Our attention is a hot commodity. We’ve got a million and one things vying for it at any given moment: media calling out from every device, the ever-fascinating past to inspect and analyze, and the oh-so-shiny future to fantasize about (I mean, isn’t the future grass always so much greener than our current yard??). With our focus pulled in so many directions, finding the present moment is needle-in-a-haystack hard. Staying there? A herculean feat.
And in truth, the present moment is a tough sell. I mean, if you could be enjoying a nice mental stroll through your fantasy future instead of plowing through a stack of emails, why not? Or dissecting your last conversation with your significant other instead of focusing on a monotonous Zoom call, what’s the harm?
I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot lately, as I struggle to get my new business off the ground, parent a child who seems hell-bent on challenging my every parenting decision, and navigate the ongoing COVID mess. I try meditating, breathwork, mindful walking but somehow just can’t seem to find the entry point to here-now. More often than not, stillness leaves me feeing agitated, with some version of “This is such a waste of time, I have so much else to do!” running through my head.
Then I start to wonder: Was the present moment ever really that great? Was I more productive there? Calmer? More fulfilled? It’s been so long I can hardly remember!
So recently, I decided to try an experiment to find out. I spent three days (three seeming like a nice doable number) giving myself as many opportunities to sit (or stand) without any push to do or think anything and focus on the in and out of my breath. Nothing fancy, just pausing to notice my breath for as long as was comfortable–whether that was 30 seconds or 5. That’s it. Whenever I thought of it, I would just pause and breathe. I could be doing the laundry, walking from one room to the next, or taking a midday stretch break.
The trick was, not putting any pressure on myself. If thoughts crept in, as they inevitably do, I would imagine inhaling into them, and exhaling them out. The result? At first I would get these intense pangs of boredom–something like a super-charged whirlwind of simultaneous exhaustion and restlessness. Sounds odd I know! I wouldn’t give in to the feeling though. Instead, I'd breathe through it til I got to the other side. And on that other side? A patch of calm. Sometimes a big patch, sometimes small. But both so welcome. And the good news? Each time I did it, it got a little easier.
This is all to say that the present moment, elusive gem that it is, is well worth the effort!
And for an added dose of calming, this is a breathing technique I discovered that's great to do before bed, or anytime you're experiencing symptoms of stress or dysregulation:
- Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four (through your nose if possible)
- Hold for a count of seven, being sure to keep your body relaxed as you do
- Exhale for a count of eight
- Repeat a minimum of 10 times
And if you’re up for a little something extra, I’ve got tons of tools & resources, as well as courses on the mental-wellness platform Mindfulness for a Messy Life.