can find this why.
We can also use food as an entry to mindfulness. Your body may not even be hungry, but the mind is telling you that you need a snack. Sit with the thought, “I need something to eat”. Ask yourself, “What am I really getting out of this?” Say you’re craving ice-cream. Is it the sweetness you desire? A feeling of fullness? What exactly about the experience of eating ice cream is so gratifying? Take a look at it. Am I fulfilled with this?
In these ways, we can use the distractions as tools to strengthen the habit of coming back to ourselves.
Input causes us to look outside ourselves, and usually in a very unconscious way. In our usual daily habits, we can choose to limit our input. For example, when we get in the car, sometimes our habit is to push the radio dial. Or even when we get home and we are around family, there is input of talking. There is so much input: TV input, music input, social media input.
When the input ceases, then we get the opportunity to look inside. What if you limited or reduced your input by 50% next week? Take the opportunity!
There is a “slowing down” of life when we look at our habits. Part of the slowing down is awakening to the speed at which we move–bringing in the awareness to it. Slowing down does not mean physically slowing down. It means slowing down with the whole of our being. In fact, we can be very calm inside while moving quickly.
We have to run alongside the movement of life with a sense of stillness. It is like jumping into the river and flowing with the current. When we are in stillness, and there is noise outside, there may be a feeling of dissonance. Sound is just bubbling up in that stillness. It can be beautiful It can become the stillness–just being with what is, as it is. By doing this, we allow the mind to settle in its natural state. If the mind continues to be agitated by external phenomena, then it is difficult to allow it to settle. This allowing is training ground for a non-reactive mind. Once we are good at it, when things are chaotic, we can still rest in evenness.