08 May Be where your feet are…
Where is your mind right now?
Is it here, in the present, or is it off in the future thinking about all the things you need to do or in a whirl of anxiety related to all the things that are happening in the world? Or is it in the past, ruminating on things you haven’t done, regret having said or wishing things were the way they used to be?
Our ability to imagine a future allows us to create, to plan, to hope, to dream; thinking about the past enables us to reflect, to learn, to analyse. Our minds are amazing things and they allow us to grow and adapt as a species, but these same wonders of thinking are also our biggest weakness; imagination creates a whole host of possible futures that we can worry about, whilst retrospection can lead to frustration, sadness or guilt.
At best, when we’re not present we are running on default; we’re not really paying attention to our tasks, our surroundings or the people with us. At worst it creates a constant spiral of negative emotion, be that the “wired” feelings of anxiety or lower mood and depression. In those states we are not our best selves and with good reason – our stress response is running the show. We’re in a constant state of fight or flight, unable to think logically, make decisions, problem-solve or remember things. We’re less empathetic, more inwardly-focused and unable to communicate well.
Chances are, your mind may feel like a puppy in a ball pit at the moment, running off all over the place – you try to concentrate, to focus, to give something or someone your attention but you can’t, off it goes again. And with it maybe comes the increased heart rate, the snappiness, the trouble sleeping and those darker feelings lurking underneath the surface like monsters under the bed.
If this sounds familiar, I’d invite you to come back to Now.
Right here, right now, in this moment, you’re okay.
Being present is the essence of being mindful – we’re paying attention in the moment. To do this, we need to get in touch with our senses and our surroundings. Here are three different methods to try; feel free to share yours.
Bring your attention to your breath. Notice where you feel it, maybe the air moving past your nostrils or your tummy rising and falling. Without trying to control it or judge it, just observe it with curiosity. Notice the temperature of the air, the depth of the breath, the pause at the top and the bottom of the breath.
2. Engage your senses
When we truly engage with our senses, we can only be in the present; we see, hear, touch, feel, smell and taste in this moment.
If your mind is really racing, one excellent way to bring engage the senses is the “3-2-1 Exercise”, adapted from Dr Russ Harris’ excellent book The Happiness Trap.
- First notice 3 things you can see. What’s here, outside your head? Hold your attention and actively name them
- Second, shift your awareness to 2 things that you can feel. This could be clothes against your skin, air on your face or the chair underneath you. Stay with each of those sensations for a moment.
- Name 1 thing you can hear. Be with that sound.
This exercise is a really powerful way of grounding ourselves and useful at any point that we feel anxiety rising.
3. Focus on what you are doing
If you’re with someone, focus on what they’re saying, listen to understand. Maybe turn to face them, stop anything else you are doing. If you’re doing a task, bring your attention to what you’re touching, what you’re looking at. Bring your mind solely on to this task, this moment.
Like the puppy, the mind will run off again. Each time it does, gently bring it back without judgement; it’s just doing what comes naturally. The more time you spend in the present, the easier it becomes to return to it. The present is a powerful place to be – it’s where we solve problems, make decisions and connect meaningfully. Now more than ever, it’s an anchor point, a place of strength and security.
Be where your feet are.