Taking a moment.
Taking a breath.
Feeling the smell of your hair on my chest.
Hearing a sigh.
Watching your feet rub together so light.
The sound of your fingers.
The look in your eyes.
The feeling of knowing right now can’t pass by.
Mindfulness. Living in the now. Being present. Stopping to smell the roses. The importance of these perhaps overused phrases cannot be overestimated. As human beings we can do so many amazing things that animals cannot – we can calculate complex equations, appreciate abstract art, and feel a great sense of selfhood. But we seem to have lost this skill that animals can’t avoid: living in the moment. This is interesting because the one major differentiator between us and every other creature on the planet is our ability to be self-aware – yet this is what brings us so far away from being able to stay present. Our ability to be self-aware is truly unique and it can be a blessing or a curse depending on how we use it.
I think we’ve all seen situations where self-awareness plays a negative role: it can lead to depression, anxiety, laziness, etc etc. Many such conditions are a result of physical imbalances in the brain, but at a non-clinical level, they can often be tied to our tendency to overdo our self-awareness and live constantly in the past or in the future. Clearly, we have a need to live in the moment as animals do, but have this stumbling block in the way that is self-awareness.
This is where mindfulness comes in. See, we can live the way animals do too and we certainly do it quite often: when we take vacations, start intense short-term projects, or approach a situation that requires emergency action, we often adjust into animal mode by focusing on things as they come and spending little time worrying about future repercussions, or past difficulties. Then when the project or vacation is over, we relax and get back into being humans again with thoughts, dreams, and fears.
Mindfulness is this special place where animal-like presence combines with humane self-awareness. It’s a moment when you are both animal and human, both instinctual and thoughtful, and both physical and spiritual. Many would say that practicing mindfulness or meditation is essential to your mental health. It’s a unique experience and one that I don’t think we appreciate enough these days.
Take some time to reconnect. Every day if you can. Stop for a few minutes at work, home, or even at the grocery store and take in everything around you via your senses: what do you smell, see, hear, feel? What do you like about what’s around you? What do you notice that usually escapes your attention? Listen to yourself breath. Feel your lungs expanding and contracting. Keep your mind focused, don’t let it wander.
I have a feeling that we need this experience of being present dearly. It was much easier to come by before TV, smart phones, and hectic work schedules, so now we have to make a concerted effort to set aside time for ourselves. I often wonder, actually, if this is why we have an obsession with apocalyptic movies and TV shows (yes, I am a Walking Dead fan, and YES I LOVE DARRYL!!!). In an apocalypse, we would have no choice but to be fully committed to the raw, unfiltered, often painful present. And even though that means that we’re constantly struggling and fighting, I think we yearn for that now-ness SO much that it almost seems like it would be worth the pain. To forget the mortgage, the college fund, the credit card debt…and just worry about now.
I don’t know about you, but I think it *might* be better to create time for this experience in our daily or weekly lives rather than live in an actual post-apocalyptic world (am I alone in this?). So start doing it.
Teach yourself to be here with the rest of us. Go.