Living the Present Moment

The present moment is all we have – this very moment is our life.  Yet we spend so much time being someplace else.  We are thinking about what we have to do or wishing that our life was different.  We can be caught up in the emotions of envy, disappointment or regret and overlook what is happening now.

So often we look forward to an activity with a friend or colleague and yet when the moment arrives, we are thinking of something else – our focus is elsewhere other than the present moment.  When we can be really in the present moment we can savour being alone, being with someone we value and appreciate, experiencing the joy of our child’s development and happiness, or the beauty of the nature that surrounds us.

The role of meditation practice – bringing us back to the present moment

In one of her many meditation podcasts, Tara Brach coaxes us to show up fully for our life experiences, instead of being absorbed by our busyness.  She encourages us to be with our mind and our body in the moment.

Meditation practice trains us to bring our attention back to the present moment again and again.  It helps us to develop the discipline to stop our minds wandering or entertaining thoughts that take us away from the moment that we are experiencing, whatever form it takes.

If we can maintain meditation practice over a sustained period with a degree of frequency, we can begin to find that we tend to stop ourselves in the course of some experience and remind ourselves to savour the moment.  This present-mindedness can grow and develop and embrace more of our life and our interactions with others.  We can learn progressively to be truly present to ourselves and others.

As Tara points out the starting point is often getting in touch with our own bodies and our bodily sensations – whether it is the sensation of warmth or cold, tightness or softening, retracting or expanding.   What we develop through being in the present moment is gratitude and appreciation and we can experience joy and happiness through the process.  Tara describes what we develop through meditation practice in these words:

The art of appreciation and showing up for our life and living with more connection and gratitude. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, we can appreciate each moment and savour more of our life, instead of letting the present moment continuously pass us by.  Through regular and persistent meditation, we develop the art of bringing ourselves back to what we are experiencing in the moment.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Feeling Joy for Others

We have so many opportunities to feel joy for others and to extend our desire for their joy to grow and continue.  However, we can be held back by feelings of envy or jealousy about their good fortune, especially if it comes at our own expense, e.g. when someone gets “our” carpark spot during the mad Christmas shopping period.

Meditating with a focus on feeling joy for others who have experienced good fortune, achieved an outstanding outcome or been publicly acknowledged for their achievement, can take us outside our self-absorption,  build our capacity for “empathetic joy” and warm our own hearts through “vicarious joy” and the experience of happiness for them.

Diana Winston provides a meditation podcast on feeling joy for others in which she guides us through the process of focusing on the joy that someone else has experienced as a result of their good fortune.

Feeling joy for others meditation

Once you have achieved the initial meditative state of being grounded, you can identify someone or group of people who have experienced joy and happiness as a result of some event, achievement or fortuitous gift.

As you focus on the joyful experience of another person or group, try to place yourself in that experience – feeling what they must be feeling, appreciating what they are grateful for.  You can use images to intensify this identification and what Diana calls “appreciative joy”.

Once you have been able to clearly focus on the joy of another you can then express the wish that their good fortune continues and that their joy grows and develops in a sustainable way.  This expression of good will can offset constant exposure to the media’s focus on peoples’ ill fortune.

There is something special about this feeling joy for others meditation in that it takes us away from self-centredness, opens our eyes to the rivers of goodness in the world and enhances our sense of gratitude.

As we grow in mindfulness, we become more aware of others and their experience of joy in times of good fortune and more generous through our appreciative stance engendered through meditation where we focus on others’ joy.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of MinistaJazz on Pixabay

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Engaging With and Accepting Death

Annie Robinson, in her article, How Mindfulness Can Ease the Fear of Death and Dying, asserts that there is a strong movement in the West to reengage with death, encourage open conversations about death, and to pursue choices in dying that respect the values and vision of the dying person.  This is also the theme of Lucy Kalanithi’s TED talk and Paul Kalanithi’s book,  When Breath Becomes Air, which he wrote while suffering from terminal cancer.

There are a number of characteristics of this movement and approach which involve dying mindfully:

Acceptance of death

Acceptance involves not only acknowledging the onset of death but all the feelings and thoughts that go with it.  This includes denial, sadness, suffering, anger, fear, grief and sense of loss associated with declining mental and physical capacity as well as the ultimate separation from loved ones.  It also includes accepting the loss of our old identity and an envisioned future and progressively forging a new identity and vision of dying.  Mindful acceptance does not remove the suffering but can reduce the pain and fear of death.

Being attuned to sensory experience

This involves paying attention to our senses – touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell- and experiencing the sensations such as a beautiful scene or sweet-smelling flower to a heightened degree.  It involves resting in these sensations while we can still experience them.  Some of these sensations will be intensified as we focus on them with our waning energy.  Annie suggests that being attuned to our sensory experience can develop joy and mindfulness.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses, has demonstrated that focused attention on our senses can alleviate pain and help us to rewrite the narrative in our heads (including the narrative of fear and depression).

Finding balance through openness to love

Remaining open to love and caring of a partner, parents, children and relatives enables the dying person to find some level of balance as they alternate between pain and joy.  This requires vulnerability as their faculties decline and dependence increases; it also means that bitterness over loss on every dimension is not permitted to gain a stranglehold on emotions.  In his book, Paul Kalanithi was able to talk about marriage difficulties arising from his extreme workload as a neurosurgeon resident, working from 6am to late at night, 7 days a week.   His wife, Lucy, in the Epilogue to Paul’s book acknowledged that the cancer diagnosis enabled them to reinvigorate and deepen their love for each other and, in the face of  Paul’s dying, “to be vulnerable, kind, generous, grateful”.

Lucy wrote about the balance that emerged through their complete acceptance and trust in each other:

Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult – sometimes almost impossible – they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love (p.219)

Lucy acknowledged that as you grow in mindfulness, you can find joy amidst the pain and grief, meaning when all seems lost and a profound gratitude that engenders fortitude and courage.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of realworkhard on Pixabay

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Savor the Moment

It is interesting that we are frequently exhorted to “seize the day” – to make the most of the moment for our personal advantage.  It implies haste and possession – two primary descriptors of today’s fast-paced, “get ahead” world.

Barry Bryce, Editor-in-Chief of the Mindful Magazine and mindful.org, provides a very different exhortation in his article, Get Real with Everything: A Savoring Practice.

The article resulted from Barry’s commitment to maintain a savoring practice over a week-long period.  Through this practice, he came to identify seven ways that we could actually savor the moment.

“Savor” is not a term in common usage today as it implies a counter-cultural orientation.   The word in its American English form means:

To enjoy food or an experience slowly, in order to appreciate it as much as possible.

This is the meaning of “savor” behind Barry’s article.  His encouragement to savor everything relates to not only experiences we view as positive but also to those that, on the surface, appear negative.  Savoring these latter moments requires a positive stance – being able to perceive the positive in each situation irrespective of how it first appears.

In this post, I will concentrate on the first of those experiences that we normally view as positive – when things are good for us.

Savor the joy

Underpinning Barry’s orientation in the article is appreciation or gratitude for any experience in your life.  This perspective not only requires slowing down, but also overcoming a “taken-for-granted” attitude.

Barry suggests that when things are going well, you would naturally be able to savor the resultant happiness and joy.   He found that this was more difficult than he had imagined.  This is partly because we take things for granted and because there are different levels of savoring.  On the more immediate level, you can savor the smell of the flowers and trees, the rustle of the wind, the song of birds, the sight of a sunrise or sunset or the sheer joy of being able to walk or to do so in the fresh, open air.

At another level, that Barry refers to, is consciousness about your body and how it is naturally in-the-moment and in synch with what you are doing, e.g. walking.  This is appreciation of the way our body parts work together in unison to enable the act of walking.  I alluded to something similar in my recent article on developing mindfulness through tennis, when I expressed appreciation of the moment when the body and mind work in unison to assess the speed and spin of a tennis ball and to create a return tennis shot.

To savor the joy of the moment also entails overcoming the urge to “get somewhere” or to “do something” – both being obsessions of our times.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, we spend so much time “doing” that we have lost the art of “being”.

Mindful walking and mindful eating are other forms of meditation that entail savoring the joy of our actions and sensations in-the-moment.

As we grow in mindfulness through savoring the moment we are able to enjoy a richer and more rewarding life, to value what we have at the most basic level and to experience real happiness and joy.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  MiguelRPerez on Pixabay

Awareness and Happiness

Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, when talking about the power of awareness, identified happiness as a very significant outcome of awareness training.  They explain this outcome in terms of three elements of awareness:

  1. being present
  2. overcoming negative bias
  3. appreciation and gratitude

Being present

If we live in the present, we are not encumbered by anxiety and fear about the future or disappointment and depression about the past.  “Now” is the focus and source of our wellbeing.  Both Jack and Tara point out the Dalai Lama as a prime example of happiness and joy (despite suffering as a result of the loss of culture, freedom and religion by his beloved country of Tibet).

After publishing his book on happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked what was the happiest moment of his life, and he replied after considering the question, “I think now”.  There is a stillness and calm and associated happiness with being able to be “in-the-now”.

Overcoming negative bias

Neuroscience has established that part of our genetic make-up is a negativity bias – we tend to see the negative in a situation and perceive threats even when there are none.   In the past, this has served the human species well and helped our species to survive.   Nowadays, it works against our happiness because we can easily overlook the positive and be blinded by a focus on what is wrong or not working out as we had planned.

As we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we are more readily able to focus on the positive in our lives and overcome our negative conditioning.   We are also better able to evaluate potential stressors and see them for what they are.   This opens us up to enjoying our life more and experiencing happiness more regularly.

Appreciation and gratitude

Awareness opens our minds and hearts and enables us to appreciate the good in our lives and express gratitude for what we have in terms of fitness and health, relationships, our lifestyle and our environment.  We become increasingly conscious of what surrounds us and become more open to joy and happiness.

Appreciation and gratitude serve as barriers to envy and resentment which can so readily diminish our happiness and destroy joy in our lives.

Jack Kornfield explains how mindfulness practices and awareness training increase the capacity for happiness in our lives:

These practices and trainings are really an invitation to allow not only well-being, but the innate happiness that appreciates the sunset and the reflected colors in the windows as the sun goes down, or in the puddles there on the street and the splashes and the smiles of the children as they stomp in the water and the mystery of life.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of AbelEscobar on Pixabay

Post-Holiday Blues

If you have recently returned from a holiday away, the normal reaction is to focus on the loss resulting from your return home.  You might miss the break away from work and home responsibilities, the free time, the opportunity to see new things, meet new people and have time to yourself.

People often feel sad at the end of a holiday, wishing they had made better use of their break, visited some particular attraction or brought a particular item of clothing that they really liked.

So we can experience depression by focusing on our recent past holiday which invariably “seemed to go all too quickly”.

You might also not be looking forward to the responsibilities of work, the time pressures, the repetition that is present in any job, the pressure to produce, unfinished business from the time before you went away and the inevitable conflict with one or more colleagues, staff or clients/ customers.

This focus, in turn, can make us anxious as we look to the future and all the demands we expect to be placed on us.

Alternatively, we can avoid depression and anxiety by focusing on the present moment, appreciating what we do have – health, home, family, work and friends.

We could express gratitude for the time we did have away, all the individual activities that brought joy and happiness, the highlights that we really value and the. companionship we enjoyed.

We could focus on the precious moments when we were able to stop and be mindful in the presence of nature’s stunning variety and beauty, the ingenuity of men and women, the artistry of sculptors and artists of long ago or the magnificence of architecture we observed.

We might also express empathy and compassion for those who had real loss and grief during the holiday period – the loss of family members through accidents or illness or suicide, the break-up of an intimate relationship or a fracture of the relationship with a son or daughter or other family member.

Appreciating what we do have, being grateful for what we were able to experience on our holiday and/or thinking empathetically about others and their loss, can take us outside of our self-focus and enable us to experience the richness of the present moment in our lives.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to savour the present moment and avoid depression resulting from a focus on the past or anxiety arising from a focus on the future.

We can learn a lot from Holly Butcher who died on 4 January 2018, at the age of 27, from a rare form of cancer and had written a powerful letter just before her death which her family published on her Facebook page the day she died.  Some of her comments are especially relevant for the topic of this blog post:

Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days…

I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise – Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

 

Happiness through Mindfulness

It seems very apt to be writing about happiness on New Year’s Day in Venice after enjoying the fireworks over the Canal Grande at midnight, surrounded by hundreds of happy people welcoming in the new year.

The happiness I am talking about here, though, is not a state precipitated by an event, occasion or the sight of fireworks.

I am talking about a state of mind that is felt at a person’s core.  It is so deep that it is not unsettled by troubled waters that are stirred up by disappointments, loss or unrealised expectations.

It is resilient in the face of life’s challenges and rises above them.  It does not cease to exist when circumstances change – it is persistent and constant.

In contrast, happiness that is only occasioned by an event can be lost when the event is over and people are no longer surrounded by the company of conviviality.  This shallower kind of happiness is vulnerable to envy, depression and boredom from the banality of a routine life.

In the sobering moments of New Year’s Day, some people may realise that their life lacks real meaning or purpose. They will go through the routine of formulating resolutions to be broken, instead of developing new habits that will provide a deep sense of happiness and joy – habits such as daily mindful practice.

Goldie Hawn spoke of her abiding happiness and joy experienced through mindfulness and her desire to share this with educators and children. Her life is full of meaning and purpose.

To grow in mindfulness and achieve the attendant calm, clarity and abiding happiness requires practice and persistence – it does not come with an occasional mindful moment.

Regular mindful practice in a way that suits you and your lifestyle will increase your mindful moments and extend to other mindful practices, e.g .you might start with mindful breathing which could lead to mindful eating and/or walking.  One mindful practice can grow out of another – and the growth can be exponential if you persist.

One mindful practice that contributes a deep sense of happiness is developing a gratitude journal or regularly expressing gratitude for who you are, what you have in life, the talents you have or the opportunities that you are given.  It extends to being grateful for your friends, family and positive colleagues and associates.

You can explicitly provide positive feedback to anyone who has provided a service to you or shown you kindness.  Developing an attitude of gratitude contributes to a state of happiness that is impervious to envy – the source of a lot of unhappiness in the world.

A deep sense of happiness is within reach as you grow in mindfulness through regular mindful practice, whatever form this takes.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of jill111 on Pixabay