How presence adds meaning to your life

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We've all heard the mounting research that indicates that our buzzing lifestyles and devices are zapping our attention, our memory, increasing our stress, and negatively affecting a number of aspects of our mental and physical health. With this magic being no secret, most of us easily come up with a list of excuses to not sit quietly. This is the nature of the mind, by the way, to come up with fear-based excuses. Once you begin witnessing the nature of the mind, you will see that these are just tricks. Don’t fall victim to the trick!

Let's expand on some deeper reasons why we should work to break the habit of exiting the present moment.

if we constantly live in the future, we miss our entire life

Our days are a string of decisions, starting with what time you wake up, what you wear and what you choose to eat for breakfast. This is a problem because collectively, it has become a habit to make these decision ahead of time -- this is an illusion, of course, because as much as we want to deny it, we can never actually know what decisions and options we will be faced with in the moment. My meditation teacher's teacher in India said to her, “you Americans plan what you’re going to wear before you get to the closet.” It’s as if we don’t trust ourselves to make the right decision in the moment – that is why presence is an act of self trust.

We spend 50% of our waking lives thinking about something other than what we are actually doing, and we don't get any of these moments back. Here is how my day would go before I started practicing mindfulness: I walk home from work underneath a beautiful sunset that I miss because I'm writing an email in my head that I have to send when I get home; as I write the email, I plan what I want to say to my friend on the phone afterwards; while I speak to my friend, I think about what I'm going to eat for dinner; halfway through dinner, I daydream about my dark chocolate squares; as I eat dessert, I think about when I'm setting my alarm for the morning. When we live in the future like this, we rip through our day, and in the end we find that we weren’t really in it. We completely miss what the universe is unfolding for us. Trust that you will make the right decision when you have it front of you. Think about it: if you’re cycling through the potential solutions in your head before you even have the choices at hand, you already intuitively know how to handle to decision. Doesn't this sound like a waste?! Save your mind energy for making sound decisions in the now. 

The function of the brain is to serve the present and the real, not to send man chasing wildly after the phantom future or clinging to the dead past.
— Allan Watts, Wisdom of Insecurity, 1951

99% of this work is acknowledging the predicament we are in – that is, the burden of missing out on real life and the wasted mind energy. From there, it’s about holding compassion for yourself on your journey and determination to practice.

find out what you're supposed to do in this life

The sacred yogic texts say that the present moment is the only opportunity to practice correct perception, which means seeing things as they actually are. Only when we see clearly in this way are we connected to our wisest self – we enter a flow state where we are resourceful, creative, and efficient. When we are connected to the wisest part of our being, we make decisions that support our dharma, which is our purpose in this life; our inner wisdom guides us only when detach from the mental noise and enter the now. Only then can we make decisions that exploit our unique gifts and talents in a way that uplifts us and uplifts those around us. Review:

Meditation ➡️Presence ➡️Correct Perception ➡️Wisest Self ➡️Life Purpose ➡️serve ourselves ➡️Serve others

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Common Obstacles

Now that we more deeply understand that meditation benefits us and all beings everywhere, let's consider some doubts that commonly get in the way of actually sitting down to do it. 

I don't have the time or discipline

Yes, you do. You always have one minute. Start with that. Maybe you make it to five in a month. We easily spend 10 minutes scrolling around on our phones each day, and over an hour for some us. You have the time. It's just a matter of what you are prioritizing. The question is, what are you willing to do to reclaim agency over your right to be well?

Where in your day could you spare one to five minutes? Attach meditation to something else already in your routine — maybe before you brush your teeth in the morning or before you eat dinner. It might be hard at first, but remember that it is consistency that you are after, not duration. When life gets in the way, remember that the mind is conditioned to come up with excuses, and you've committed to not fall victim to the mind tricks.

I don't know how

Step 1: Sit with a long spine, on a pillow or a yoga block. Alternatively, what I do is sit tall on a chair with my feet on the ground and away from the back of the chair to keep alert. You can also lie on the ground.

Step 2: Follow your breath – begin by taking a few long deep breaths to settle in. I find it helpful to speak to my mind as I begin:

Hey mind, I know you always take control up there, but for the next few minutes, I am going to take the drivers seat. I might hear you talk, but I won’t listen or engage. Thank you, but you can have a break now.

As you return to the the natural rhythm, choose a focal point where you feel the breath present for you: in and out of the nostrils, the chest, or the belly. Simply witness the breath. You can even say to yourself: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Step 3:  The mind will wander - remember that the nature of the mind to exit the present moment, and you are sitting there to break that exact habit. The fact that you have caught yourself is a BEAUTIFUL thing! Every time that you realize you aren't present, you are present. That is when you smile, notice what caught your attention, and return to your breath. The problem isn’t that we think or feel too much — its that we cling to these thoughts and emotions. As a detached witness, you will notice that these distraction actually fall away as quickly as they arise, if you let them.  Walk with two sticks: compassion for yourself for getting caught up in a distraction, and determination to return focus to your breath.

Alternative: Mindfulness broadly means giving your full attention to whatever you are doing in the moment. So, washing dishes and only washing the dishes, instead of also talking on the phone or listening to a podcast, is a form of meditation. Similarly, taking a walk and feeling the wind on your face and listening to the sound of your footsteps, is meditation. Anytime in your day when you are alone, try this time of moving meditation. Same thing goes: when the mind wanders, you bring yourself back to your breath and the sensations of your activity.

this doesn't actually help my daily life

With dedicated practice a formal setting, you create an intimate partnership with your breath, so that you can access presence whenever you need it. Meditation doesn't clean up the mess in your life, but instead allows you to better handle the mess in your life. Consistent practice of following the breath lends you the tools to remain present when you are under stress or feel scattered, so that you can move forward with clarity and skillful action. Your breath is a gift from the present moment - in each moment there is a new breath to bring you back home. Your day will begin to reflect your meditation practice – when you catch yourself in a rabbit hole, smile, notice where the mind went, and brig yourself back to your breath to re-ground. 

I'm not good at it - I have too many thoughts.

Be very careful to never judge your practice. It's the same neurotic and fearful voice coming in the back door. There is no 'good' or 'bad' session - your practice just is the way it is that day; you notice what comes up and you show up again the next day. Ultimately, you’re only job is to make your practice consistent. You are tired, scattered, distraught, anxious, lonely: you show up. You learn to sit swithyourself in these moments. Don't expect to experience silence or bliss during meditation. Awareness of the chatty mind IS the practice. The idea isn't to immediately clear away the distractions that you experience. Instead, the idea to stay neutral toward the distractions: the thoughts (e.g., "I need to move on with my day"), emotions (e.g., boredom, frustration, doubt), and physical sensations (tight hip, an itch). If we can stay neutral – notice and not get caught up – they will fade into the background. With practice, their pull on us becomes softer and softer. 

Patience, Compassion, & Determination

Above all, have compassion for yourself during this process. Overtime, with consistency and compassion, the subtle effects will transform your life. The fact that you have even gotten to the end of this blog post means you are doing such good work. This is not easy – I've been working on presence for a year and I talk to myself at least 100 times a day to spare myself from mental chatter: Meaghan, Be Here Now. Be with your meal. Be with your partner. Be with your book. Be with your rest. Everything else will wait. Trust that you will know what to do when you get there. I consider catching myself like this a win, as it means I've returned to the vibrant and vivid now. You are training the muscles of the brain just like you would the muscles in your body — it takes time and dedication to recalibrate the brain.

May we keep showing up to our seat and being kind to ourselves. May we trust that everything we need, and everything divine and holy, exists here now. May we keep coming back, again and again and again, to the present moment as we walk about this world. 

Embracing our broken places

Darkness connects us as humans

We have all experienced adversity in our lives. Even further, we have all experienced some form of trauma, as well – simply coming out of the womb is a traumatic experience. Call it "lower case t trauma" if that helps. But we all have deep wounds and dark memories – emotional bruises are inherent in being a human, and actually link us all together. I'd like to share some tools on how to embrace these parts of our story as gifts rather than limitations, because making friends with our broken places allows us to move about the world in a way that is clear, love-filled, and authentic. 

adversity made me stronger

My parents began a pretty intense divorce when I was six, and the eight-year divorce defined my early life. While some vivid, traumatic memories are difficult for me to revisit, I've done some deep reflection on how to embrace these parts of me. Acknowledging how my experience has informed two of my strongest characteristic – my inspiring, positive spirit and my capacity for forgiveness – has allowed me to love my whole story. I will briefly expand on both learned traits.

As a coping mechanism as a child, I developed the habit of telling myself “it’s going to be okay” when a situation felt frightening. Since then, I’ve maintained the ability to stay positive and level-headed in stressful or threatening situations, so that I can problem-solve, remain action-oriented, and uplift personal and group morale. In the face of a challenge, I am conditioned to move forward rather than shrink in fear, handling issues at hand with equanimity. It's a pretty good skill to have. 

The other learned quality that I acquired from my parents divorce is mercy, which is best articulated in one my favorite quotes:

“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.
— Yogi Bhajan

The essence of this quote has been invaluable in preserving self-love and forgiving others as I have gone throughout my life. During my childhood, I never doubted that my parents loved, so I understood early on that the way that they hurt me had nothing to do with me at all, but rather their relationships with themselves and what they were going through in their own lives. As I’ve grown up and have been hurt by people, I've utilized the strength of mercy that was bestowed to me by my past to see that hurt people, hurt people, and forgiveness is usually a no-brainer for me.

Love your Shadows

To truly remove any shame around our darker places, we must go beyond simply seeing the bright side of our dark places. The challenge now is to look back on our adversity as if we’d chosen it. 

What?! Opting for disappointment?! Sounds crazy, but consider the alternative: a life completely devoid of dis-ease. What kind of person would you be? For me, other than my parents divorce, my early life would have been a carousel; I would likely be shallow, flat, stagnant, ignorant, isolated, and ill-equipped to face life's experiences as I grew older, rather than compassionate, forgiving, deep and real. So, yes, after a lot of deep reflection and guidance from mentors, I can now confidently say that if given the chance at birth to choose the events of my life, I would have chosen my shadows.

Why? For what?

1. Joy and peace

Accepting your past experiences is extremely important because as we all know, old woulds get triggered very easily, and they can change your mood in an instant. When we hide from our wounds instead of embracing them, they can easily get triggered – that is to say, when you feel overwhelmingly disturbed by something. Owning our shadows fully frees us form the hold they have over us, and prevents them from spontaneously creeping up and shutting us down, leaving room for much more joy and peace in our lives.

2. Burning up Karma

The Hindu and Buddhist traditions would argue that we should celebrate our adversity, since these challenges are negative karma that we accrued in past lives, working themselves out in this life. In other words, our challenges are part of the purification of our soul. As long as we put out as much good karma as we can, through being positive members of society (e.g., holding doors for people, being truthful, giving out unconditional love, practicing non-judgement, etc.), we have less and less karma to work out in our next lives. So, when you're amidst an intense life challenge comes, hang tight, be patient, and remember that no feeling is final. Embrace what is happening to you as an opportunity to mature and gain clearer insight on the world.  

3. self-Love Begets LOVE

Law of attraction. Whether we know it or not, our identities (thought-forms based on our experiences) guide us and how we interact with through world. After being hurt and disappointed, we may have subconsciously shut down in order to protect our hearts from future pain. Unfortunately, this also shuts us off from the potential to attract love as well. If we identify with our broken parts, we act from that place of brokenness, we attract more incomplete relationships and make foggy decisions. Instead, we must let the love that always hides behind our emotional barricades show its face. We truly must love ourselves first before we can expect any true love to flow around us (not necessarily romantic love, but the kind of love that is absolute and all around). Thus, by genuinely exploring the growth and beauty that comes from adversity, as if we'd chosen it, we learn to love all parts of ourselves equally. Dark, light, and everything in between. This, to me, is self-love, and honoring my complete nature has been one of the most powerful healing tools I’ve ever experienced.

Practice

When a wound is triggered, pause. Sit with it quietly in that moment or at the end of the day. Do your very best to focus, and trace the trigger back to the original wound. The first step to freeing ourselves from the wounds that lock us in prisons is getting to know them. Embrace it, feel it, let it flow, talk to it. Even if it hurts. If it feels too intense, get a coach or a therapist to support you. Or on your own, try free-journaling: What did I learn from this? How did I grow? What factors contributed to my resilience? Get to know the wound, love the wound, and you will ultimately see is that it's not so scary, and you no longer need to build walls around yourself. And as you accrue new wounds, big and small, you are better equipped to not label them as such. You will learn to allow challenging experiences to move through you, with impermanent feelings of behind pain and sorrow and permanent growth. Owning your shadow brings you closer to the truth of who you are and allows you to move about the world in a way that is authentic and full of limitless potential. 

Further watching on how knowing your whole self allows you to know what your life's work is meant to be:  Stephanie Snyder's Ted Talk: Learning How To Live

Gratitude To Avoid Suffering

NOT a Gratitude Diary

I'd like to share my personal gratitude method and invite you to implement it in your own life. It has led me to feeling more joy and peace throughout my day, and has lent me a calmer nervous system and better sleep.

Friends and family will often rub my back and confusedly joke about how flexible and knot-free my shoulders are. They'll say, "Meaghan must have ZERO stress in her life!" This is not true; I have plenty of stressors in my life that would have easily caused me to crumble and build up knots in my shoulders. The difference is that I've started actively practicing gratitude on a moment to moment basis by simply tracking my thoughts. By paying attention to my thoughts, I remember that I have control over my what goes on in my head, I can relief myself of self-inflicted suffering (yes, self-inflicted) in a 'stressful' situation. Suffering, by the way, is a term I often use to describe any moment when inner peace is disturbed. With consistent effort, we can retrain our brains to focus on the positive rather than the negative. 

Switch the thought to "thank you" 100x 

Here's how to practice avoiding suffering every single day:

  • When you feel something uncomfortable stirring up inside you (e.g., frustration, anger, sadness, doubt), that is disturbing your inner peace, pause. 

  • Notice the thing about reality that you are resisting (remember, it's not the truth that hurts, it's wanting the truth to be different): did you just lose your favorite apartment? are you stuck in bumper to bumper traffic? did your sandwich order come out wrong? (You might be saying to yourself, my problems are much bigger than these examples, but start with the small things. We create suffering around the silliest things without even noticing it).

  • Switch the complaining thought to "thank you." Say "thank you" over and over and over again in your head until you start to believe it. It happens much quicker than you might expect, and very soon you'll be able to start listing things in that very moment that you are grateful for: Thank you for the privilege of being able to search for an apartment at all; thank you for this car that magically flies through space and gets me where I need to go; thank you for the opportunity to even buy myself lunch. If you can't come up with anything, these ones hardly ever fail: Thank you for this body that allows me to move; thank you for this heartbeat that reminds me that I'm alive; thank you for the sun that I can count on to rise for me and everyone every single day.

  • Watch those previous heavy feelings dissolve and lighter emotions emerge.

  • Result (Mental & Physical): With peace in your heart, you can move forward with composure, clarity, and creativity. You work with your reality rather than fighting against it, thus freeing yourself from inner discomfort, and can in turn share your gifts and be of service to others. Your body can return to it's natural state (parasympathetic nervous system) where your endocrine system (hormones), digestive system, and all other bodily systems harmoniously function. 

If the situation feels way too daunting, try at least asking yourself: what I am learning right now? Remember:

Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.
— Buddha

You ALWAYS Have A Choice

We can't control what happens to us -- all we can do is control our reaction to what happens to us. It's a relief, actually, to realize that we have the power to choose peace within our own hearts in every situation. Ask yourself:

  1. Do I choose to experience peace of mind or do I choose to experience conflict?
  2. Do I choose to be a love finder or a fault finder?

Try It for one day

Just start by trying to go ONE DAY without complaining about anything -- in the morning, say to yourself "I commit to not complaining about anything today. And when I hear myself complain, I will switch the thought to 'thank you' on repeat until I believe it."

And, when you're feeling your lowest, and like there's nothing in this world to be grateful for, go outside and don't come back in until you've found something beautiful:

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I love you all.

Gratitude for my dear teacher Stephanie Snyder for teaching me the THANK YOU mantra.