I’m relaxing by the Barwon river one perfect morning last week. I’m all by myself with no kids or commitments, the sky is blue, the air is still, it’s warm, the tide is out and I’m watching six or seven different species of birds as they sit or quietly seek food together. I’m fascinated by the crabs scuttling between one hole and another, I wave back to a couple of friendly paddle boarders as they float pass and I watch two pelicans gliding in the distance. Perfection.
Then a huge man belts right past my towel with his two angry beagles, all three of them pelting me with wet sand in their wake. The dogs are out of control, barking madly and they shatter the peace of my blissful morning. The seagulls panic and fly off, the crabs go into hiding and mentally I curse this man for crashing so crudely into my little piece of heaven. It takes me, and the sea gulls, a good five minutes to regain our equilibrium and settle back into the tranquility of the morning.
Moral of the story? Well I write this mostly for my sake, but it may apply to a few of your too: when we’re caught up in the busyness of work and life, it’s so easy to lose sight of our centre – of the part that keeps us balanced and in the flow of whatever it is we’re doing or creating. Like me on the beach, we lose energy to small distractions, to unanticipated challenges and the egos of both others and ourselves.
We’re reminded time and again of the importance of mindfulness, of being present, but the moment we’re challenged, and anger, pain or fear arises, our presence flies out the window – like my birds.
So how do we remember to stay conscious and present? I wish I had a quick trick but the truth is that it takes practice, daily practice, to build up our mindfulness muscle.
The good news is that once we start this daily practice, it becomes second nature and we can call our energy back to ourselves quickly. We’re less easily distracted by our minds and our egos and we find that we spend less time being agitated and more time feeling good.
So, what’s the practice? For me, Eckhart Tolle’s presence practice has made a huge difference. Tolle recommends that once an hour, every hour, we spend a minute dropping all thought and just concentrating on whatever task we’re doing. If we’re at work, drop all thought for a minute and just concentrate on the feel of our fingers on the keyboard, the sounds of the office, how our body feels sitting in the chair. If we’re at home doing chores, drop all thoughts and concentrate on the feel of water on our hands, the sound of the dishes as we unpack the dishwasher, the resistance of the vacuum on the carpet. If we’re exercising, drop all thoughts and concentrate on how each of our limbs feel, what noises can we hear.
It’s a simple practice we can do anywhere but it’s powerful. The more often, and the longer we can do it for, we find that we spend less time ruminating on the past, less time being anxious about the future. Time seems to go more slowly and we find we have far less negative thoughts – which can only be a good thing right??
Love to you all, Justine x