The Power of Cultivating Presence

Presence is the powerful practice of being in the moment.

It is created through an acute awareness to one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and in our modern day society, being present doesn’t always come easily. The overstimulation and distraction that come from technology, social media, work, family life, social engagements, and the never-ending “to-do” lists, regularly take us out of the now and into a memory from the past or a fear about the future.

As the first of three pillars of Mindful Living, cultivating the power of presence comes from creating the space to observe one’s mind and one’s self. This skill of observation allows us to look at our own lives and the lives of others without attaching judgment or analysis. Using this awareness we become mindfully attuned to all that is around us through our five senses (smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound) as well as our physical sensations (you know, those signs from our bodies that we often tend to ignore?!).

Our bodies are equipped with a natural mechanism called the “stress response,” also known as the “fight-or-flight” response, which was first described by Walter Cannon at Harvard. When we experience something that feels like a threat, the amygdala in the brain experiences the emotion of fear. The brain then communicates to the hypothalamus, which communicates to the nervous system, which signals to the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This assembly-line-like process of the sympathetic nervous system is a crucial part of our body’s internal self-protection mechanism. The only problem is that we are not physiologically designed to be frightened often.

In today’s world, many of us live in overdrive and operate in a constant state of “flight or flight.” This state can be a result of feeling the fear of imagined threats: financial security, societal achievement, the steadiness or demise of a relationship, a perceived health threat, the loss of a loved one, etc. Operating from this place, it is no wonder that many of us feel the perils of stress and anxiety on a daily basis. We struggle with migraines, digestive issues, difficulty breathing, lack of concentration, fatigue, depression, and innumerable other physical ailments because our body is actually attempting to flee the scene of a real threat (car crash, lion chase, assault, etc.).

The opposite is also true. When we practice deep breathing and mindfulness, we encourage our body to employ the “relaxation response,” our body’s counterbalance to the stress response as defined by Harvard professor Herbert Benson. Being in a state of relaxation, your body will experience physiological symptoms of ease, openness, and balance.

A few days ago, I unintentionally experimented with the topic of presence when I accidentally left my phone at home. Even though I am generally good about creating intentional space to be phone free, something felt different. Normally, I choose to not bring it on a walk, I choose to keep it in my purse during dinner with a friend, and I choose to put it on airplane mode when I am writing or working during the day. Yesterday was the middle of the workweek and if I had been asked whether or not I wanted to bring my phone along for the day, my answer would have unquestionably been “yes.”

Climbing up the stairs to the train platform, my hand impulsively reached into my bag in search of my phone. I was subconsciously looking for a meditative distraction during my morning commute. Remembering that it wasn’t there, I closed my eyes, took five deep breaths, and boarded the train car upon its arrival. Within moments of taking my seat, three street performers made an announcement, turned up their boom box, and had at it with their superfly dance moves. I was engrossed and totally present: wide eyes, big smile, heart beating in my chest.

Over the course of the rest of the day, I made note of a few other observations that I could have missed if I was in the phone zone:

  • A gathering of beautiful purple flowers on the sidewalk that had fallen off a tree
  • The smile from a saxophone player on the street
  • A little girl selling brownies in front of her house (although there weren’t many left because she was eating them when she thought no one was looking!)
  • The way the breeze felt on my skin between the high-rises

Upon noticing each of these observations I felt the tension in my body dissipate, I smiled effortlessly, and my body felt calm and at ease. Being fully involved in the present moment, I didn’t have the time to become entrenched in thoughts about the past or fears about the future. I was simply aware of what was going on in the now.

Now let’s be realistic. I know that we live in a technology-focused era and that using our phones and our computers are significant tools for work, connectivity, and enjoyment. They serve a purpose and an important one at that. We also live in an age where anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. Countless studies have begun to explore the effects of mindfulness on reducing anxiety and depression, with many of the results from these studies suggesting that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations. If pills, therapies, and medical advice aren’t curing our ailments, it seems foolish to not give mindfulness a shot. If nothing else, maybe we will get the opportunity to notice small and simple details throughout the day that put a smile on our face.

In my upcoming posts, I will explore the power of cultivating presence through the three cornerstones of our first Mindful Living pillar: grounding in the now, observing the mind, and creating space between thought and reaction.

You ready?

All you have to do to start is take three deep breaths and allow yourself to be.

5 Simple Actions to Creating Space

In our modern world, we often feel like we are in a constant state of busyness and doing. Such feelings result in moving quickly from task to task, responding immediately in communication, and not having a moment to stop, breath, and notice. Creating space is a simple yet elusive concept in our current society. However, when we give ourselves permission to stop and create space between our thoughts and our actions, we are able to prevent reactive responses and instead engage in life feeling grounded and aware.

My partner and I are spending the month of August living and working in upstate New York. We both have family nearby and are attempting to explore the possibilities of bicoastal living. In the process of navigating the details of our summer experiment, it has become apparent how different our intentions are for this trip.

My partner is excited to spend time with his family, visit old childhood friends, and network for new job opportunities in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His agenda feels social and connected to others. I, on the other hand, desire to use this time to get quiet, create a more regular writing routine, be in nature, and slow down to observe all of the new things around me.

Having wildly different expectations of an upcoming experience with your partner (or friends and family) sound familiar at all?

Upon openly discussing our thoughts for our time away, I felt immediately contracted, defensive, and closed down while my partner was sharing. Rather than being present to his feelings, my mind was running through a steady stream of internal rumination: How can he not understand what this time is for? Why would he want to travel across the country for a month that is just as busy as our normal day-to-day lives? Why isn’t he able to see that my way is the right way?

See what’s happening here? This experience is just one example of what can unfold when we aren’t creating enough space to observe ourselves and separate our thoughts from what may easily become a reactive response.

Cultivating a foundation of presence in our lives requires that we begin to notice the moments that we are allowing our thoughts to rule and overtake our interactions. Rather than actively and empathetically listening to what our partner, boss, friend, parent, or child is trying to share with us, we are running through our own internal dialogue while exuding an energetic expression of “when is it my turn to talk?”

When this happens, we miss out on the beautiful and complicated details of the now. We aren’t present and we aren’t hearing what the other person is saying, which inherently means that we are missing out on the unique opportunity to connect with someone else from a deep, heart-centered, and open space. As American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said,

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

Having a handle on the first two cornerstones of presence, Grounding in the Now and Observing the Mind, I want to introduce to you the five simple actions we learned from our friends over at Search Inside Yourself on how to create space:

  1. Stop: That’s right, I said STOP! Stop what you are doing, saying, thinking, and feeling…simply stop.
  2. Breathe: Breathing allows you to become grounded and gain clarity.
  3. Notice: Pay attention to your senses, physical sensations, and whether you have stopped paying attention to someone else while they are talking.
  4. Reflect: Dig deep. What is coming up for you in this moment? Why are you having a reaction? What do you think the other person’s experience may be?
  5. Respond: Take enough space (minutes, hours, days, even a week) to be able to come back and respond from a grounded, aware, and open place. If you still feel highly tied to your emotional experience, you probably need more time.

So now I turn toward you. Are you willing to take the risk of pressing the pause button amidst the chaos and overwhelm of everyday life? Are you willing to create space, get quiet, and really listen to your truth and the truth of whatever is happening around you? Are you willing to SBNRR?

Don’t worry, I’ll be right there with you.

Message from the Editor:

Wanting to learn more about these concepts from the comfort of your own home? Feel free to check out our 5 week online Mindful Living Essentials Program.

If you are looking for more opportunity to create space and engage in empathetic listening, come to our free and open-to-all Mindfulness Community event July 27th here in San Francisco. Check out our Facebook event page here.

7 Steps to Observing Your Mind

We are taught from a very young age that regular exercise and nutrient-dense foods are the recipe for a long and healthy life. What we are often not taught is how our overall health, well-being, and behaviors are deeply impacted by our ability to observe our mind and our thoughts. In this entry, I will share information with you about the power of your thoughts and some simple steps for you to begin observing your mind.

As a highly sensitive person, I am not someone that reads the news with any regularity. When I do, the outcome is normally deep lingering thoughts and emotions that have a tendency to impact me for a long period of time. I don’t love the fact that I can sometimes feel “out of the loop” or not “up to date” on current affairs, but I have found that not following the news keeps me feeling more grounded and aware of my current reality. However, every once in awhile there is a monumental worldwide event that feels impossible to ignore and important to explore.

Reading about the massacre in Orlando left me jaw-dropped and bleary-eyed, each tear expressing a wide myriad of emotion. As I dove off the deep end into the articles, images, and social media opinions of the horrific attack, I noticed the immensity of overwhelming thoughts both enter and exit my mind. Closing my eyes, I began to observe the frantic, intense nature of these thoughts and how they began impacting my feelings and physical body. My chest felt tight and hot, my heart felt closed, and my head started to pound.

Mindfulness is defined as moment-to-moment awareness, without judgment. The first of three Mindful pillar, presence, is the practice of being in the now, becoming aware of our thoughts and creating space between these thoughts and our reaction(s) to them. These practices are well researched and scientific studies have proven over and over again that practicing mindful awareness, or simply observing our minds, has a powerful impact on our overall health.

One of the earliest studies on mindfulness and how it affects the brain and the immune system was led by Richard Davidson, Ph.D., in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The study looked at how an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course led by Jon Kabat-Zinn altered the brain and immune cells of the participants.

The participants of both the experiment group and control group were asked to assess how they felt throughout the course of study in addition to having the electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain (an area specialized for certain kinds of emotion) measured. What the researchers uncovered was twofold:

  • The experiment group showed increased activation in the prefrontal cortex (therefore reducing anxiety and increasing positive emotional states), whereas the control group did not.
  • Immediately after the eight weeks, both the experiment and control group were administered flu vaccinations. Four weeks later, researchers tested for flu antibodies in both groups and found that the individuals implementing a meditation practice after the course had far more antibodies than the participants of the control group.  

Want to really drop your jaw? Check out the remarkable study conducted at UCLA that vividly demonstrates how a similar eight-week course helped to slow the progression of HIV for people with the disease.

Reading through these experiments I can’t help but think of the following quote by Leon Brown:

“It all begins and ends in the mind. What you give power to has power over you.”

When we begin the process of observing our minds and separating ourselves from our thoughts and feelings (more on this topic next week), we are able to clearly see that we are not our thoughts or our feelings. Rather, our experience becomes whatever we become attached to: the endless chatter and dramatic saga that we’ve made up in our minds or the reality of the present moment.

Here are my seven simple steps to observing your mind:

  1. Close Your Eyes: It’s important to remove external distractions so you can truly become aware of what is happening inside.  
  2. Take Five Deep Breaths: Breathing allows you to become grounded and gain clarity.
  3. Notice Your Thoughts: What thoughts come in and what thoughts go out?
  4. Observe Your Brain Chatter: Notice the frequency, rhythm, and pattern of your thoughts.
  5. Let Go of Self-Identification: Thoughts come and thoughts go. Imagine that your thoughts are like leaves falling onto a moving river. How are you identifying with your thoughts and allowing them to impact your sense of self and well-being?
  6. Take Five More Deep Breaths: Trust me, it won’t hurt.
  7. Notice That You Are Still Not Your Thoughts!

When I walk myself through these steps, the enormity of such tragic news doesn’t disappear, but my desire to be reactive in my approach to handling the information softens. This softness that comes from observing the mind allows for opportunities individually and universally to change, connect, grow, and heal. This softness has the ability transform hate, prejudice, racism, fear, sexism, stress, and anxiety into love.

And the world certainly needs all the love it can get.

Message from the Editor:

If you are looking for more opportunity to explore the topics mentioned in this article, come to our free and open-to-all Mindfulness Community event June 23rd here in San Francisco. Check out our Facebook event page here.

5 Easy Tips for Being Grounded in the Now

No one can be grounded in the now 24/7, but when we are grounded in the here and now everything suddenly becomes clearer. Reflecting on this idea, I’d like to share with you some thoughts to help you become more aware of when you are in the now and tips to support you in coming back to your center when needed.

Recently I was lying outside near a lake with a dear friend of mine by my side. The sun was shining vibrantly above us and our bodies were held by the damp soft grass beneath us. We both had our noses stuck in books and would fluidly go in and out of conversation about interesting content we were reading. At one point, my friend looked over at me and smiled. She opened her mouth to speak and three small words fell out;

“This is it.”

Not quite understanding what she meant, I dug deeper and asked for further explanation. As we went back and forth in thoughts, I realized that she was speaking to the present moment. That this, us there reading, with our feet on the earth, the faint chatter of people sitting nearby, the smells, sights, sounds, tastes and feeling of what we were experiencing, this was all that mattered.

The concept of Now is nothing new to many of us, yet it can often be incredibly challenging, in our fast-paced and highly stimulating reality, to drop in and find the present moment. However, this practice is one of the key components in living a mindful life. If we cannot become connected and clear with what is going on both inside of us and in our immediate surroundings while it is happening, it becomes virtually impossible to be in the moment.

All of this is to say that, in order to be in the Now, we need to pay attention to our bodies and get our (bare) feet on the ground. Here are my top five tips to begin cultivating presence and becoming grounded:

  1. Remove Distractions: Turn off technology, step away from stimulants, close your eyes.
  2. Check-in With Your Body: Is it saying anything interesting to you when you really get quiet and start to listen?
  3. Notice Your Senses: Pay attention to what you smell, taste, see, hear, and feel.
  4. Observe Sensations:  Scanning your body, what do you notice (hot/cold, open/contracted, tingly, particular areas that feel pain/strength)?
  5. Become Aware of Your Surroundings: Only after you’ve fully checked in with yourself, begin to observe and become aware of what is going on around you.

Bonus Tip: Engaging with Others: Take the time to be present with others, especially new friends. That means cultivating your own community. For some, that might be attending events, like our Mindfulness Amidst the Chaos Community Event, for others that might be creating small Sanghas. Regardless, connecting fully in the moment to others is one of the most grounding efforts that not only calms the mind but fills the soul.

Being is the natural, joy-filled state available to all of us, whenever we aren’t re-living or reflecting on something from the past or having fears about the future. These thoughts rip the present moment out from under us and often lead to suffering. Becoming grounded is our body’s natural ability to feel stable and connected to ourselves, in order to interact in a mindful and aware way with the world around us.

Interestingly enough, recent scientific research has even begun to explore the idea of “earthing,” a newer term for grounding, which is direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the earth. As modern lifestyles separate us from regular body contact with our natural surroundings, many of us find ourselves struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or other forms of dis-ease. When we reconnect with the earth there is profound data to show intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being: better sleep, reduced pain, higher levels of focus and concentration, and reduced feelings of being overwhelmed.

Practicing these skills, everything suddenly becomes clear. That every detail and idiosyncrasy and small, seemingly insignificant exchange that happens moment-to-moment is truly what life is all about.

And that this, right now, is it.

Message From EditorIf you are looking for more connection and community, come to our free and open-to-all Mindfulness Community event June 23rd here in San Francisco. Check out our Facebook Event Page here.

The Missing Element…. Human Connection

3 findings on why we need community more than ever

Science has proven it, and our entire being already knows it… the single most important element to our health and well-being is meaningful community. One that cultivates deep connections with our fellow human beings.

For me, there are certain days of the week, and times in life, when being alone feels overwhelming. Sometimes that’s just being alone in your own thoughts and situation, even with plenty of company, family or friends around. Other times it’s just being alone with nothing to do on a Saturday night. And yet these painful times are good, as they keep us searching for more.  More connection. More intimacy. More need for sharing deeply with those that will listen. More community – Community to deepen the human connection.

Many times this lonely feeling gets a thin veil of suppression by going out with ‘friends,’ or just watching a good movie to escape from the moment. But the pang of a deep-seated need does not go away. And for many of my fellow entrepreneurs and over-achievers, it can turn into just doing more work, burying ourselves in the feeling of being productive and successful. Yet, as we all know, that feeling keeps creeping back. You can’t shake it.

Lately, in my case, I would use meditation and reading deep Buddhist books to fill the time. I convinced myself that cultivating wisdom and inner strength usurped any outward activity that my so-called ‘feeble outward mind’ desired. And even though the first step in a mindfulness living practice is to build inner strength of presence and full awareness, it is not meant to be a replacement for the activity of engagement in the community. Our participation is vital to our very existence.

Why is human connection (i.e. community) so important?

This question kept nagging at me. Why do I need more than just my own peaceful self? Why aren’t my son and immediate family enough? What is it that my deepest self keeps craving?

So I went on a bit of a quest for that answer.

Don’t worry – this story doesn’t get longer to tell you the tale of that quest. It’s more to share what I have found, at least so far, in that journey. I worked on finding and creating mindful sanghas (groups), I attended social gatherings beyond the friendly cocktail parties, and I participated in numerous mindfulness events… all to see what could happen if I went looking for my fellow “seekers” in life.

3 big learnings arose:

  1. Active Empathetic Listening Posts : We humans desperately need to be heard – fully and completely, without judgment or ramifications from friends, spouses or family. We need a place to let all our self-judgment out into a space where it’s okay to just label it. A place to know you are not the only one.We have lost our way in having supportive and consistent connection to others, those connections that mean more than the chit-chat over coffee or the cocktail laughing with more talking at each other than listening to one another. The classic phrase of “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” is our way of saying “Yes, yes, I know what you’re saying and if you’ll please stop so I can share my thoughts…” We need the space to be heard and allow our suffering to be released in its full and open truth – with no fear, no anxiety and no judgment.
  1. Depth of Inquiry Beyond Societal Comfort
    Much of today is very surface level contact. “How was your day?,” “Did you see the news about Donald Trump?,” “Can you believe what happened to Kara?,” and it’s reinforced inexorably through our habits of TV (especially reality TV, the worst of it’s kind), social media addiction and all the superficial importance (money, fame, ‘success’) we have deemed our de facto belief system.With all this shallow content and conversations, we have an empty spot that gets no nourishment. Our seeds of deeper inquiry receive no water. And at certain stages of life, we hit a breaking point, and say “What in the hell is this all about!?” And for many, that becomes a mental breakdown, when the lack of examination of our beliefs has us questioning the very meaning of life.And so we need to start sooner. Sooner we must ask the hard questions. Sooner we must be open to getting comfortable with simple truths like “Who Are You?” and seeing we don’t know the real answer to that question. People willing to share views, fears and bigger questions that our soul needs answered.  Deeper inquiry allows our minds to get out of the comfort zone and explore. We need it. We require it. Our suffering becomes too great without it.
  1. Being Part of Something Feels Right Finally, I’ve found that being part of something is of great value. A movement, a religion, a group of identifiable values – it’s important to all of us. And we imbibe the values and our belief system from this group. For some, it’s groups that believe being a successful entrepreneur is important above all else. For other groups, it’s being part of a clan that has social norms and gives a sense of belonging by attending regular functions. And for many, what’s missing is being part of a group that shares common values and is willing to hold you accountable to those beliefs. We once called that religion, but in modern day society that notion seems to be antiquated.A group or community can serve as that listening post. A group can cultivate an environment of deeper inquiry. A community can allow you to belong to something that tickles the soul. A community that moves past our egoic need for recognition and status, and allows us to just “be” more fully human.

There you have it. Deepening the human connection is paramount to our moment-to-moment joy and everyday happiness. And as mentioned, I have started the journey for such a community. I invite all who wish to explore to join in this deeper inquiry, whether that’s online via simple email, or at a local mindful community gathering, a small sangha or part of something bigger.

May we all help one another find our own ever-important community.

 

 

 

The Simplicity of Ethics & Patience

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Patience & Ethics

This morning I was struck by some powerful words regarding ethics and patience from the famous Jon Kabat-Zinn. He writes that ethics is simply “the obedience to the unenforceable.”

Nearly all actions in life we can situationally justify in our own heads. This is why we argue, fight and start wars. But only with the mindful awareness to see the situation as it truly is, to pull ourselves out of what we feel at the moment and gain clarity through stillness and observation.  Then, we can see clearly the intention of our actions, and answer the only question that matters: Are they aligned with who we are, our truest self, our beliefs?

Jon writes further, “When you have reached the point where your inner motivation is strong enough to want to cease contributing to your own suffering and confusion and perhaps others. It amounts to behaving ethically – a sorely maligned concept in many circles.”

It reminds me of a lesson I am trying to teach my 7 year old son: That it’s not the little things he can get away with, like sneaking a bite of something sweet, or unkind words to his grandmother.  Rather, it’s what he decides to do based on his beliefs. Beliefs like being kind and honest.  These beliefs are what allows us to see through our situational justifications like “Grandma was being mean to me “.

The ethical conversations continues on the needed patience to act ethically and obtain the clarity we need to begin to reacquaint ourselves with integrity, honor and our deepest held beliefs.

Patience
One big element that comes up in the world of mindful teachings is that of patience. To have the self-awareness and grounded mind to not act – or not react in most cases. To observe what is happening. To notice the emotions arising and to ask ourselves, where does this come from and why do I feel this way?

It’s important to remember that we are not our emotions or feelings. These are just chemical reactions stimulated by outside occurrences and people, that then kick in the mind’s interpretation of this as a threat to our survival (i.e. stress), and cortisol goes into overdrive. And as we start to separate our mind from our thoughts, and observe them, so to melts away all the attachment, the hurt, the identification with the story we tell ourselves. In its place arrives a more curious inquiry into what is really happening.

In the long run, patience means to let right action flow from you. Naturally. The right thing to do, say, or be does not need to be hurried. It just needs to be cultivated, by having the patience to let it unfold. The bloom of the flower will grow to maturity in its own time, and so will our own right actions if we allow ourselves to sit still patiently, and seek the answer – versus willing it to be.

“Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help and creates a great deal of suffering.”

Ethics

The interesting thing about patience is how it ties back to our own ethics. So often we live in our auto-pilot mode of reaction; we get an email, we get angry, we respond. Texting is even worse. What we really need is to dwell in that moment and simply breathe in that experience, to let it sit. Let the mind settle and contemplate what is really happening. Then by reflecting on our own belief system and who we wish to be, then we can act, ethically.

For some this is very challenging because we have not taken the time to examine what it is we really believe in. Our ethics and beliefs are only in a dormant stage, because we have not recently asked ourselves, “What matters most to me?” The next step is to concretely decide on those chosen beliefs as our moral compass to live out with intention.

Maybe we can stop and ask, “What do I believe in?” And then ask yourself why. Sometimes our beliefs are leftover artifacts from how we were raised. Sometimes our beliefs are ingrained in us by simple adaptation to our surroundings. And sometimes beliefs are so void that we actually don’t know what we believe in. Maybe this is why when children (and many adults) are asked who they admire most, they often cite entertainers like Taylor Swift, or Kobe Bryant, or even Kim Kardashian. Not that these folks are bad, but there’s not a whole lot of substance here. But yes, I realize most of us reading this are not likely to be holding these folks as idols.

But yet, I ask, who are your idols? What qualities do they have and hold? What beliefs are they living out intentionally? And how does that align with qualities you wish to cultivate?

Patience + Ethics

If we can have the patience to observe, and to look at any moment or decision and give ourselves the mental space to just see it, we have a chance to decide. A chance to leverage the ever-powerful choice. It’s a matter of choice. And so then our ethics can be incorporated into such a choice – not whether it feels justifiably right based on circumstance or whether someone or something caused such a reaction, but because it is aligned with all that you wish to be, to be defined as, and to be known for, when it comes to a full reflection on the culmination of all your life actions.

Is this action the you you’re seeking for?

Let us decide what matters most. Let us cultivate the observer to give ourselves the space to see clearly. Then let us act in alignment with our deepest held beliefs in all actions. Let us find our path back to ethics.

What Exactly is Mindfulness Anyway?

What is Mindfulness?

The single most common question I hear everyday.   What is Mindfulness?

What may seem obvious to some is quite a mystery to others. And with so many different perspectives, books and articles on the seemingly amorphous topic, I think it’s a very good question.

“Moment to moment awareness without judgment” is the simplest definition I’ve seen.

“Moment to moment”.
This is one of the biggest secrets to the mindfulness movement.   For many, this may be more familiar when we talk about “being in the moment” a concept Ekart Tolle made famous in his book the, Power of Now.   As with all precepts of Mindfulness, it’s a simple concept to grasp.   Just be in this moment, enjoying the moment as it is.   Easy right? I’m in the moment right now… right?

For most, not so easy.  Over 49% of our waking lives* is spent thinking about something other than what we are doing at the given moment. Ruminating about a past event (ex: “I can’t believe she said that about me”) or anxiety over future event (ex: “geez, I really need to start that project or else…”) and on, and on our wandering minds go.

“I wandering mind is an unhappy mind”, MA Killingsworth one wrote.

And I think that is the key here.   Our first simple task is to bring our attention to the moment we are in. And as you’ll soon find out, it’s not as easy (albeit simple) as it sounds.     Will come back to this in a moment.

Awareness. The next word in the definition is awareness and the ignition to the powerful engine of mindfulness. The Webster definition “ is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns” and so if we extrapolate to mindfulness, it means to be aware of your thinking, feeling, and emotions. In the mindfulness world, this is known as Being the Observer.

Observe your thoughts versus being one with those thoughts. In short, you are not your thoughts. They are just items that come across the mind … separate objects if you will.    For example, you may be thinking, “hmm, this blog post isn’t as pithy as Aaron’s past writings, I think I should go check Facebook.” So instead of instantly going to check Facebook or just starting to feel bored.   You’d observe that thought as if you are a third party and say, “interesting, that 1 minute into reading this, and I’m already anxious or bored. I wonder why. Is it my attention span? Is the topic… hmmm….”? And then at least you are observing the thought and aware you are having this actual thought.

Feelings and emotions are even more critical. When you feel something, it’s actually important to recognize that as a sensation versus identifying it as whom you are. For example, you may find that it’s easy for you to get frustrated or angry when waiting. Waiting in traffic, waiting in line at the airport, waiting for someone who’s late.   And you say to yourself and others “ I’m just an impatient person that has a bit of an angry streak”. And nothing could be further from the truth. The mindful observer approach would sound more like “ hmm, my mind tends to easily get’s frustrated and worked up when I wait… something I need to look at deeper. Why so much anxiety and anger in my mind?”

See the difference?

And with that simple act of observance, you give yourself some space between stimulus of life and your reaction. And that, my mindful friends, will make all the difference.

Without Judgment.  The toughest of them all. Thou shall not judge is a phrase all great holy men have professed.   And we know it innately.   Our passing judgment on someone or an event creates a lens we see that event/person through and disables our ability to truly see the world as it is.   Life just becomes a tainted perception. One after the next.

Now, as animals we must use our skills of discernment to decide on what actions to take. Whether it be deciding not to walk through a dark alley late at night or to take a new business opportunity, we must decide if friend or foe. Fight or flight and so on. So, let’s not let this get in the way of the judgment element.

If we begin working on non-judgment. We start with ourselves, where our greatest judgment happens. We accept all the mistakes we make. We are forgiving for any of the errors we had made and we continue to seek to improve.  Be careful, as it’s easy to let the negative spiral of self-judgment send us down a self-defeating path. Be gentle with thyself.

As some of my author friends would say, Let life go. Let it be.

There it is, mindfulness defined.   In our next post, I’ll start to explore the big fundamental pillars for Presence, Acceptance and Compassion.   And remember, being Mindful is not the same as having a full Mindful Practice.

The 3 Pillars of Mindful Living

Presence.  Acceptance.   Compassion.

That’s it.   Pretty easy right?   Yes, and no.

As I prepare for our Mindful Order of Being Workshop week after next I realize how the concepts are indeed easy to understand. Putting them into practice in this world today … that’s another story.   Let’s explore.

Presence is more acutely defined as “being present”. Meaning be in the very moment you are in.     If you are eating a meal, you simply eat. If you are driving to work, drive.   The alternative to being present would be eating your meal while watching your favorite reality show and checking Facebook or Instagram.   Or driving while listening into a conference call, all the while your mind is ruminating on the last email your boss sent you.

Get it?   Great!

So the question becomes, why is it so important to be present?   What’s wrong with being efficient, multi-tasker or letting our mind wander abit?

Well, as a famous philosopher once said, “A wandering mind is an unhappy one”.

The mind wandering is the root cause of anxiety and stress. The uncontrolled urge to worry about a future event that hasn’t (and most times never will) happened causes deep unrest and physiological outbreaks of acme, ulcers and even cancer. Then there’s ruminating on past events and endless negative cycles of harmful thoughts about a past incident or person.   As we dwell here, we are blocking our mind getting to it’s natural and normal state of peace. Yes, happiness and peace is our default state.

So we must work diligently to gain presence in every possible moment.     Breath & meditating are the main avenues to cultivate such in a mindful living practice.

There is one more key aspect to Presence. And that’s the outcome of being present creates great inter-personal “Presence”. In other words, when you are there in the moment with another person or group your calm “Presence” is felt in a strong and very positive way.   Some may call it confidence.   But it radiates and creates amazing dynamic with those you are interacting with at that moment.

Acceptance

“Accept what is”… a common refrain heard today. Can you accept the “Is-ness” of life. As it stands. As it is. In the shape, form and manifestation it’s been given to you?

First and foremost accepting the imperfection of this thing we call life. In the Buddhist text, it’s referred to as acceptance of suffering.   Meaning, accept that fact that you (and the world) suffers. And that accepting it is the first step toward opening the mind towards cessation of your suffering.

Accept you are not happy. Accept that work is stressing you out. Accept you are not the perfect parent, friend or colleague… just accept it.     It is what is. And it’s your minds constant battle with it that causes the duration and depth of pain. Not the actual event or person itself. So lay down your arms and just accept it.

“I’ve encountered a lot of challenges in my life. Only half we’re real” – Mark Twain

Once you accept life as it is. Then one can work towards having a calm, clear mind and allow all the moment by moment joy created from presence enter in, unfettered.

Acceptance also ties to non-judgment. Not judging yourself nor judging others. This is very hard to do. And never a perfect practice, but we must strive to see all things with as little judgment as possible. When we remove judgment and labeling of things as good or bad. Fun or boring. Cool or “D” we are creating mental constructs that are a major obstacle to acceptance. An obstacle to the ever present now, and your happiness.

As Eckart Tolle once wrote, “Let life be. Leave it Alone”. 

Compassion
A word that evokes some true contemplation.   For me, compassion struck me as a more weak, feminine word that was hard part of my own unraveling stage.   But after looking long and hard, it is the right word. And one we must embrace.. albeit not so sexy in modern day society.

Modern day society wants winners.   Wants big success.   Wants stories of the self-made man/woman and how they overcame all obstacles.   And yet, those stories are not the one’s worthy our praise.   It’s the leaders of compassion, Ghandi, MLK, Thicht Naht Hanh, Mandela that we gravitate towards in the end. They have the traits we seek most. And those traits stem from their deep compassion.

So what is compassion. First, it starts with empathy.   Empathy meaning we feel strong emotional ties to those needing our concern. We can have deep empathy for the homeless, the person who lost a loved one or just our friend having a hard time at work.   But compassion, needs more than the feeling. It is the action of empathy. So we become compassionate when we take action on our empathy and buy a meal for the homeless, spend the night with person who so needs our company, listen and give valuable time to those in need.

If wee seek to understand and empathize with our peers or adversaries and simply come from a place or clear understanding., we will remove our personal filters and judgment, thus let’s us see the world as it is.

When we have more clarity to see things as they are, we make better decisions and have a deeply more fulfilling life.

Come from the lens of compassion, and all things are possible.

In the end, combining presence with acceptance and all areas of life through a lens of compassion, you will see what joy a mindful life can bring.      Cultivating these practices through meditation, awareness and mindful living programs will make achieving such an outcome possible.

I look forward to teaching our next Introduction to Mindful Living workshop on December 2nd and diving deep into these 3 Pillars of Mindfulness.

 

3 Steps to Building a Mindful Company Culture

Talent retention. That’s the word on everyone’s mind when it comes to Executives, HR and company culture conversations.   And it’s a seismic problem.

  • Loyalty is at an all time low.
  • Mobility, all time high.
  • Millennial mindset makes it exponentially harder.

And booze fests deemed “team building” don’t work. Even skills training are not effective long-term. So how do we work towards making our staff, team and compatriots feel happy, fulfilled and downright at peace with the work they are doing right now?

In short, it’s an inside job.

Step 1: Reduce Stress by Calming the Mind
We must remember it’s not within our reach to make others happy. Only individuals can do that for themselves. What we can do is lead the horse to water and teach tools to quiet the mind, nourish the spirit and develop a path to a routine that will reduce stress.

Begin by thinking about one person. How you can help them or even how you, as that person, can help yourself.

Meditation practice, mind-body work like yoga, and simple routines or rituals are examples of where to start. First, we need to help folks understand how to be proactive in building a regular practice of no distractions. Cultivate clear minded thinking time.  For me it’s what I call bookending the day. Start with clear, no distraction time in the morning and end the day the same way. Being outside helps. Reading deeper non-related books even better and meditation, for those that are ready, the best.

This also means learning non-reactive habits, like turning off ALL notifications from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and even text messaging during most of the day.

We get anxious and non-productive when we are constantly reacting to all this inane stimuli. It frays our mind and nerves, and we become disengaged with our work, and with our peers. It makes sense to set some time aside to enjoy that communication, in a mindful and focused way, but not at all moments of the day. A peaceful, purposeful mindset will do wonders for all, but especially our digitally native millennials.

Step 2: Avoid Burnout Through Acceptance Perspective
Provide perspective on how truly great it is to work in the industry. For my peers in Digital marketing, it’s easy. This is an ever-changing world that is dynamic and fresh with boundless opportunities for those willing to unlock the secrets of success. But finding time to reflect on how much positivity there is in the work we do (compared to so many others), helps us keep some real perspective and reduce the self-created, un-needed drama in our heads.

Share perspectives, and support conversations, on the seemingly intangible – like how nice it is to work with great and smart people. Enjoy interactions with like-minded peers. Understand and discuss your work path and long-term goals. Think about the career journey, what the path might look like while allowing yourself to relish where you currently are. These small acts of reflection and gratefulness can do wonders to enliven the day and re-connect those in your organization to one another.

In the mindfulness world, it’s referred to simply as “acceptance.” To build a practice one person at a time, and to have that as part of a daily routine, truly is life changing.

If you think a mindfulness refresher would be helpful as you begin to share these important perspectives, try taking a Mindfulness Basics course. You’ll surely be inspired and more well equipped to bring some of these tips to life in your company.

 Step 3: Make Training the Catalyst to Life Practice
Nearly all training initiatives in every topical area, including mindfulness, create moments of inspiration but then two days later, fall flat into oblivion. The goal is to create enduring motivation. To find a training program that starts with inspiration, and has the day-to-day tools in place to capture that momentum and turn it into a life practice. Daily audio podcasts, weekly video workshops, like-minded support groups and so on. If you want real results, this is where it’s at. Not one more training!

Shameless plug would be to Invite your staff to visit The Mindful Institute.  But, that wouldn’t be too mindful of me,… so forget I said anything J.

In summary, begin to think about one person. How you can help them or even how you, as that person, can help yourself. Then translate that into a meaningful dialogue about how the company can facilitate such. And finally, act with the long-term in mind and do it right v. getting a nice pat on back for bringing in that amazing speaker who gave a two hour lecture. The results to your organization will fade as quickly as those feelings of hubris on that given training day.

Good luck and may you go forth mindfully in this cauldron of chaos we call… life.