Taking Time to Come Back to Yourself
When you first cultivate a mindfulness practice you might begin noticing concrete examples of how your skills in awareness are sharpening. Instead of quickly moving from one activity to the next you begin experiencing moments of pause; seeing the changing color of leaves on the trees, the new blooming flowers in spring, or really noticing your neighbors who live around you. Our environment can be just as it was the day before but with greater awareness our perception of everything around us has shifted. With awareness we are more observant and present with our day to day life. Initially this new found awareness might feel as vivid as a new pair of much needed glasses. Naturally overtime this feeling fades but what remains is our mindfulness practice. So how do we keep our practice fresh?
One example of how I stay present on a daily basis is to do check-ins with myself. For accountability I set up cues to make sure I take the time to pause. You could try this by setting an alarm on your phone at a certain time in the day. My personal reminder to pause is the sound of the train whistle near where I live. Nearly every day at a certain time of the day the train whistles blow and it reminds me to stop and pause for a brief moment to reflect.
The questions I ask are simple, “Where am I? What am I thinking about?”
Although it is only two questions you will most likely have a different answer nearly every time. The beauty in this exercise is that no matter where you are or what you are thinking it will be a reminder to be in the present moment. The more often we can do just a brief check-in with ourselves the more likely we are to stay in the present moment instead of getting lost in the future or past.
Sensing into our Surroundings
If you ever feel too overwhelmed with your personal life or the world in general try going for a walk. Oftentimes we are so rushed getting from one place to another we become completely consumed in imagining being at the destination that we can hardly remember the process of how we got there in the first place. For this practice we are intentionally bringing awareness to our senses while experiencing a walk outside. Focusing not so much on the destination but rather just observing the experience of walking in nature. You might already have a favorite place to walk or you can carve your own path. Experiment with different locations for this exercise. Your starting point could be right outside your front door or at your local park. At the beginning of your walk bring to mind four senses- sight, smell, sound, and touch. These senses can be used as references to practice being more fully present with your surroundings. By intentionally bringing awareness to our senses during the walk we become more grounded in the present moment and less likely to be swept away by whirling thoughts and worries. Take inventory of what is present with each sense. Sight- what does your surroundings look like? Is the ground you walk on smoothly paved or jagged? What foliage and plants are around? Is it sunny or are there clouds in the sky? If you are walking in the evening you might take a pause to observe a gradient of colors present in the sky with the setting sun.
Do you notice any smells? In the summer the smell of fresh cut grass or floating pollen from trees in the springtime. Sound- sound of cars going past or passing conversations from any surrounding people. The rustle of leaves on the ground or winds moving branches in the trees. Touch- Feeling rough textures of bark on a tree, or caressing an overhanging branch you pass under.
These are all examples of what you might notice when you apply your senses to your surroundings. Through using your senses you engage more fully with your surroundings (grounding), and have the ability to cultivate greater awareness and appreciation for the world around you.