I don’t know about you, but today, unplanned items on my agenda added up to distractions that resulted in an overwhelming urge to tear my hair out. As often happens, I had loaded way more into my schedule than could be accomplished by a reasonable person within a day. It’s now 7:40 pm DST and I’m feeling grateful that the destination for this article is 3 hours behind my time zone; therefore, my missive will officially arrive in time, by sheer luck.
Sound familiar? It is, at least occasionally, for most of us. It’s the result of what I call “being mindless”, a condition caused by simply not thinking when we make snap decisions and plans regarding the expenditure of our time and effort without considering what is reasonable to expect from ourselves and what really warrants doing in the first place. Cultural expectations and workplace demands often encourage and promote mindlessness because of the value we place on doing and getting more, more, more. At times, we scarcely have time to breathe, much less to evaluate what it is that we want “more” of, what we truly value, and what will give us a sense of meaning and purpose. At holiday time, the feeling of disconnect from ourselves is often heightened because excessive attention is paid to observance of rituals that we do “just because”.
One of the staples of mindfulness literature is Jon Kabit-Zinn’s valuable book Wherever You Go, There You Are. I’ve written about the work of Kabat-Zinn before: he’s a prime mover in the use and teaching of mindfulness-based stress reduction at medical centers and universities across the U.S. The book is highly instructive and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about mindfulness and its practical applications.
The sentence that is the book title seems like an obvious truism until we examine its meaning more closely. Think about it. Consider the hustle and bustle of our daily activities, the planning for the future and the mulling over of the past that form the basis of much of our routine. How much of the time are we truly present for what’s going on right in front of us? How often do we experience the feeling of being really there, exactly where we are, doing precisely what we‘re doing? I submit, not very often. In fact, it’s been speculated that up to 90% of the average person’s time is spent worrying about what might happen or regretting what has already happened rather than focusing on the here and now. We are only being present on the surface, barely making a dent into the substance and the potential for beauty and richness of what is here and now. Thank goodness for progress rather than perfection, or I‘d be solidly among the 90% most of the time!
If one finds that the surface approach to life is satisfying, so be it: however, for those looking for more depth, here are a few suggestions:
- Sit down, get quiet and consider and clarify your life’s mission, purpose or vision. Do you have one? Do you believe you need one? If not, why not?
- Ask yourself whether and how what you’re doing is related to one or all of the above. Not everything will be, of course, but if the majority of your time is being spent contrary to or not in support of your mission, you might want to re-evaluate.
- Establish a system whereby you can categorize and rank your planned activities. Not everything has equal importance, but not having a system to help you evaluate what you need and want to be doing can lead to a lot of wasted time, frustration, and overall dissatisfaction with life.
- Do a spot check every so often. Ask yourself, “Where am I now? What am I doing?” If the answers are unclear, take a time-out and refocus. As distractions arise, notice, let go and, again, refocus.
- Do a body-scan a few times a day. This involves getting quiet and visualizing your body muscle groups, tensing and relaxing them or directing a calm, healing energy to the areas affected by tension or discomfort if your circumstances are not such that you can do the actual physical activity.
- Take time to notice and appreciate your sensual experiences during the day. What item or object in your immediate environment is interesting, appealing or enjoyable to you? Describe it to yourself in great detail. Commit it to memory. You can call it up later in times of distress.
- Really notice a human interaction you are having once in a while. What about the other person are you experiencing? What is interesting about that person? What is the person saying? What does body posture and language convey? How is this affecting you?
- Send compassion to someone whose words, actions, or mere presence you find annoying. Say to that person in your mind, “I wish you well.” Notice the changes in you and in the other person.
- Find something or someone to appreciate every day. Think about who that person or what that thing is and what makes her, him or it valuable to you. Convey appreciation.
Following at least some of these suggestions every day can help you re-orient to a present focus, feel less scattered, and experience a greater sense of peace. Establishing priorities and getting things done will become easier because you’ll be operating from that sense of purpose you have developed. If you continue to practice over time, you’ll truly feel more of “being wherever you go“. And, you’ll hang on to more of your hair, an added bonus!
Until next time, I wish you well.
© Copyright 2011 by Suellen Fagin-Allen, JD, LMHC, PA. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.