June 4, 2020
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
It was true when Jon Kabaz-Zinn said these words 20 some years ago, and it’s even more true today.
With the coronavirus pandemic in full effect, learning to surf the unpredictable, yet inevitable waves of uncertainty, fear and heartbreak is now part of the daily routine.
How can mindfulness help us learn to surf these wild, precarious waves? And, how, if you’re new to mindfulness, might you begin to take refuge in a practice like this?
What Is Mindfulness? Exploring Through Your Five Senses
I appreciate the simplicity of Joseph Goldstein’s definition, “Being present with what is.”
“What is” can include virtually anything that’s happening in the moment.
A simple way to do this is to pause and explore the moment through the five senses:
What do you see right now?
What can you hear?
Are you aware of any scents?
How about certain tastes?
Finally, the tactile sense, do you notice any physical sensations, such as where your hand meets the table or feet contact the floor?
If you were able to experience just one of your senses in a more conscious, curious way, that’s mindfulness!
While our earliest, most primary connection to the world was through the senses, most of us, by virtue of growing up in a fast-paced, intellectualized society, have lost touch with this innate capacity.
Sure, we may skim over things we see and hear, but there’s not typically a true connection to what we notice.
How Your Thoughts Can Disrupt The Present Moment
Have you ever noticed how your thoughts can get in the way of experiencing the present?
For instance, as you drive home from work, an endless stream of thoughts about your day – or the days that lie ahead – may prevent you from seeing a sunset or feeling your hands on the steering wheel. “That meeting was a waste of time. Crud, I forgot to follow up with so and so. I’m really behind on this project.”
It’s quite a wonder, isn’t it, how we went from being completely absorbed with the present moment as children (remember the trail of ants on the sidewalk that stopped you dead in your tracks) to not having much affinity for it at all.
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Yet, ironically, every adult I’ve encountered in a mindfulness class yearns to re-inhabit their natural ability to be present and connected – to themselves and the world around them.
It’s comforting to know that practicing mindfulness provides a way to reconnect with these beautiful aspects of our moment-to-moment experience. Through learning to focus the attention on the present moment over and over again, we can begin to live with more wakefulness, enjoyment, and ease. We can catch the sunset before it slips away or delight in a hearty bowl of homemade soup before it’s gone.
And, because we’re imperfect – and it’s impossible to be present all the time – we’ll still miss many moments. We can, however, up our odds significantly by committing to a simple practice like this.
Where to Begin with Mindfulness: 5 Senses & More
I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. Especially now with so many other things to manage, one of the kindest things you can do for yourself is start slowly.
From that perspective, you could use the 5 senses practice I introduced above as a starting point. Once a day or however often is doable, you can set your timer for 1-3 minutes to explore each of your senses at a time.
After you go through each sense, I invite you to return to one that felt most enjoyable. For example, maybe you enjoyed the feeling of your feet resting on the floor or the sound of a bird singing out your window. Notice if there are pleasant sensations in your body, such as warmth, openness or tingling.
Finally, take a couple of full breaths, and maybe drink in the pleasure just a little more before you offer thanks to your body, mind, and whole self for taking time out of your busy life to be present – to remember your true nature.
Another beautiful option if you have more time and energy is to join a live – or recorded – Mindful Daily session. The exciting thing about joining a live session is that you get to practice with people from all over the world. And your session will be led by an expert teacher.
Begin experiencing your senses and ease into mindfulness by registering for a Mindful Daily today!
Prioritize a Positive Association to Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is a simple practice at its core, but that doesn’t always make it easy. As you slow down and become aware of the present moment, you may notice strong feelings or disorienting thoughts. While it can be helpful to notice your true feelings (so they don’t get the best of you), many of us don’t approach these difficult feelings with understanding and kindness. No doubt, a wonderful opportunity to develop greater empathy and self-compassion over time.
In the meantime, why not start with a practice that’s enjoyable and simple? Something you’ll genuinely look forward to, such as taking a walk and mindfully engaging one or more or your senses. Or, curling-up in a blanket, listening to music you love, and noticing any sensations in your body that are pleasant. Developing a positive association to the practice is key.
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There are endless types of mindfulness practice, but the intention remains the same: being present with what is in an open, curious, and accepting way. Since the attention can be wily during times of heightened stress, it will naturally wander away from the present moment. Just continue to gently, lovingly teach it to stay, as you reorient to objects in your body or environment that interest or soothe you. No matter how you choose to begin, may you reap the numerous benefits of mindfulness practice for your brain and body.
Written by Breon Michel