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Posts Tagged ‘breathe’

March 18, 2018

The gift of presence

2:22 pm - Posted by Gregg

The phrase “Physician, heal thyself” has been coming to mind a lot lately. And not because I’m a doctor. I am, however, a person who advocates being present and living in the moment. As someone who weighed over 450 pounds when graduating from college and who eventually took off the excess weight through healthy eating and exercise (no fad diets, pills or surgery required), I learned that being present (mentally) was key to any life goal—physical or otherwise.

Yet recently, I’ve developed a tic that’s come to symbolize my newish pesky habit of mentally replaying things from the past (as if I had a time machine and could somehow “go back” and undo what’s already transpired) or fretting about the future (imagining scenarios that might never take place, but worrying about them anyway).

This tic (AKA idiosyncratic habit) is hitting the “next track” button when virtually any song starts to play while in the car or when I’m exercising on the treadmill. It seems I only need to hear the first couple notes of a tune to know I don’t want to hear the entire thing and, therefore, choose to skip ahead to the next track (even though it turns out I don’t really want to hear that particular ditty either).

Here’s where I must admit that I’m old enough to remember buying “albums” on cassette tape and having no choice but to listen to an entire “side” of the cassette in order to reach and listen to a favorite song. Sure, they eventually came out with tape players that could skip ahead. But that technology usually resulted in a warped tape and often would skip several songs at a time. Ironically, having to sit through an entire side of a tape was, in a way, helping me to be present (while patiently waiting for a favorite song on an album).

But cut to several years later—now—when technology allows us to skip over songs with reckless abandon and I don’t seem to possess the capability of listening to any song with patience. At first I didn’t realize how often I was reaching over to hit the “next track” button (or asking Siri—or whomever—to do it for me). But recently while tooling around town with a friend, she pointed out that just when she was ready to sing along with a song, I’d hit “skip” and the tune would be over in an instant (thereby usurping what was about to be her big number).

Upon realizing that I do this as often as I do, I soon recognized what it symbolized. Mainly my penchant for not being present. Not being here, in the now—always wanting to get to “What’s next.” Even though I recognize that there are a lot of good reasons to stay mentally present in our lives.

Again, as someone who worked hard to achieve wellness (in all its definitions), presence is always something I’d relied on for inner peace. Yet here I was, thinking about the past or future—even sometimes while actively meditating. And outside of meditation, this lack of mental presence was now being symbolized by not having the presence of mind to listen to an entire 3- or 4-minute song.

For others—perhaps even some of you reading this, this non-present mind might be symbolized by always looking at your smartphone, turning to social media during any downtime (or even during social times), seeking out a show on some cable news network in order to become “outraged” or simply getting so caught up in thought that you’re missing out on the here and now—the only time and space we really have the opportunity to live and interact in.

These days, while doing my best to listen to any music track that starts playing from any my playlists, I do my best to recall the quote attributed to Tao Te Ching author Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

The good news is that we can exercise our mental muscle for staying present simply by focusing on our breath. Whenever you find yourself stuck in the past or the future (mentally), bring yourself back to the present moment by taking three deep breaths (and yes, you should put down your smartphone or turn off the cable news first). As you breathe in, think “In.” As you breathe out, think “Out.” Do this slowly and methodically for at least three intervals. In other words, stop yourself from going back to the past or jumping into the future—two places we don’t need to be. These three simple breaths offer the potential to bring our minds and bodies back into sync—and our overall awareness back to the present moment.

Advanced students might want to try walking into an elevator and watching most everyone else turn to their phones, while you stand there proudly aware of the elevator itself, the people you’re riding with and perhaps even the muzak playing over the loudspeaker (no skipping those tracks after all). For extra credit, next time you arrive early when meeting someone at a restaurant, just sit at the table without turning to your phone. Try the 3-breaths exercise. Or simply offer a smile to a passing server. Sure, you’ll likely freak everyone out (“Why did that person just make eye contact with me and smile? Don’t they have a smartphone?!”). But you’ll be there in your fullest capacity. And by turning this all into a game, you’ll reap the rewards by living a more present, and, hopefully, more satisfying life.

As for me, along with recommitting to staying mentally present as often as possible, I’ve also taken a vow to not skip tracks when in the car or working out. No matter what song comes my way, I’m determined to listen to it and enjoy it fully—even if it’s a random remix that goes on and on and on. Much like life goes on and on (if we’re lucky enough). And why not be as mindful of this life—and these present moments—as we possibly can be?

Image source: The Graphic Recorder

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March 26, 2014

Fast n’ furious

9:25 am - Posted by Gregg

I got a well-deserved slap from the universe the other day. Well, it wasn’t as much of a slap as it was a gentle nudge. I’m grateful for the reminder to step outside of own head… And happy to share it with you — just in case you can use one yourself (a nudge, not a slap).

It all began one morning while driving to my favorite coffee place in town. While I usually make coffee at home, every couple of days I treat myself to a stronger brew that I didn’t make myself. To get to this spot during the morning hours, one has to deal with rush hour traffic — something I don’t normally have to contend with since I work from home. Adding to the journey is an awkward (yet legal) left hand turn into this local coffee place’s parking lot.

On a recent outing, as I waited in my car to make my turn, I noticed an older man and woman walking across the driveway entrance. Thus, I waited to turn, even though there was no oncoming traffic.

“Look at me,” I thought to myself, “Being nice to the walkers.” (Sure, the law dictates that pedestrians have the right of way, but I was still mentally applauding myself.)

Only it turns out that the man was taking his sweet time walking across the driveway entrance. And we’re talking about a short distance here. Minute turned into minutes turned into… Well, more minutes.

Don’t worry. I didn’t honk or do anything crass like that. But I did have a little passive aggressive hissy fit in the confines of my brain, wondering why the man was lollygagging and/or why he just didn’t check to see if a car needed to enter the parking lot and wait if he was going to be so slow about walking across (and therefore blocking) the entrance.

After what seemed like an eternity (one song had ended and another had started on my car stereo — a true mark of time passage if ever there was one), the man finally made it across, which allowed me to make the turn (after some oncoming traffic went by). No big deal, right? Except that once in line at said coffee place, I happened to start talking to the woman who was with the man.

This wasn’t my choice. I saw them both in line in front of me, recognizing them from what would forever be known as “The Great Slow Walking Incident of 2014” and thus I judged them harshly in my brain. After all, they’d robbed me of 2 to 3 minutes of turn time.

(Yes, I know I’m being ridiculous here… But please, stick with me!)

After the man left the line to get a table, the woman turned around and offered me a smile. What could I do but smile back? And after that, a conversation ensued (how dare she!). During the course of what turned out to be a surprisingly nice discussion, the fact that my dog, Latte, is a trained therapy dog came up. At which point the woman started raving about therapy dogs and how much they had helped her husband who had just gone through a series of surgeries and lengthy hospital stays.

UniverseSlappingMe. (In a gentle, nudge-like fashion.)

Yeah, Gregg… This man had taken a longer than usual time period to walk across the parking lot entrance. And what a celebration that may be have been for him (and his wife). After several surgeries and multiple hospital stays, he was up and walking — and even enjoying a sunshine-y day while out for coffee with his spouse.

And yet, when in my car, observing all this, I made it all about me.

I’m tempted to shame myself here. But we all know (or at least are hopefully learning) that shame doesn’t do much to encourage change. So instead, I’m admitting my ridiculous response to what I thought was dilly-dallying man and celebrating the fact that I was not only able to learn why he was “walking slow” (by my silly standards), but also that his situation offered cause for happiness… Not just in regard to his health and his wife’s appreciation for it, but also for my own mental health and inner joy.

It’s often when caught up in life’s to-do list (or quest for a stronger cup of coffee) that we can also get caught up in our own mental interpretation of what’s going on in the world around us — and then make it all about us, when in fact, it has nothing to do with us. And if we would instead take a moment to breathe and observe, we just might learn something and/or find a reason to count our (and others’) life blessing(s).

I probably don’t have to tell you that my coffee tasted even more delicious that day. And that now when I see someone doing something that I don’t understand, I do my best to stop myself from decoding what they’re agenda is and lamenting about how it’s affecting me. Instead, I think of this older gentleman and his wife and send out a nonverbal thanks to them. Not only for the valuable reminder, but also for not being as caught up in their own mental drama (as I had been) so that they were able to unknowingly share a valuable life lesson/reminder with me, the guy who really needed to slow down that day.

Photo Source: Exchange3D.com

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