Despite what you may have heard, you CAN think of the past and still be mindful.
Here’s how to do it:
BE WITH a memory as it unfolds, without trying too hard… or expending too much effort to make it vivid.
Take your time as you recreate the episode in the present moment… without getting so caught up in it that you lose track of yourself in the here and now.
If you find yourself trying to cling to or mourn the fact that the incident is part of your past, make a conscious effort to go back to a simple awareness of “what happened.”
Savor whatever is happening RIGHT NOW as the memory enters your consciousness in the present moment. Objectively observe it, search for distinguishing features of the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures of the time.
Notice how your body feels, what thoughts are present, and which emotions are salient and relevant to you now.
Call to mind a time when you felt that all was right with your world. You can close your eyes and visualize this time or gaze at a reminder to cue the events and circumstances surrounding the event.
Some people journal to flesh out the memory while others imagine telling the story to a good friend or eager listener. Choose the approach that allows you to re-perceive the experience deeply… and in great detail: How old were you? What time of year did it occur? Where did it happen? Who, if anyone, was there with you? What exactly transpired?
In solitude and silence, allow yourself to bring the memory to life NOW. What were the internal and external characteristics that made it a memory that you wanted to hold onto… to make part of your BEING?
When you need a well-being pick me up, bring up some of those memories that exist inside of you.
The intention behind this exercise is the maintenance of full and complete awareness while we drink our favorite cup of coffee, tea, soda, juice, water, etc. We attend to the beginning, middle and end of the process of drinking a beverage.
Allow yourself 3-5 minutes of alone time to fully engage with the process. Notice any distractions… and gently bring yourself back to being fully “in touch.”
Before drinking the beverage
Notice what thoughts and feelings and physiological sensations go you experience as you acquire your beverage.
Take a pregnant pause before the first sip to fully engage your senses of sight, touch and smell.
While drinking the beverage
Hold the first sip in your mouth a few seconds longer than usual to savor the experience.
Unitask as you take in each sip and smile to yourself when you notice distractions (because you are mindful when you catch yourself doing other things!).
Observe what thoughts and feelings occur, without holding onto or “following” any one of them.
After drinking the beverage
Create our own mindful ritual to conclude this exercise (e.g., put a paper cup in the trash, wash a ceramic cup there and then, or say something to yourself like, “Ah” or “That was nice.”
Note your current thoughts, feelings, physiological sensations, urges to action, etc.
Smile to yourself as you go back to your day, taking with you whatever peace you achieved from this act of leisure.
“Sometimes we need to stop sitting in one place and start to move around… to bring awareness and enjoyment into our bodies.” Thich Nhat Hanh, author of Mindful Movements
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh believes that mindfulness is enhanced by body awareness and that body awareness strengthens mindfulness. This belief is supported by a growing body of research on “body awareness” and “body harmony” therapies and the positive impact they have on concentration and peacefulness. The 3-minute stretch is an opportunity for you to develop your awareness and tranquility in your body.
Considercreating a cue to remind yourself to take 3 minutes to stretch your body during your work day. The cue would be anything that catches your attention, like an alarm on your smart phone or a sticky note on your computer screen. You could also connect it to an event, like taking a time out stretch right before or after a meeting.
When you stretch, breathe slowly and deeply, with calm and ease. Take about 30 seconds for each intervention.
If (or when) your mind wanders into self-consciousness or criticism, smile because you are aware! And gently guide your attention back to the sensations in your arm, leg and neck muscles.
Stretch your arms to their full capacity, extending them… straight out from your shoulders… above your head… and down by your sides. There is no right or wrong way to stretch, though you can add to your relaxation if your movements are unhurried. Experience the sensations in your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers as you lengthen your arm muscles.
Stretch yourlegs to their fully capacity by raising yourself up and down on your toes. Experience the sensations in your back, hips, knees, ankles, feet as you lengthen your leg muscles.
Stretch your back andneckto their full capacity, experiencing the sensations in your neck, shoulders and back as you lengthen your neck and back muscles.
Now move your neck, back, hands and feet... in any way that releases tension. Notice the familiar and unfamiliar sensations in your body, how your body prefers to move.
Now be stilland notice the after-effects of your movements.
Take three conscious breathsand smile as you go back to work, taking your calm(er) body and alert mind with you.
“A human being is like a television set with millions of channels…. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to recover our own sovereignty.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author
Human beings spend a lot of time fretting, regretting and should-ing. At any given moment, ourbrain acts like a television setwith channels worry about the future, ruminate about the past, and fight the present. We serve ourselves well to investigate “What is happening” in our brain so we can choose the channel we want to place our vivid focus.
Sit quietly for one minute as you allow your inner commentary (i.e., the thoughts, emotions, judgments, etc. in your brain) to enter into your awareness.
Breathe slowly as you welcome the appearance of each thought or feeling or urge or sensation… noticing each “channel” as if you’ve never observed them before.
Breathe deeply as you allow them to become clear and distinct as you observe them through your attentive mind.
Smile gently to yourself in appreciation for your awareness of the channel(s ) you are watching right now.
If appropriate, feel free to “switch channels” to something you would prefer to watch… because what we attend to grows!
Everything tastes like God.
– Medieval theologian, philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart
It’s easy to believe that we dogood work and do it well when we have positive outcomes. I know I do good work because “teaching and learning with others” feels noble to me. I also sense that I am doing well as a teacher because my students provide me with positive feedback. They understand and use the course material covered. So… what happens (inside of me) when some students look disengaged or completely fail a test? Well, I start to wonder if my profession has any positive impact on the world, and I question whether I can teach well-enough to matter anyway.
This is the heart of radical wholeness: Recognizing and living our partin this great big universe, fully knowing that what is in our heart, mind and soul is part of a big picture that we may not be able to see… but we can experience.
Today, reflect on the poem below, “Six Line Prayer.“
Allow each line to speak for itself… as part of the whole poem.
Notice what happens in your body as you experience each line.
Do this at different times throughout the day.
Ask yourself to remember (or write down) any observations.
Six Line Prayer Josh Baran: The Tao of Now
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Sometimes we need to let go of the outcomes we seek in order to serve our purpose. Let’s practice letting things BE today.
We are innately endowed with the ability to give and receive care. Self-compassion extends those qualities to the self.
– Kristen Neff, Self-Compassion: A Healthier Way of Relating to Yourself
We all have an inner critic, right? That’s because, as a society, we believe that self-criticism is an effective motivator… when it’s not.
On brain scans, scientists have observed how self-criticism undermines our ability to both seeand think effectively. Self-compassion has the opposite effect, probably because it provides the safety we need to see ourselves clearly, detect our dysfunctional patterns at work, and have the energy left to make changes.
Self-compassion releases the hormones that soothe and motivate us (i.e., oxytocin and our natural opiates, respectively) and it fosters connectedness rather than separation, the self-centeredness that we “naturally” seek when we suffer.
Kristen Neff describes three components of self-compassion in her book:
Kindness, or treating oneself with understanding rather than harsh self-judgment. In other words, actively being supportive and caring towards ourselves.
Common humanity, or interpreting our experience in the context of a larger human experience rather than totally unique. In other words, as human beings we ____fill in the blank___ … are not perfect… have positive and negative experiences… fail… etc.
Mindfulness, or avoiding extremes of denying, defending, or over-identifying with our painful feelings. Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge how we are right now without allowing our brain to beat us over the head with how we should be right now.
This is not “soft and fluffy” stuff, nor does self-compassion promote self-indulgence. It is the tool we need to embrace our inner critic, one that gets quieter when we listen to it softly. Here is a variation of an exercise suggested by Kristen Neff.
Throughout the day today, notice when you are being self-critical… and be aware that for many of us, our self-critical voice is so common, we may not even notice it!
Think about (or write down) what you said to yourself, trying to be as accurate as possible. For example, I tend to be self-critical about my cleaning habits when I have a lot on my plate. I say things like, “If you picked up a little every day, you wouldn’t have a room that looks like a pig stye.” “How can you live like this?” “You’ll never amount to anything.” And it goes downhill from there!
What words do you use? What is the tone of your inner voice? Are any of these familiar to you? My inner critics words are intolerant, punitive, and obsessive about perfection.
Make a conscious effort to soften the self-critical voice by saying something like, “Listen to me rant on and on,” or “Wow, what a lot of angry energy behind those words,” or whatever the compassionate observer notes when acknowledging our criticizer.
Find something that your inner critic and compassionate self can agree on. For example, I say something to myself like, “Yes, it would be great to have a perfectly clean room… and I don’t have that now… and that’s how it is.”
It helps to write down your observations to yourself so you can privately review them to learn about your criticizer, criticized, and compassionate voices.
We possess a limited number of micro-moments. In fact, Thinking Fast and Slow author, Daniel Kahneman counted them for us. We have 20,000 three-second moments in a waking day (of 16 hours). Not all of them are created equally, however, according to Curious author, Todd Kasdan. Here’s how he views them.
There are activities we truly enjoy and naturally want to continue doing. These are easy to recognize, like hobbies or interests or purpose-filled work.
There are activities we don’t enjoy, that aren’t necessary, and take a toll on our lives. These are our list of the “shoulds” and “should nots” we do to avoid displeasing others (based on reality or our assumptions)… and they can be hazardous to our health!
There are activities we don’t enjoy, but for important reasons, are necessary to continue. This would include time spent raising children 24/7 or completing some aspect of our work that we don’t relish or exercising, etc. It’s about anything “valuable” that isn’t necessarily “satisfying.”
There are activities that allow us to rest and replenish ourselves. This is highly personal and would include everything from taking a walk (or nap) to enjoying a moment with our favorite magazine to having a nice bath. We know when something renews us (without numbing us).
There are activities we don’t engage in that might contribute positively to our lives. These are what Todd Kasdan calls activities that have “been dismissed too quickly or never considered” because of a lack of familiarity of what they might be like. For instance, I KNEW I didn’t want to learn t’ai chi… until I tried it!
Refer to the Five Kinds of Moments worksheet if you want to conduct a detailed assessment of your activities throughout the day today. Otherwise, make a few notes on the side of this printed page as you go through your day (although this can also be accomplished retrospectively).
Be gently honest with yourself as you determine which category best describes your experience for each activity. For instance, if you feel that you did not particularly enjoy getting your children ready for summer camp this morning, you would put a check mark at the appropriate time slot for # 3… or # 2 if they could have done more of the preparation work themselves and you “rescued them” at your expense… in contrast to “helping” them.
Notice how your body feels as you consider how much time you spent in each of the “five kinds of moments” at the end of the day.
There are many forms of mindful practices that train our attention. Some demand stillness, like mindful breathing, while others require movement, like mindful mowing, walking or eating. Some involve silence, while others are built around sounds, from people or nature. This is an exercise based on the latter. It has origins in Christian insight meditation.
Before and at the end of a specific work task (or work day), listen to the bell.
While listening to the bell, visualize yourself as “serving” your interpretation of a divine presence.
Listen to the changing sounds of the bell, how it starts loud, how it fades over time… how it becomes nothing but a memory of the bell before it is struck again.
Follow the sounds as the bell is struck three times.
Listen with your ears and your heart and allow the divine to work alongside you.
At the end of the task, listen with a grateful heart.
This exercise was inspired by cardiologist, Herbert Benson’s recommendation for a RelaxationResponse based on his classic 1975 book by the same title. We need to experience a certain state of safety and ease in order to attain and sustain a state of mindfulness.
This activity helps us develop a peaceful “home base” to which we can return and rest periodically.
Find a spot where you can be alone for 3-5 minutes. Keep in mind that we are more skilled when we nudge rather than force our actions throughout this and other mindful exercises, including the amount of time you choose to devote to each exercise. Small steps will generally trump large strides when it comes to brain training!
Pause and take a few moments to close your eyes and breathe, allowing your breath to become relaxed and gentle. Notice the fullness of each breath cycle, breathing in and out for a couple of breath cycles.
Now, with each inhalation, say JUST (out loud or to yourself) and with each exhalation, start to count to yourself, beginning with 1 and counting until you reach 10 exhalations. If you forget your place in the sequence, that’s okay. Simply start to count at 1 again. Gradually increase the number of repetitions of this sequence to strengthen your brain’s capacity to sustain focus.
Now, with each inhalation, say THIS (out loud or to yourself) and with each exhalation, start to count to yourself, beginning with 1 and counting until you reach 10 exhalations. If you forget your place in the sequence, that’s okay. Simply start to count at 1 again. Gradually increase the number of repetitions of this sequence to strengthen your brain’s capacity to sustain focus.
Finally, with each breath in, say JUST and with each breath out say THIS (out loud or to yourself) and repeat “Just this” as you breathe calmly.
Allow yourself to experience a state of ease as you open your eyes and go about your day.