We hear the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘being present’ a lot in the world these days, and often in the world of yoga. These seem like new-age terms but they’re ancient concepts that have underpinned yoga philosophy since its inception. If you’re being PRESENT you’re doing YOGA.
So, what do we mean when we talk about mindfulness and presence? And how might these things benefit us?
Being mindful and present, in simplest terms, means being AWARE. It means bringing your full attention to any task you are undertaking – connecting with the movement and sensations involved in an action. It can be as simple as noticing the breath and how/where it moves in the body. Or watching your hand pick up an item and noticing what that item looks, feels and/or smells like.
Being present and mindful are not limited to physical experiences. We can also draw our awareness to our thought and emotions. This can be an interesting process as we begin to observe our patterns of thinking and feeling and how these patterns affect our behaviours and our quality of life. We can do this simply by stopping in a moment of high emotion (or anytime!) and asking ourselves ‘what am I thinking about?’
In the realm of my unconscious I’m usually admonishing myself with some obsessive and totally subjective criticism: ‘you’re a failure!’ or something similarly charming (usually in the voice of a Nurse Ratchett). This leads to an experience of emotional discomfort (usually anxiety), which in turn leads to a mindless chocolate binge during which I’m not even PRESENT enough to taste the chocolate (and I have lactose intolerance so I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what happens next). If I could be present with the initial thought I might be able to short circuit that entire unnecessary process – simply by observing it, being present with it, instead of scrabbling for relief.
When we are living unconsciously (without mindfulness and presence) we can get caught up in things that cause us suffering – like regrets about the past, worries about the future, anticipating events that have not yet happened, fantasising about the kind of life we want, resenting things we don’t have, wishing we were something or somewhere else, indulging our insecurities, looking for ways to ease our discomfort and pain, choosing impulsive and often destructive ways to get ahead (like stepping on other people and giving ourselves avoidable runny bum). This way of being creates a constant state of tension and RESISTANCE towards life. We cannot FLOW with life. We never feel truly safe. PEACE OF MIND eludes us. We perpetuate a cycle of suffering.
When we stop and simply be PRESENT, we become CONSCIOUS. We WAKE UP and begin to actually LIVE life. We respond IN the moment TO the moment, without judgement and neurosis. We simply notice what is and we make an attempt to allow it to BE.
A mindless life passes in a flash and we wonder where it went. A mindful life is a life LIVED. It is a life RICH with experience. It is an appreciation for every moment. It allows us to suffer without avoidance. Each suffering is suffered once – not replayed and suffered and avenged a thousand more times in the imagination.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Experiment with being present and observe if it transforms your life.
I’m starting right now. After I eat this chocolate.
Copyright © The Yoga Experiment, 2012