We live in a society where we often find ourselves not only hitting the ground running from the moment we wake up, but also catching our breath from the day before, all the while trying to figure out how to run again tomorrow more smoothly, more efficiently.
How many times have you rolled over to turn off your alarm in the morning and found yourself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, and whatever other social media platforms you may be linked up to until you have exhausted every single one of them? I know that I’ve been guilty of it on more than one occasion. On most days I can tell you more about what the person I went to high school with five years ago was doing last night than I can about my own dreams that I just woke up from.
My point is, we are always trying to walk about 10 steps ahead of where we are now. We have a hard time being satisfied with our present moment, and because of that, we fail to realize just how important the present moment is.
How different would your morning be if instead of waking up and checking your phone and immediately becoming stressed out about your day, you sat in bed, stretched, and thought about the dreams you had? Or what if you took the time to enjoy your breakfast and truly take in your surroundings? Maybe you’d strike up a conversation with a stranger on the train if your headphones weren’t in, or see a new piece of artwork on the street if you weren’t checking your emails. Allowing yourself to be in the present moment is a beautiful skill that we can all so easily possess. And it can make us so much happier.
Tich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, is one of the world’s leading teachers of mindfulness and a huge advocate of the importance of remaining present. He has written countless books on the subject and his messages are incredibly simple: make every moment count, no matter how small – because each moment inherently is a building block to the next. With this philosophy we don’t eliminate the stressors we face in our daily lives or our fears and anxieties, but we allow ourselves to become better equipped to deal with them. It allows us to become just as in touch with our happiness as we are with our stressors.
Tich Nhat Hanh has spent much of his career developing ways for us to tap into this well of prosperity that is mindfulness and he has been so gracious as to put it into five simple steps that we can all easily follow without really disrupting our daily routines.
Mindfulness Exercise One: Mindful Breathing
- According to Hanh, the simplest step to becoming more mindful is to become aware of our breathing.
- Breath is one of the most distinguishing factors between the dead and living, so why don’t we appreciate it?
- Acknowledging your breath coming in and out out allows us to fundamentally appreciate the fact that we are alive – and that is joyous unto itself. For our purposes, it brings our minds to something not only in the present moment, but also within ourselves.
Mindfulness Exercise Two: Concentration
- Continuing with the example of our breath, we can continue to cultivate mindfulness and remain in the present moment by focusing on the length of our breath, the quality of our breath, and subsequently, how it makes our bodies feel.
- With this, we can recognize that in every breath and every moment, we are propelling ourselves forward and without it, we would be no different from the dead with no breath at all.
- This focus and concentration on our breath alone allows us to begin to establish a certain appreciation for ourselves; it also sets an example for the effortlessness and ease through which we can live our lives rather than being constantly bombarded with stress and apprehension from things that, chances are, haven’t even happened yet.
Mindfulness Exercise Three: Awareness of Your Body
- Often times we define ourselves by our careers, our schools, our possessions, when in reality, we should be defining ourselves through our bodies – the only concrete possession that we will carry with us throughout our entire lives.
- In most situations, our body is in the present while our mind is elsewhere (this excludes social media, but that’s a topic for another day), and this is something that can be easily fixed with a little bit of practice.
- You’re sitting at the dinner table with friends, for example, and someone is telling a story when you hear your phone buzz. Not wanting to be rude, you don’t answer it, but you are then left wondering what the call or text was about, who it was, etc. and suddenly you are missing out on what is in front of you.
- This also happens to us when we physically clock out of work, but mentally never leave. When we make a conscious effort, as Hanh suggests we do, to bring our minds home with our bodies, we will feel a sense of serenity in places outside of our offices.
Mindfulness Exercise Four: Releasing Tension
- We live in an unbelievably stressed out world. This can lead to crippling health problems such as anxiety, headaches, sore muscles, and even ulcers. We recognize these problems, but only when they become too overwhelming for us to deal with on our own.
- If we take the time to de-escalate stressful situations as they are occurring, then we lower our overall stress levels. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is!
- You’re in traffic at a red light, for instance, you are going to be late for a meeting. Your shoulders start to tense up, your heart starts beating a little faster, negative thoughts start flowing a lot faster. Instead of having a mini breakdown in the middle of the road, acknowledge that there is nothing you or anyone else can do to change the circumstances, so think what you can do to allow yourself to become more comfortable in your situation.
- Take a breath in, and on your exhale, release the tension from where you feel it. If it’s in your shoulders, physically feel your shoulders dropping a bit lower and focus on breathing – it helps slow the mind. Allow yourself to experience the moment, whether it is good or bad!
Mindfulness Exercise Five: Walking Meditation
- When you begin practicing mindful breathing and allow the next three steps to become subsequent building blocks on top of it, the final step is allowing yourself to come into a walking meditation.
- It may sound overwhelming or even silly, but it’s allowing you to walk simply for the purpose of propelling yourself forward on your own two feet.
- With this final step, you are not worried about your phone going off, or your work deadlines or social media. You are simply allowing yourself to enjoy being who you are, where you are, and what you are in that exact moment, with no expectation of where you are going or what you need to do next.
Tich Nhat Hanh created these steps so that they could be applicable to any daily activity. If you wish to have a cup of tea, allow yourself to focus on each step as an individual process. You boil your water with the intention of boiling your water, not drinking tea. You steep the tea bag with the intention of steeping the tea bag, not drinking the tea, and finally you drink the tea with the sole intention of enjoying that cup of tea, all the while being grateful for the steps that led to you being able to drink that cup of tea.
A philosophy such as this can be so helpful to a world that is so obsessed with instant gratification – see texting, Snapchat, and even commodities like instant coffee and fast food. We too often ignore the processes leading up to events that the events, themselves, become less meaningful.
In what ways do you practice being mindful? Comment below!