Anxiety is a focus on the future, and rumination is a focus on the past. That means the only time we can meaningfully exist is the now – the present time.
But what is the scope of the ‘now’, and what are its limits? Today? This minute, this second? I think we can choose, I think it is however long we want it to be.
If you slice and dice your ‘now’ into micro-thin wafers of time, then you shorten your present, and sacrifice the every-decreasing offcuts by allocating them either to the past or the future. This creates an ever-narrower space for your current self to occupy.
So, if I can’t live in my past or my future, only my now, then how can I expand my ‘now’ to give me more space and time? I’ve been experimenting with opportunistic mindfulness.
You’ve no doubt come across the concept of mindfulness. At it’s core, it’s the practice (an important word) of paying attention to the now. And as the mind invariably wanders back to the past or into the future, gently bringing it back to the present. Deceptively simple. Deceptive, because we often think ‘simple’ equates to ‘easy’, and this has not been my experience of practicing mindfulness.
I had a few misunderstandings of mindfulness to begin with. I thought it was all about spirituality (it can be, but that’s not the only application), I thought it was for people who had time (turns out the less time you feel you have, the more you might benefit from attending to the present moment), and I thought it was for long retreats, sitting cross-legged on mountain tops and listening to prayer bowls (again, it can be if you want, but that’s the not the point. And I do love singing bowls).
Returning to the key word – practice – helps mindfulness make sense. The goal isn’t to be able to meditate for hours without having your mind wander. The main goal of mindfulness is to practise it. It’s a process, not an end-game. Even better – it can be used in any moment of the day, whatever you are doing. Here’s two examples of mindfulness experiments that are working for me:
* Staying super-present when I’m in a conversation with someone. Stretching out that ‘now’ of being their in that moment with them. Really listening to what they are saying (and their body language). Allowing a longer silence when they stop talking – letting the words land at their own speed, and holding the space for us both.
* Sensory mindfulness when I’m cooking. Bringing my roaming mind back to the sight, smell, and feel of the ingredients and implements as I chop, slice, dice, fry, and simmer. The focus during the prep makes even a packet soup taste better to me when I sit down to eat.
Subjective results of these experiments? My ‘now’ relaxes its limits, eases into creating a greater space. Time may be short, but it can be broad. My experiences of even mundane moments (when I remember to be mindful – nobody’s perfect, right?) are richer.
What are you up to today that could be done mindfully?
Dr Sarah Robins-Hobden is an escaped academic, helping people close the gap between where they are, and where they want to be, with bespoke coaching and training. Her superpower is empathy, and her kryptonite is her own inner critic. You can find out more here: www.robinshobden.com
Views expressed by the writer are not necessarily the views of the Springboard Consultancy Ltd