Being Present to the Power of the Now

Jon Kabat-Zinn, international expert in mindfulness and its positive effects on mental health, provides some important insights about being present in-the-moment.  Jon, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are,  presented on Mindfulness Monthly, and focused on mindfulness for living each day.  His emphasis was on the fact that mindfulness meditation is not an end in itself but a preparation for, or conditioning for, everyday living.

He argues that through mindfulness we develop the capacity to cope with everyday life and its challenges and demands – whether emotional, physical, economic or relationship-based.  He urges mindfulness practitioners to avoid the temptation to pursue the ideal meditation practice or the achievement of a particular level of awareness as a goal in itself.  He argues that the “Now” is the practice ground for mindfulness – being open to, and fully alive to, the reality of what is.  Being-in-the-moment can make us aware of the inherent beauty of the present and the creative possibilities that are open to us.

Dropping in on the now

Jon suggests that we “drop in on the now” as a regular practice to keep us in touch with what is happening to us and around us.  This involves being willing to accept whatever comes our way – whether good fortune or adversity, joy or pain.  

He maintains that being present entails embracing the “full catastrophe of human living”- the theme of his book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  This means accepting whatever is unfolding in the moment, whether “challenging, intoxicating or painful”.  It also means not seeing the present through the prism of our expectations, but through an open-heartedness.  As we have previously discussed, so much of what we see is conditioned by our beliefs, unless we build awareness of our unconscious biases through meditation and reflection.  Being mindful at work through short mindfulness practices can assist us to drop in on the now.

Taking our practice into the real world

Jon challenges us to take our practice of mindfulness into the real world of work, family and community.  He expresses concern about the hatred and delusion that is evident in so much of our world today – a state of intoxication flowing from a complete disconnection with, and avoidance of, the human mind and heart.

Jon urges us to do whatever we are able, within our own realms of activity, to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion and extend this orientation to everyone we interact with – whether in an official/work capacity or in a personal role interacting with people such as the Uber driver, the waiter/waitress, checkout person or our neighbour.  We are all interconnected in so many ways and on so many levels – as an embodied part of the universal energy field

Jon reminds us that increasingly science is recognising the positive benefits of mindfulness for individuals and the community at large. He stressed that neuroscience research shows that mindfulness affects many aspects of the brain – level of brain activity, structure of the brain and the adaptability of the brain (neuroplasticity).  Mindfulness also builds what is termed “functional connectivity” – the creation of new neural pathways that build new links to enable parts of the brain to communicate with each other.  Without mindfulness practice much of this connectivity remains dormant.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more present to what is happening now in various spheres of our lives, become more aware of latent opportunities and creative possibilities and more willing and able to extend compassion, forgiveness and kindness to others we interact with.  We can progressively shed the belief blinkers that blind us to the needs of others and the ways that we could serve our communities and help to develop wellness and happiness in others.

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

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Developing Kindness through Meditation and Imagery

Diana Winston in one of her weekly meditation podcasts introduces a kindness meditation that employs guided imagery.  The key approach is to create a positive image and mentally invite others in to join you in that place.  This immersion in the present moment not only reduces stress and anxiety but develops a kindness orientation that can flow into your daily life.

Paying attention with kindness – cultivating a kindness orientation

Fundamental to this approach is paying attention with kindness – a form of mindfulness that envelops others through our care and concern.  Often, we are unaware of others, even those close to us, because we are absorbed in planning the future to reduce anxiety or ruminating about what might have been in the past.  We can become absorbed in disappointment over unrealised expectations

Guided imagery meditation proposed by Diana can take us outside of our self-absorption and open ourselves to kindness towards others.  Neuroscience, through discovery of the neuroplasticity of the brain, has reinforced the fact that what we actively cultivate in our minds will shape our future thoughts, emotions and actions.  Regular practice of kindness meditation creates new neural pathways so that we will find that we become more thoughtful and kinder – we become what we cultivate.  This principle is embedded in the story of The Grinch.

The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, cultivated meanness through his thoughts, words and actions and became progressively meaner to the point that he stole everyone’s Christmas presents and trees.  He was ultimately undone by the kindness of little Cindy Lou and her community who invited him to a Christmas meal despite his meanness to them.  At the meal, he shared his realisation of the value of kindness by making a toast, To kindness and love, the things we need most.  Kindness meditation practice shapes our orientation and is contagious, infecting those around us.

Developing kindness through meditation and imagery

In her guided meditation podcast, Diana leads us in an approach to meditation that incorporates guided imagery.  First, however, she guides us to become grounded through posture, focus and bodily awareness.  This state of being in the present moment can be anchored by focusing on our breathing or sounds around us (without interpretation, being-with-the-sound).  

Diana uses the imagery of a pond as a metaphor for kindness (starting at the 20.44mins point of the podcast).  The pond contains “kindness waters” that surround anyone who enters the pond.  The meditation involves progressively picturing people entering the pond and being embraced by the waters that spread happiness, protection, well-being and contentment.

As we grow in mindfulness through the practice of kindness meditation aided by imagery, we can become more kind and caring through cultivating a kindness orientation.  Our words and actions, in turn, influence others so that kindness grows around us. 

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

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Developing as a Mindful Leader

Bill George presented at the recent Encore of the 5th Mindful Leadership Summit.  Bill is a co-author of The Discover Your True North Fieldbook which explores ways to become an authentic leader.  He was formerly Professor of Management Practice (now Senior Fellow) at the Harvard Business School and Chairman & CEO of Medtronic.

Bill highlighted the fact that we are all leaders in whatever context we operate in – whether in work, family, community or in a nursing home.  We each have the capacity to positively influence others by our presence, our words and our actions.  Science confirms that even our smile can create a positive vibe in those we interact with throughout the day through the processes of mimicry and “emotional contagion”.

What is mindful leadership?

When explaining mindful leadership, Bill drew on the explanation of Janice Marturano, formerly Vice-President of General Mills and founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership:

A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating four things – focus, creativity, clarity and compassion.

Bill stresses that these traits are employed by mindful leaders in the service of others through sharing clarity, modelling self-compassion and compassion for others and bringing focus and creativity to their endeavours to enable collaboration, inclusion and the achievement of desired outcomes.

Developing as a mindful leader

Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership details mindfulness practices that can be embedded into every aspect of our daily life to improve our overall wellness and enhance our performance in all our endeavours.

Bill argues that in this day and age the emphasis in leadership is on inclusion and empowerment of people to enable them to be the best they can be.  This approach of power with, and through, people engages their commitment and energy, supports mental wellness and achieves results far beyond that of the traditional approach of “power over” people which induces compliance and disengagement.  People need a sense of agency as a precondition for mental health and wellness – they need to know that they can influence their environment and the way things are done.

The mindful leader brings to any situation self-awareness (how they impact people and the situation) and self-regulation (the capacity to monitor their cognitive, physical and emotional reactions and to exercise flexibility in their responses).

Bill mentioned that he has been meditating daily for 40 years and that this has been transformational.  He argued that mindfulness meditation builds self-awareness and self-regulation and the traits that differentiate a mindful leader.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can develop self-awareness and self-regulation along with the traits required for mindful leadership – focus, clarity, compassion and creativity.

 

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

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Maintaining Calm After a Hectic Day

Elisha Goldstein, creator of the Course in Mindful Living, offers a brief mindfulness meditation designed to enable you to “relax and retune” after a day that has proved hectic for you.

When we have been “rushed off our feet”, we find that our mind is racing, and our body is uptight.  We can be assailed with endless thoughts that make it difficult to function effectively in our home environment – we take our work stress home.  We might also find that we are unable to sleep as a result of our many thoughts – about what we did or did not do, what we can do to rectify an adverse situation or how we can avoid such a situation in the future – our mind experiences continuous churn.   The day becomes a blur as everything goes out of focus.

We take our stress home not only through the busyness of our mind but also because our body is uptight.  We can feel tension in many parts of our body simultaneously – in our forehead, shoulders, back, chin, arms, legs and fingers.  We cannot escape the stress of our hectic day because its effects are embedded in our bodily sensations.

Maintaining calm after a hectic day

Elisha’s brief relax and retune meditation enables us to wind back our mind and body so that we do not carry forward our work stress and negatively impact our home relationships.  It is a brief mindfulness exercise designed to quickly destress us so that we can function more effectively in our home environment.

As with most meditations, relax and retune meditation begins with adopting a comfortable position and shutting out visual distractions – all designed to enable you to be grounded in the moment.  The early phase involves a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and while breathing out through your mouth imagining a release of tension in your mind and body.

This relaxed state is consolidated by focusing your total awareness on your breath and resting in the natural flow of your breathing, being totally aware of your in-breath and consciously letting bodily tension flow out with each out-breath.  It is important at this stage not to try to control your breath because this can lead to your body “tightening up” – you need to remain loose and let your body control your breathing.  This requires a degree of “letting go” – being vulnerable in the moment.

This relax and retune meditation can be completed in six minutes or it may take longer if you choose to extend the focus on your breath. As we have mentioned previously, it is important to let any distracting or disturbing thoughts float by – and not entertain them.  As you become more practised with this meditation, you will not remove your intruding thoughts all together but become more practised at letting them go, noticed but unattended – just like unwelcome visitors.

Even if your meditation efforts are not entirely successful at the start, it is important to acknowledge your concerted efforts to achieve self-regulation that is built on a foundation of self-awareness.  It is also essential to avoid “beating up on yourself” because of an imperfect result.  Mastery comes with the persistence and consistency involved in sustaining meditation practice.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practices such as the relax and retune meditation, we can become increasingly aware of the effects of stress on our mind and body and learn to develop ways to achieve self-regulation and, ultimately, self-mastery.  We can begin to practise ways to wind down after the stress of a hectic day.

 

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

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Some Simple Gratitude Exercises

The expression of gratitude does not have to be confined to extended gratitude meditations.  In fact, the more often you can find simple ways to express gratitude, the more readily will you achieve a brain makeover from negative thoughts to a positive outlook and impact positively on those you interact with.  It is a two-way street though – an extended gratitude meditation can deepen your overall sense of gratitude while regular expressions of gratitude can keep this positive emotion top of mind and impact your behaviour on an ongoing basis.

Simple gratitude exercises

If you have a suite of simple gratitude exercises, you are more likely to practise them and extend your expression of gratitude throughout the day as different gratitude prompts occur.  Here are some gratitude exercises to get you started:

Making your “thank you” a conscious act

Stephanie Domet suggests that we can improve the quality of our daily expression of gratitude to others by being really present when we say “thank you”.  We can often be distracted, mouth the words as a matter of course without real feeling behind them or become focused on our next action without being really present to the person we are “communicating” with.  The person receiving the communication can sense whether you mean what you say or are just going through the motions.  If you are not present when you say the words, your positive intent is lost as are the benefits for yourself and the other person.

Savour the moment through your senses

Elaine Smookler provides a comprehensive explanation of a 5-minute exercise that involves progressively engaging each of your senses in-the-moment.  She maintains that this practice builds personal resilience when the waves of life wash over you – when things don’t turn out as you expected.  Elaine also provides a guided meditation podcast within her article.  This approach helps to switch your brain from a deficit mentality to one of appreciating life’s small blessings.

Reflecting on your day with gratitude

Towards the end of each day, it pays to look back on the day and reflect on what you have appreciated about your day – the people you have interacted with and the friendships involved, the opportunities that have come your way, the ease of conversation, the chance to achieve something worthwhile, acquiring new skills or knowledge (or enhancing existing knowledge/skills), gaining insights, growing in awareness (both internal and external).  The list of things to be grateful for goes on endlessly once you set your mind to it.  This simple exercise of appreciating the small things in life on a daily basis helps us to break free of self-doubt or negative thoughts and builds our confidence and potentiality.

Building gratitude into your daily life – choosing a simple or extended gratitude exercise

You can build your appreciation and sense of gratitude very quickly through these exercises and deepen your gratitude with more extended meditation practice.  The secret is to head down this path of appreciation and its attendant benefits by choosing something, a simple or extended practice, that you can build into your daily life.  It needs to be something that suits your lifestyle so that you can sustain it over time and make it an integral part of your life.  One gratitude practice will then lead to another and change your outlook on life as well as your interactions.

As you grow in mindfulness through simple gratitude exercises and/or extended gratitude meditation, you will build your awareness of the positive aspects of your life, develop greater resilience and strengthen your relationships.  Time spent reflecting on the things you appreciate each day will bring a rich reward.

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

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The Positive Energy of Gratitude

Karen Newell contends from her research and experience that gratitude generates positive energy within us and around us, helping others we interact with.  Daily gratitude meditation can still your mind, open your heart and increase your connection to the world around you.  There are so many things that we can be grateful for – whether in the past or the present.

Reflection on our past – gratitude for all we have learned and experienced

Reflection on our past can open up appreciation for our parents, our upbringing, the mentors we have experienced, our friends at school and at work, our education and the opportunities that were provided to us – whether at home, at work or within our community.  A life review can give us access to these endless catalysts for gratitude.

Reflecting on our parents could open up appreciation for the opportunities they created, the sacrifices they made for us, the support they provided in difficult times and the lessons they taught us in how to live our lives.  We may have learned the enriching gift of gratitude and kindness from one or other of our parents who modelled this stance in their daily life.

Reviewing your past with openness and curiosity will increase your awareness of what you had that you can be grateful for.  When you look at the opportunities that you had in your life to date, you can see so much that opened new paths for you or consolidated existing paths.  You could even draw a snake-like image with different bends in its body to illustrate the positive turning points in your life that led to a greater source of accomplishment, contribution or personal enrichment.

Gaining positive energy from gratitude for the present 

The present offers so much to be grateful for – even the very air that we breathe so many times each day.  We can think of the knowledge, skills and understanding that we have that open opportunities on so many fronts – in our work, relationships, family and communities.

Our knowledge of technology and the internet open new ways of connecting, building relationships and creating new things – such as blogs, videos, podcasts, websites, social groups and online resources.  We can express appreciation for these opportunities and resolve to use them to better ourselves and the world around us.

There is so much to savour in our daily lives – we could savour the space of being alone, the development of our children, our achievements and rewards, nature and its beauty, the stillness and calm that comes with regular meditation practice.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become increasingly aware of what we have to be grateful for and tap into the positive energy that will surround us and others as we express our gratitude for our past and our present.  Regular gratitude meditation will enrich our lives and those we come in contact with.

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

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Overcome Reactivity through Mindfulness

Throughout the day we are often on automatic pilot, reacting to events and to others in an unconscious way.  It may be that we react to something someone said or did – like hearing a perceived criticism or being cut off in traffic.  Our automatic response is to be angry or annoyed and to lash out at the other person either in word or action (or by sending that angry email response).

Tara Brach, in her meditation podcast, defines this reactivity as “reacting out of our habitual patterns without consciousness”.  All day and every day we will find ourselves in a reactive pattern, being totally unaware of where we are operating from.   Viktor Frankl reminds us that there is a space between stimulus and response and that we have the choice of whether we use the space to manage our response.  He suggests that in the space lies freedom and choice – the opportunity to break free from reactive responses and to exercise conscious choice in how we respond.

People are becoming increasingly reactive because we are fast losing the capacity to be in the present moment – to respond to life with full awareness.  The growth in the incidence and violence of “road rage” is evidence that people are reacting mindlessly when they experience some delay in traffic or are frustrated by the actions of another driver.  We can act out of impatience rather than being patient and understanding that we are traffic too.

If we practice reflection on our daily activities, we can begin to notice how reactive we often are.  It is a useful exercise to think about a single event where we were reactive and to capture the moment – thinking about what happened, how we felt both bodily and emotionally and how we responded.  We can then focus on what we could have done differently to avoid being reactive.

When we are in the midst of a situation that is stimulating a negative response in us, we can use the S.T.O.P. practice to create some space for ourselves and better manage our response.  Meditation practice can help us to more frequently access this process to pause and stop ourselves from being overly reactive.

Tara suggests that one of the easiest practices during meditation to become grounded in the present is to listen to the sounds that surround us – in a way that is neither interpreting or evaluating the sound.  For example, you might be fortunate enough to tune into the sound of rain as it falls, noticing the ever-changing pattern and different impacts as it hits the ground or buildings.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice and reflection, we can become more self-aware, more aware of our reactive responses and better able to consciously manage our response to life and the varying stimuli we encounter throughout the day and night.

 

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

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Being Mindful of Mental Health in the Workplace

There are at least five pieces of legislation in Australia that require directors, executives and managers to be mindful of mental health in the workplace.  These pieces of legislation highlight the duty of care responsibility of organisation office holders and managers to be mindful and proactive in developing a mentally healthy workplace.

The Portner Press publication,  Mental Health at Work Guide 2018,  identifies the following pieces of legislation that are relevant and reinforcing of this responsibility:

  • Fair Work Act
  • Common Law
  • Workplace Health & Safety legislation
  • Anti-discrimination legislation
  • Worker’s Compensation legislation

Despite this legislative responsibility very few managers are adequately trained to be aware of mental health in the workplace or to know how to take appropriate, compassionate action.  The Heads Up organisation, a mentally healthy workplace alliance, identifies awareness and responsiveness of managers and staff as one of the nine attributes of a mentally healthy workplace:

Ensure that managers and staff are responsive to employees’ mental health conditions, regardless of cause and that adjustments to work and counselling support are available.

There are numerous video resources available to help managers and staff become more aware of, and responsive to, mental health issues in the workplace.  One such resource is the video of the webinar conducted by Belinda Winter, partner  of law firm Cooper Grace Ward, where she explores managing mental illness in the workplace.

A toolkit for a mentally healthy workplace

WorkSafe Queensland provides a superb and comprehensive Mentally Healthy Workplaces Toolkit which is accessible online to help managers exercise their responsibility to be mindful of mental health in the workplace.  The toolkit is built around the four pillars of awareness and responsiveness, namely:

  1. Promote positive mental health at work
  2. Prevent psychological harm
  3. Intervene early
  4. Support recovery

Each of these steps requires managers and staff to be mindful about the state of mental health in the workplace and to be proactive in pursuing processes, policies, systems, leadership style and an organisational culture that are conducive to positive mental health.

Mindfulness training supports managers in their duty of care

Mindfulness training, along with appropriate action learning interventions, can help build the requisite culture and assist managers and staff in exercising  their duty of care and maintaining their own self-care.

As managers and staff grow in mindfulness through meditation practice and training they can become more mindful of mental health issues in the workplace and more responsive to the needs of individuals.  The managers will be better equipped to exercise their duty of care and related responsibility for creating a mentally healthy workplace.

 

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

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Bringing Mindfulness to Your Daily Life

Mindfulness is developed through meditation which can take many forms.  When you become adept at meditation, you can access mindfulness at any time of the day in the midst of undertaking any form of daily activity – walking, eating, talking, or driving.

You can develop the art of bringing mindful awareness to anything you do so that you can learn to be more fully in the present moment.   Mindfulness stops you from becoming lost either in the past or the future.

If you can access mindful awareness during your daily life, it can be a place of ease, wellbeing and peace – undisturbed by the waves of life’s vicissitudes.  Mindfulness is a lost art but with meditation practice it becomes more accessible, even easy.  However, the difficulty lies in remembering to access mindful awareness when you are caught up with your daily activity.

Tara Brach, in a meditation podcast, introduces a process called S.T.O.P. to increase your capacity to remember to engage mindfully in whatever you are doing.  This process can be undertaken in a short or very brief form or in a longer, more expanded way.

The S.T.O.P. practice

This practice can be undertaken at any time, particularly when you find yourself agitated or anxious.  The basic practice involves:

  • Stop – pause what you are doing or about to do
  • Take a breath – breathe in deeply and let out the tension with your out-breath
  • Observe – notice what is going on for you emotionally and physically (e.g. anger, tightness in the chest)
  • Proceed – respond with greater awareness and self-management.

This is a practice that can be undertaken at any time during the day in the midst of any activity.  You can stop yourself from your automatic fight or flight response and be more conscious of what is going on for you while also controlling your response.  With the S.T.O.P. practice you can gain more appropriate responsiveness to your daily life and progressively build your response ability.

Tara demonstrates both the short version and long form in her meditation podcast where she introduces the S.T.O.P. practice.  She states that most people seem to find the short version extremely helpful – with some people even using the practice just before a potentially stressful meeting.   Tara suggests that the practice enables you to “intercept reactivity” and to respond with mindful awareness.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and practices such as S.T.O.P., we can more readily access self-awareness and self-management.  We can learn to observe what is going on for us so that we do not react compulsively, but with a mindful awareness that enables us to more readily experience equanimity.

 

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

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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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