This is the first time I’ve reblogged another person’s post, but my good friend Kala wrote something that I think the world would enjoy. She’s also teaching English in Spain and in this post she shares some of the ways she’s learned to cope with the challenges of living life abroad (and at home). Give it a read!
That phrase has been stuck in my head for the past month or so. It all started on a Friday night when I began bombarding my roommate with questions about our plans for the evening. I wanted to know what we were doing, where we were going, and who were going with. I needed to have a plan. However, in the midst of my stream of questions, he turned to me and said those magic words.
While they may have been little more than an attempt to stop my inquiries, his words of wisdom really struck a chord with me. They made me think of two of my favorite books, “The Power of Now” and the “Tao Te Ching.” Both books talk about the importance of accepting the present moment and not dwelling on the past or future. In other words, they talk about “going with the flow.”
Although this wasn’t a new concept for me, there was something about the way my roommate said, “just flow” that made the idea suddenly click in my head. In the days that followed, I started noticing how often I did the complete opposite. I was in an almost constant state of resistance, both mentally and physically. My shoulders were usually tight, my breathing shallow, and my mind full of anxiety and discontent. Rarely was I able to just relax and enjoy the moment.
So I began reminding myself of my roommate’s words. Whenever I felt tightness in my shoulders or noticed resistance in my thoughts, I’d take a deep breath and say to myself, “just flow.” From there I’d do my best to stay connected with my breath and fully relax into the present moment.
The effects were pretty small at first – I’d relax for just a moment and then find myself caught up in resistance once again – but I stuck with it. Well, I think it’s better to say that it stuck with me. The whole idea of “going with the flow” sounded more and more appealing each day. I realized that it’s something I want to truly embody, and the last month has mainly consisted of me exploring different ways of doing that. The most notable have been guided meditations, yoga, tai chi, and reading up on philosophies like Taoism.
I’m not really sure where this newfound interest in going with the flow will take me, but I think it will be somewhere good. At the very least it will encourage me to stay mindful of when I’m resisting the present moment, and that mindfulness is a tremendous source of peace in itself.
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”
At the start of January, I committed to practicing a single mindfulness method: abdominal breathing. I thought that sticking to one method would help make my mindfulness practice more consistent. It turns out I was wrong…but also kind of right.
Yeah, I know I just contradicted myself. Let me explain.
I did a pretty terrible job of practicing mindfulness last month. Outside of my daily sitting meditations, staying mindful took a backseat to some of my other priorities. I even noticed this lack of focus halfway through the month, but unfortunately didn’t do much to change it afterward.
Having a mindfulness method did not make it significantly easier to practice mindfulness. Or at least it didn’t help me remember to be mindful.
I mentioned this in my mid-month reflection, but having a mindfulness method DID prove useful when I actually remembered to be mindful. It was a great way to not only bring my attention back to the present moment but calm my nerves as well.
The only disadvantage I found in using abdominal breathing was when I was sick. Not being able to breathe properly made those abdominal breaths quite challenging, if not impossible at times.
Renewing My Focus
Last month taught me that the only way to be consistently mindful is to maintain a strong commitment to mindfulness throughout the day. I did exactly the opposite. I made a verbal commitment to mindfulness, but in reality placed my work and other concerns above my practice.
Even though January was not a very mindful month for me, I’m still not discouraged. The fact that I’m aware of my lack of mindfulness actually shows that my practice has progressed over the years. I also recognize that January was an exceptionally hectic month for me. Expecting to all of a sudden master mindfulness while drastically increasing my workload wasn’t very reasonable. My mindfulness practice is sure to be a lifelong journey that will require me to be very patient with myself.
Instead of choosing a new mindfulness method for February, I’m going to stick with abdominal breathing. I want to see how beneficial it can be if I actually do it consistently.
A little over two weeks ago I designated mindfulness as my main focus for 2017. In order to make it easier on myself, I decided to choose a “mindfulness method” for each month. My method for January has been abdominal breathing.
Here are a few things I’ve observed so far.
Even with a “method” to rely on, remembering to stay mindful takes a ton of discipline. However….
Having a designated place to focus my attention has been helpful. Bringing my attention back to my breath – when I notice myself living unconsciously, at least – is starting to become automatic.
Abdominal breathing is a very effective way to engage with the present moment. It quickly takes me out of my head and into my body.
My focus and productivity seem to increase whenever I’m conscious of my breath.
I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard for the past two weeks, which has resulted in a pretty sporadic mindfulness practice. That’s why I think that last observation is the most important one. It shows me that there doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between my focus on mindfulness and hustling towards my goals. In fact, mindfulness seems to make my efforts much more effective.
The key for me now is making sure my mindfulness practice doesn’t get overshadowed by other concerns in my life. I want to learn how to stay mindful even when my external life is chaotic. Maybe I’ll have to start setting mindfulness reminders on my phone or invest in one of those mindfulness apps. Anything to make mindfulness a habitual part of my life.
How do you remember to stay mindful throughout the day?
I spent quite a bit of time on trains, planes, and buses this Christmas vacation. While so much time in transit wasn’t always fun (not to mention tough on the lower back), it gave me ample opportunity to do something I love: listen to music.
Music has been one of my greatest passions for as long as I can remember. Actually, passion is a bit of an understatement. As cliché as it sounds, calling it my oxygen may be more accurate. I got my first Walkman tape player (paired with Little Bow Wow’s “Beware of Dog”) at the age of nine, and since then I’ve spent most of my waking hours with headphones on, an array of different beats and melodies pumping into my ears.
A Changing Relationship
When I was younger, listening to music was an activity in and of itself, and I would find myself completely entranced by the songs I listened to. However, as I’ve grown older and busier, my relationship with music has changed. It’s now more of a background presence in my life, something I always have but don’t give my full attention to. Rarely do I listen to music without doing something else at the same time.
That’s something I want to change this year.
Since being mindful is my main focus in 2017, I’d like to explore listening to music as a means to do that. This means fully engaging with the music I listen to. Instead of only listening to music while going about my day, I want to set aside an hour or so each week to listen to a full album or playlist while not doing anything else. No phone. No internet. No trying to be productive. Just listening.
I guess you could say I’m trying to make listening to music a form of meditation. And in the process, I hope to rediscover the joy that music once gave me.
My recent travels gave me a chance to try this. On two separate train rides I was able to listen to two albums in their entirety. While I did occasionally check my phone and chat with whoever I was traveling with, I spent the majority of the time just focusing on the music, letting my eyes casually take in the passing landscapes.
As I allowed myself to really pay attention to what I was hearing, I noticed that everything sounded slightly better that usual. For the first time in way too long I felt like I was truly hearing the music.
Weekly Listening Updates
In order to hold myself accountable, starting next week I will be posting listening updates on a weekly basis. I’m still not completely sure how they’ll look, but I imagine them as a mix between album reviews and reflections on my mindfulness practice. At the very least, they will give me a space to share my love of music with the blogosphere and hopefully explore some new music as well.
Here are the two albums I listened to while traveling, plus my favorite song from each. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
I stumbled upon Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” a little over three years ago, and my life hasn’t been the same since. In this video, I talk about the two most important lessons I got from the book.