A Simple, Difficult Task: Being Present
A little over a year ago it was early morning and I was walking the damp, dark streets of lower Manhattan to my office. Imagine cold winter winds, and the noise of construction added to the rushed feeling of every workday. It isn't surprising that I came to dread that walk each day. I would turn on autopilot for each of the 15 minutes each way and managed to just barely tolerate it. Given that I have a limited number of these half hour periods each day (about 32 intact, I did the math), I began to realize spending even one of them feeling miserable or checked out is a waste of my life. 130 hours a year of just "getting by," NOPE. I decided I didn't want to just give away that time anymore so I started what I though would be a simple challenge.
My challenge: to be present (or "mindful") during that walk. Despite the fact that I couldn't control the weather or the noise or the all of the city grime, I wanted to pay attention and find at least one thing amongst the chaos I could witness and appreciate. Some of these things I began to document on Instagram, or I would share with friends directly. Some of them I would keep for myself. Sometimes it would be an object, other times an interaction between people. At times I would just savor a feeling I had. This little practice on my walk evolved to observing myself, how I felt, how I walk, how I breathe and very quickly my walk became something enjoyable (even in the cold weather!).
The reason this was difficult is because it required me to quiet my thoughts and acknowledge my environment. I was so used to letting my mind run, usually trying to anticipate what the day would hold, that I didn't notice my surroudings or even myself. This was my perfect intro to mindfulness and meditation. It was a short, consistent activity to get my feet wet in this world.
At the time I had no idea of how vast these practices were. My only goal was to stop taking these 30 minutes a day for granted and try to experience something new before I reached the office and spent 8 hours working away. Now, a year later, I have been done more research and expanded my practice I am experiencing new benefits benefits.
So far I have noticed that mindfulness has helped me limit the anxious rumination and overthinking in my head. It is also improving how I interact with other people, allowing me to be more engaged and a much more compassionate listener. Along those same lines my memory is improving (because I am actually making memories and not getting lost in my head!). And I also feel more appreciation. This one is hard to explain, but I think that when your are present and truly taking in what you are doing, where you are, who you are with, etc. you recognize the miracle and beauty of life. It's kind of amazing. These are just a few things I've noted from my blossoming mindfulness practice so far.
For more on the psychology of why being present is so hard check out this article. That's all for now!