I often start my group yoga classes with this invitation. The invitation is to be present, that you do not need to be thinking about what happened before now (it is only important because it brought you to this moment) and you do not need to be planning for the future (because it is unknown. RIGHT NOW is the only moment we have to live in. This is an invitation to be mindful vs. mindless in our lives.
Jon Kabat-Zinn describes this practice as a regular practice of intention, where we “commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” (From the book Wherever You Go, There You Are.)
Being present sounds great on paper, but it is difficult in practice. Even as I write about it, I’m thinking of the next idea, the next step for posting, who may read this post, if they’ll like it or not… the mind is in constant motion. In yoga there is a long tradition of leaning to discipline the mind through various techniques like movement, breathing, sound, meditation, etc. to connect to the present moment. The intention is to strengthen mental focus (samadhi) so that we can be present in our actions and let go of habit patterns of suffering (samskara).
And if you take a minute to observe your mind, you may become aware of the push and pull of what we don’t like and like. Take a minute to notice how your actions are directed by this push away from things we don’t like (pain, suffering, change…) or the pull toward things we do like (pleasure, ease, approval…). In yoga philosophy, the teachings of Patanjali suggest that this unconscious thinking allows the push and pull to guide our actions and ultimately creates suffering – mostly because we are not present.
The good news is that you can practice mindfulness anywhere, any time. The tough news is that you have to learn to single-task. It may seem counter to our culture, but multi-tasking is not how our brains work. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is really just jumping from one task to another, not truly doing both at the same time. A study from Stanford (2009) found that people who multitasked often and felt that it boosted their performance actually performed worse because on tasks.
Here’s a challenge for you. For the next 10 minutes, focus on the one thing you are doing. (You can set a timer so that you’re not thinking about time while you practice.) No matter what you are doing, focus on that one thing – give it all of your intention. Try this with a simple task like brushing your teeth or putting away the dishes. Maybe try to watch TV without checking your phone or electronic device. The challenge is to focus on just one thing. After you’ve tried for 10 minutes, reflect on your experience. How’d it go? Was it easy? Did your brain keep jumping to other thoughts or tasks? Were you able to get the task done quicker or more effectively than usual? Now see if you can go through an entire day single tasking. Give it a try and see what the effect is for you.
If you’re interested in setting up a mindfulness meditation practice, check out these sites for resources: