I recently came across an article entitled something to the effect of, “Why being constantly mindful is impossible.” You’ll have to forgive me, but I can’t recall the source, however the author clearly demonstrated within her article that she was taking pause in her busy day to smell the proverbial roses. Her justification for saying that constantly being mindful is not possible fell in the fact that in her busy schedule and work day she was required to forecast, imagine and envision possibilities in life and that for her, being in the moment and shutting out all else while focusing solely on a single magical moment was an impossibility.
I’m treading in dangerous territory here by critiquing another’s viewpoint, but I will say that when I first started living mindfully, my thinking was a lot like hers—it needed to be because for me, my days were swimming in post-trauma memory leaving me an emotional wreck with very little resource left to offer myself. I practiced relishing the “little moments” in life—the sweet smell of baking bread, the chirping of the birds—tiny moments of peace designed to place my body in tune with relaxation, inner silence and outward, external focus. My life was out of balance (and still is from day-to-day).
I would like to point out to everyone on the path of mindful living that it’s not about finding these magical “peace-moments” from minute to minute in every activity of your day; it’s about living with awareness and purpose. Focusing on the little moments, those nuggets of peace we can find in a ray of sunshine, well that focus is designed to help you to come out of your mind and be present, aware and engaged in the here and now. It’s a practice designed to give you an understanding of mindfulness. As you progress in your practice you’ll start to notice that it becomes easier to be free of the incessant mental chatter—living mentally in your past, examining, analyzing or incessantly planning future actions that give rise to worry or anxiety. Your awareness starts to expand and soon, you can complete whatever task you need to during your day in relative mental silence.
Let me see if I can illustrate how far I’ve come in progressively cultivating my awareness…. Hmmm, OK, where four short years ago I was struggling to close my mind to images that invaded every waking moment, creating within me feelings of terror and anxiety that sent my nervous system into high gear, I can now stay present in a majority of situations. My mind wants to go back to the event, but with practice, I’ve learned how to consciously keep it focused here, now and on the task at hand. I have cultivated my awareness of where I am in space and time to keep me engaged in the present moments of life. My nervous system is now less activated. Four years ago I found it extremely difficult to focus on the flame of a candle without wanting to scream and cry; today, I can purposely engage with that flame and shut out all other distractions.
This is not to say I spend my days staring incessantly at candle flames. The point of the exercise is to bring your awareness to the here and now while shutting down the nattering little nagging voice in your mind that reminds you of deadlines, makes you feel pressured and generates an oddly human thing called psychological stress. In my day-to-day routines, I now find it easier to focus on the task at hand without giving much thought to what happened prior or what may happen “if.” It’s not that I no longer plan, rather I plan with focus, I envision without the interruption of emotional content (at least, for the most part) and I am aware when my body starts to react to perceived stress. This is where I can now take that moment, close my eyes, count to ten, breathe deeply and focus on the “magical moment” of the sensation of relaxation in my body. I can reassure myself that I’m actually OK and that I need to keep my mind centered on the action I am performing, the story-line I am writing or the dish that I am washing. I can bring myself back to the present before things spiral out of my control.
Cultivating my awareness through mindfulness has been a God-send in dealing with my internally generated emotional reactions of PTSD. I didn’t have to give up my lifestyle for another. I didn’t have to devote months of silent study or spend thousands of dollars on someone to teach me how to “find my path,” I simply started by reveling in those single magical moments.
Living mindfully throughout your day is possible; all you have to do is practice finding those single moments of awe or wonder and be willing to let it happen. There’s no one magical day when you will be “cured” of your worry, it will start to happen so gradually that you won’t even notice and before you know it your awareness will have expanded to include each and every single action you perform from minute to minute. Your mind will be quieter and you’ll be able to focus more clearly on your current task. Allow your mind to bring you to a better space. Don’t give up your practice because that peaceful outlook will come to you as you allow it to.
image: Velvetflash (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)