Few phrases will cause such an immediate, intense, almost visceral reaction from me as, “You’re so strong!” It’s a phrase that I have heard countless times over the last few years. On the surface, it sounds like a compliment that I possess the ability to hold and manage more than you would expect, and I work to receive this message as the one the sender is trying to convey. What it feels like the person is saying is that they are unable to deal with my sadness, grief, frustration, anger, or whatever emotion, and they need me to be strong because the emotions make them uncomfortable. I’m left feeling alone and dismissed.
In the early days of grief, the feelings of being overwhelmed with the “business” of death can feel paralyzing. Often, there are seemingly endless tasks that need to be completed within a very short amount of time. Sadly, most of these tasks require the next of kin, so that leaves the people that are in the midst of intense shock, grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, or whatever mishmash of emotions to navigate yet another emotional load; it can feel like too much.
The feeling of being alone is scary. Navigating really strong emotions without support and guidance is treacherous, we might make decisions or take actions that are counter to our actual needs because of the disorientation that strong emotions can evoke. So what can we do, as the person in the midst of a seemingly never ending emotional storm and as the person watching someone we care about struggle to fight the onslaught of emotional waves? Be there, be present, and be willing to listen. You can’t take away their pain for them, you can be that safe place where they don’t have to pretend to be “ok” or “fine”.
Providing people with the chance to not be strong, to be authentic and genuine with the feelings they are experiencing, no matter what those may be, can be just the thing that we all need to do truly develop that strength. If you are struggling finding that internal strength to deal with loss or grief, or just need that safe place to discover your strength consider reaching out to a therapist. You are strong! We can help you think it, feel it, and believe it!
For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even function.
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries, fears, anxieties).
When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds, do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back?
Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses, regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.
How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment.
The past has passed.
The future is not yet here.
All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness.
By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without judgment.
This is mindfulness.
We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness.
Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.
Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking us into the past or future).
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment.
It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~ without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and have the opportunity to start again.
We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this.
Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when worries flooded our minds.
If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental discourse).
Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that previously took us away.
The world is full of noise and escaping that noise in important. Whether that is getting out running, hiking, walking, or enjoying any of your favorite activities. What is important in taking in the silences is that we are present. Taking the time to enjoy the silence is an act of mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to benefit us by:
· Physical benefits including lowered blood pressure and improved sleep.
· Gaining more control of our thoughts.
· Reduction of stress.
Remember yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called present. – Mastery Oogway Kung Fu Panda
I, like many of you, spend a lot of time in my car. I always feel like I’m rushing from one thing to the next and I never have enough time for anything. As I was driving to work the other day there was a car that I ended up behind in the turning lane that didn’t increase its speed once it turned. At first, I found myself annoyed and thought “Are you kidding me? Come on, GO!!” I was looking in my side and rear-view mirrors to try to change lanes but there was a steady stream of cars in the lane next to me. I, then, realized that I didn’t need to rush, I was going to have half an hour in the office before my client’s appointment and I calmed down.
I thought to myself as I paid
more attention to the car in front of me that it was probably someone old
driving the car because I couldn’t see the driver’s head above the head rest.
When I was finally able to change lanes and go around this car, I looked over
at the driver as I passed. Sure enough, it was a little old lady, hunched over
and barely seeing over the steering wheel. A smile came to my face as I thought
of this woman who likely had slowed down in many aspects of her life, only one
of which was driving, and how I am always in such a rush. It made me wonder how
often I missed things from not paying attention and always rushing from one
thing to the next.
We live in such a fast-paced
world with so many things demanding our attention at once. I find myself
getting lost in the mundane routine that is my life as crazy and busy as it is
right now. But when I can slow down and just be present in the moment, I find
that while there are parts of my life that are mundane, there are also pretty
amazing things that happen around me and inside of me every single day. If we
are constantly chasing the next thing, we can never truly just be with
ourselves. But maybe that is part of why we don’t slow down.
Slowing down can be vulnerable.
When we allow ourselves to be still, things can surface that we’ve been avoiding.
We constantly measure ourselves by what we do and what we accomplish, so who
are we when we slow down? Maybe we aren’t enough, maybe we are too much, maybe
our emotions are too overwhelming, maybe it will be too vulnerable. Brené Brown
has dedicated her life to studying vulnerability, authenticity, and courage. It
takes courage to be still, to allow vulnerability, and to show up
authentically. She says, “authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of
who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” Slowing down,
embracing who we really are, and being still with whoever we are right now can
be scary but can also be powerful.
So how are you going to
demonstrate your courage to slow down, be still, and embrace that you are
One of the best things we can do for our mental, emotional, and physical health is to simply live in the present moment. The phrase is becoming cliché, but that doesn’t mean its significance has reduced. Rather than living fully today, we often spend our entire day worrying about what’s coming up in the next one. Or, we waste away our lives regretting and lamenting what we have (or haven’t) done in the past. Neither of these strategies are helpful in getting the most out of the here and now. So, how do we stay in the present? Here are a few tips:
Do a little bit of writing (or reflecting) each day, preferably with a pen and paper
In our fast-paced world, we feel like we are working at a million miles per hour. Writing helps slow things down and clear our minds, which is very therapeutic. To write clearly is to think clearly. There’s a power in writing down our thoughts and expressing what we are thinking and feeling.
Put away the technology!
Smart phones, iPads, and computers are constantly distracting and “stimulating” our minds. Put them away! Be present where you are, especially if your children or those closest to you are competing for your attention. You won’t regret it.
Take time to breathe
Obviously, we are all breathing throughout the day, but sometimes its just enough to survive! We want to thrive, not just survive. Take a step back, and take a few deep breaths. Not only is this good for the nervous system, but deep breathing is a useful tool in grounding us and helping us develop a healthier perspective on life.
In conclusion…slow down. Enjoy the present moment. Soak it in. In our pop-tart, microwave society, we are always running from place to place, both literally and figuratively. Take some time each day to reflect, put away the technology, and practice being fully present in the moment.
Maybe I have been watching too much Kung Fu Panda with my boys, but like Master Oogway says: Yesterday is History, Tomorrow’s a Mystery, Today is a Gift…That’s Why They Call it the Present.
Please, if you have found other ways that have helped you stay present and joy in the moment, share in the comments or share with your friends. I would love to hear your ideas.