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 five 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. Allow your body to do what it does naturally.
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. Can you look outside and watch the birds or the leaves moving on the trees? Listen to all the sounds you can hear, both those up close and those further off. Notice the touch of your clothes or the contact of your feet on the floor. Pay real attention to what you're eating or drinking - the taste, texture and smell.
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. Give other people your full attention
If you’re with someone, focus on what they’re saying, listen to understand. Maybe turn to face them or stop anything else you are doing. Give them your full attention, the gift of your presence. Notice their body language, their breathing, maybe the things they aren't saying. If you really are pressed for time, then consider telling them that you are in a rush but that you'd really value an opportunity to talk later.
Movement or sports where we have to concentrate can quieten our minds as we have to focus on what's going on around us. Gentle, repetitive movement like taking a walk or going for a swim can also be really effective. Ideally, get out and move in nature where you can engage your senses and get the added benefits of daylight and fresh air.
5.Do something engaging
When we are absorbed deeply in a task, our attention is solely on what we're doing. Sometimes we find this state, known as flow, through our work, music or sport. We can also focus on whatever it is we are engaged in or do something specifically mindful; colouring, jigsaws, craft work, gardening, building Lego with our children (or without them!) are all activities that allow us to relax our minds into the present.
Like a puppy, the mind will always run off. Each time it does, gently bring it back without judgement; it’s just doing what comes naturally. By all means daydream, let your mind go and enjoy your imagination or reminisce about the past, but do so consciously and in a way that is useful, then bring your attention back to now. 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.