The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. in molecular biology, MIT, Nobel Laureate in physiology and medicine; research focused on mind/body interactions for healing. Mindfulness teacher, researcher, writer.
Perched in her highchair twelve or so years ago, the toddler (my oldest granddaughter, Sierra) seemed extremely thoughtful. She must have something big on her mind. As a matter of fact, she did. When her mother asked her what she was thinking about, she said, "I'm thinking about my pancakes."
That thought seemed all too appropriate, perfectly sensible, and somehow funny since she was at that very moment eating her pancakes. Why did it seem so humorous?
Quite often we aren’t thinking about what we are experiencing. Sierra was thoughtfully focused on her pancakes, being right here, right now, in the present. It’s a sound, practical, and unusual way for many people between the ages of four and ninety-four to live (The very young are often the best practitioners of what some call “being present.”). It’s often called mindfulness.
Many of us spend much of our time hovering around somewhere outside our present experience. We may be worrying about something bad which could happen in the future or feeling depressed about something that’s already happened. We are quite unaware of what is happening right now.
We are often so unaware of what is going on with us and around us at this particular moment that we live our present on auto-pilot. This happens to me.
Years ago, I was on my way to work. I parked my car. When I started to get out, I realized I was not in the parking lot of my present workplace, but rather in place I had worked previously. (And I was the one who snidely recounted my mother-law's-comment at a gathering of friends, "June, everybody's here but me." I guess at least another one of us was guilty of leaving periodically.)
Test yourself. How many of these “mindless” situations or similar ones are happening to you?
· I experience some emotion and may not be conscious of it until some time later.
· I break or spill things because of carelessness, not paying attention, or thinking of something else.
· I tend to walk quickly to get where I’m going without paying attention to what I experience along the way.
· I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time.
· I get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I lose touch with what I am doing right now to get there.
· I find myself listening to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time.
· I snack without being aware that I’m eating.
If you’re like I am. A good dose (or two) of “being fully present” would be useful. Trust me, without intervention, this does not get any better with age.
According to psychologists, in addition to helping us get where we want to go, being present helps us feel healthy, happy, and aware. It's an antidote for stress and worry (and can also improve our relationships and help us perform better).
Some researchers theorize that we spend close to half of our time not really being aware of and focused on what is going on around us or inside of us - instead we are mostly on a hamster wheel in our heads - going over and over things that have gone wrong or could go wrong. (There is some evidence that women do this more than men.)
I'm not suggesting that we live every moment in the present, but for most of us a bit more thinking about our pancakes, when we are in fact eating our pancakes, could make for more enjoyment of our pancakes – that is… our lives.
Recently some researchers helped people enjoy their lives and decrease their anxiety and depression by twenty percent by simply teaching them to do a chore like washing the dishes more mindfully. They were told to pay attention to their senses – the warmth of the water, the feel of the plates, the sound of their hands working with the water.
Perhaps now is the time to experiment with the toddlers' cure for anxiety, depression, and unhappiness (which I am personally calling “thinking about my pancakes”) by being more present - right here, right now.
If we follow researchers’ advice, we won’t be upset if we notice that our attention has skittered off. We won’t beat ourselves up if we find ourselves in the past, the future, or our old parking lots. We’ll just smile and gently bring our attention back home … to this moment in the present.
One of the best explanations of what mindfulness is and why it works so well is this little 4 minute animated youtube on the neuroscience of mindfulness meditation which explains in simple terms what is going on in the brain. I just watched again. Motivates me even more to "pay attention to my pancakes." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo_VANW35b0&t=189s
How might being “more present” help us Journey To The Good Life?
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