Keeping your attention in the present is the one of life’s most useful (and underrated) skill. Making presence a habit does much more than make for a peaceful walk to the store. There are actually hundreds of practical applications to practicing everyday mindfulness even if you have no spiritual aspirations at all.
Cravings become obvious and easier to overcome – We all have cravings. From physical to mental they may seem like small things but they can become bigger in life than we expect and if we lose sight of that, we might misunderstand quitting as some big, abstract goal that can never be done now. It works the same with anything else.
We can better understand pain and our reactions to it – If you’re turning away from a sensation of pain, it gets mixed with resentment, wishing, blame, and other kinds of mental neediness. This is what makes pain into suffering. When you put your attention right onto the pain, it’s remarkable how it takes the edge off. It’s still pain, but you know you’re handling it.
Exercise becomes better – As we each age we need to care our bodies in new ways. We need to maintain flexibility, keep the excess weight off and care for our hearts and our mind. I have always taught to keep it simple and present. Just focus on completing the task at hand, one rep at a time, one breath at a time. Keep your mind there.
Food tastes better and you will eat less of it – Try paying full attention to all the sensations of eating a bite of food. Put your fork down between bites to remind you. It takes longer, it tastes better, and for some reason you become satisfied sooner. It’s also easier to negotiate that moment when you decide to stop eating, because you’re not already leaning mentally towards the next bite.
You can figure out “those” moments – When you maintain a state of presence, the introduction of unease is really conspicuous. This makes it pretty easy to identify the thought that set you off. It’s a lot easier to interpret the feelings as a normal, passing reactions, and not lapse into a snowball of thinking that leaves your whole life looking suddenly bleak.
You need a playground in life – When you come back to the present moment, your jumble of thoughts about your life situation shrinks in significance, and the place where you actually are regains its rightful uniqueness. This makes every scene more interesting, because you’re getting your information about it from what it actually is right now, rather than from the rapid-fire associations your mind makes.
You do things differently – When I’m being mindful, I find I’m inclined to hang up my pants instead of dropping them on the floor. It takes virtually the same effort, but one creates a life of clothes on the floor and one creates a life of relative tidiness and self-respect. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the mindfulness habit: an uncanny, real-time sense of the wise thing to do.
Your thoughts don’t hang over everything you do – Rationally, you might realize that there’s no sense thinking about these things except at times you are doing something about them. But if you’re used to living in your head, your obligations visit you constantly on an emotional level, like an expanding cloud that darkens unrelated aspects of your life. The habit of investing your full attention in what you’re doing means learning to let go of thoughts that you’re not going to act on right now. With some practice, you begin to realize that it’s safe to do that.
These are just eight out of hundreds of ways to recognize, refine and apply your attentional skills. It’s all a matter of learning to put your attention on your life minute by minute instead of in the distant future or long gone past. As we learn to let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.
Peace and Love, Jim