In this fast moving and disruptive age, life is much more than a balancing act. It is a complex dance with an ever-evolving set of challenges streaming at us at an unprecedented rate.
As with all things in the universe, we seek balance. Balance between work and home; balance between the food we eat and the amount we move; balance in our finances, and our family lives; balance in the contributions and the deductions we make to this world we live in. Balance in all things.
So how do we achieve some semblance of balance in our lives when the rate of change and complexity of our world is constantly escalating?
One way is to take a breath: literally and figuratively.
In today’s tumultuous world, we exist in an almost perpetual “sympathetic nervous system state” (state of preparedness for fight or flight). Our bodies are running on adrenaline, often supplemented heavily with caffeine, which exacerbates this heightened state. Rarely do we pause to “take a breath” and shift gears back to a “parasympathetic state,” where our muscles get to relax and our heart rate decreases.
One of the biggest contributors to this stressful state is that we are often attempting to operate in three worlds at once.
We are constantly referencing, reflecting and roiling in the past; at the same time we’re prognosticating, predicting and stressing over the future; and simultaneously we’re trying to balance the reality we exist in, the present.
If we can stop long enough to take a breath and reflect, we’ll realize how much of our time and energy is wasted stressing about things that we can’t influence. We can’t change the past; we also can’t predict the future; at best we can be engaged in shaping our future by being present.
Eckhart Tolle has clearly illustrated the “Power of Now” in his many works, and throughout the ages, spiritually enlightened teachers have espoused the many benefits of bringing our attention into the present. Even if we accept the many benefits, given all the distractions and competition for our attention, it is little wonder we struggle to bring our reality into focus and strike a greater balance.
So here are five simple thoughts on being more present and bringing some rhythm into our daily lives.
5 Simple Thoughts On Being More Present and Bringing Some Balance Into Our Daily Lives:
1. Establish Screen Blackouts
Do you ever find yourself asking people to repeat themselves, because you were distracted by your phone? Or realize you’ve missed a chunk of a conversation or meeting because you’ve been trying to process two streams of language or word processing?
When we’re immersed in our screen, whether for work or for pleasure, we’re devoting our prefrontal cortex to that task and by default becoming disconnected from the person or people in front of us. Regardless of how ‘real time’ that post you’re reading feels, or how pressing that email seems to be, you’re not present when you’re out in the ether.
Establishing ‘blackouts’ where you stay off the screen (especially when in the company of others, or in meetings), blocking time for email (and not being available 24/7), and creating limits around screen exposure, can all help promote a healthy balance of connectedness.
Many of us place screen limits on our kids, so placing healthy screen time limits on ourselves seems reasonable? Doesn’t it?
2. Become Present While Performing Mundane Tasks
Have you ever driven a well-travelled route and wondered how you actually got to your destination? Ever done a routine task and realized that you weren’t consciously performing that activity? When we do a routine task we often let our brain focus on more cerebral issues while our body goes through practiced motor skills.
Eating is a good example, because it doesn’t create a lot of overlap with more cerebral demands. Having said that, you can miss the joy of bringing your focus onto an otherwise routine task. For example, the opportunity to truly savor the food you’re putting into your body.
When we bring our attention to our food, to the energy sources we’re fueling our body with, we become more mindful about what we’re eating and that can have some huge health benefits. Mindful eating has been shown to nourish our bodies more, as we ingest the food consciously and with gratitude. Furthermore, eating mindfully makes us realize that what we put in our mouth really matters and we are more inclined to make healthier food choices.
Becoming present during mundane tasks is a practice of really focusing in and enjoying the elegance of execution: truly seeing, feeling, and enjoying that task and not letting other thoughts get in the way.
Just try it, even just for a minute or two, and feel your body’s reaction. You might be surprised at just how good it feels to be where you are.
3. Regularly Check In With Your Body
Speaking of feeling your body’s reaction, when was the last time you truly listened to your body? I mean really tuned in? Usually we draw no attention to our body unless something is hurting, or we have a basic physiological need at that time.
Try taking a break every so often and just ‘check in’ with yourself.
Your body is an amazing machine and will run, and run, and run without much intervention. But when you check in routinely on this complex, well-oiled machine, you’ll have some amazing revelations. Not only will you be present in that moment, you’ll learn some things about preventative care and develop increased respect for this amazing vehicle we have been gifted with.
This simple mindfulness practice of checking in with our bodies has the added benefit of taking our nervous system out of the overactive “sympathetic” fight or flight danger mode, and putting it into the “parasympathetic” calm mode.
4. Pause and Become Consciously Present On a Regular Basis
Do you ever run a scene from the past over, and over, in your head? Suffer from nagging doubts about prior events? Harbor grudges, and pain, from events long ago? Contemplate the irony of fate? These are all very human things to do, however getting trapped in the past can be debilitating, especially when we’re carrying forward negative emotions.
Reliving the pain of loss or regret can be as debilitating as the original pain itself. The plain truth is you can’t change what was, you can’t even necessarily change what will be, you can only influence the present.
When you find yourself roiling in past events try and bring your consciousness back into the present moment, back into your physical body, and focus on the people around you and the wonder of being alive.
Anxiety and stress cannot exist in the present moment, which is why meditation (the practice of keeping your mind at ease and focused on the present moment) is a great tool for dissipating anxiety. Next time you feel anxious, try pausing and spending just 60 seconds focusing your mind on your breath. Meditation has a cumulative effect, so the more you do it, the more powerful it becomes. That’s why it’s called a “meditation practice.” Even a few consecutive “conscious breaths” count as mediatation.
Being present does require practice. Much like Mindful Meditation, the practice of being present requires refocusing when you drift off. Just that very ability to refocus, in and of itself, is a great tool that will help in all arenas of your life, including improving your physical health.
A few practices that lend themselves to this focus on the now include yoga, Mindful Meditation and Mindful Breathing Techniques.
Mindful Breathing is an activity you can engage in at a moment’s notice. Simply bring your attention to your breath and create rhythm by counting your breaths in, and breaths out. Try longer breaths out, and hold your breath for a few seconds after your inhale and exhale. The simple act of bringing your attention to your breath is sufficient to shift your state quickly and seamlessly and bring your nervous system into the parasympathetic mode.
Focusing our attention on the now can have monumental benefits in bringing balance back into our lives, as we divest ourselves of the additional weight of worry about reruns and pilots in our episodic lives. It is enough to contend with the barrage of information and demands the brings present without adding to the clutter of past and future.
So take a breath, adjust your focus, bring yourself into the present, and bring some much needed balance back into your busy life.
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