7 Practices for Staying Present
by David Simon, M.D.
In every aspect of life there are cycles of rest and activity, stillness and movement, creative dormancy and manifestation. When we honor these natural rhythms, we nurture our balance and wellbeing. Yet our modern culture encourages an imbalanced lifestyle that focuses on constant busyness and consumption. We’re subtly and not so subtly instructed that if we’re not feeling good about ourselves, if we’re feeling empty, if our relationships aren’t nurturing – we can find fulfillment in material possessions and perpetual activity.
In the West we have generally been afraid of emptiness and silence, but in Eastern traditions, and certainly in Ayurveda, it is said that the first manifestation of consciousness into the world of form and phenomena is akaya, which really means “empty space.” And if we can embrace emptiness as a field of possibility and not engage in the addictive obsession of filling every empty space within us by consuming, it actually gives us tremendous freedom.
In my experience, both personally and professionally, the most powerful way that we can move from a reactive mode into a reflective mode where creativity can begin to flow is by taking time to go within, quiet the mind, and allow our more ego-dominated awareness to become less localized and more expanded. Through the practice of meditation, we shift from outer activity to inner awareness. We cultivate an internal state of peace and happiness that is independent of the people, situations, and circumstances around us.
There are many different techniques to quiet the mind, and almost any consciously applied practice can be meditative. Here are a few practices that I encourage you to try and observe how they influence your mind, body, spirit, and heart:
1. Take a walk in silence.
Pay attention to the sounds, sensations, sights, tastes, and smells in your environment without engaging in conversation. In the mere process of witnessing your experiences, you will find that your mind quiets and your awareness of your connection to the whole is enhanced.
2. Pay attention to your breath.
From the moment we are born to the last impulse of our life, we are generating an inflow and outflow of breath that directly connects us with the rhythm of nature. Taking a slow, deep breath when we notice that our mind is agitated or restless helps us return to balanced, comfortable awareness. A simple practice is to inhale slowly as you count to four, hold that breath for another four counts, then exhale for four counts.
3. Practice yoga or conscious stretching.
Physical yoga practices, when performed with awareness, can encourage settling of the mind. Although yoga is widely promoted for its physical health benefits, the essence of yoga is the cultivation of unity. When performed with present moment awareness, stretching the body with focused attention will quiet the mind. Even just five to ten minutes of conscious movement can support hours of meditative peace.
4. Focus on the five senses.
This is a timeless mindfulness practice for enlivening present moment awareness.
- Listening to the sounds of nature, such as birds, the wind, and moving water, with the intention of witnessing, will quiet the mind and expand consciousness.
- Observing beautiful images can bring your attention into the present and still emotional turmoil.
- Receiving loving touch, whether in the form of a gentle caress, a bear hug, or a massage treatment, enliven your awareness.
- Sitting down to eat a delicious meal or even a single bite with conscious awareness is a highly enjoyable meditative practice.
- Aromatherapy can be used to balance the body and mind. As Ayurveda teaches, cooling aromas like mint or jasmine can soothe irritability; sweet, earthy scents such as vanilla or lavender are calming; the smell of clove, eucalyptus, and juniper can energize a sleepy, inattentive mind.
5. Learn Primordial Sound Meditation
Rooted in India’s Vedic tradition, Primordial Sound Meditation uses consciously chosen mantras to move awareness from constriction to expansion. Mantra is a Sanskrit word that means “mind vehicle.” A mantra has no specific meaning but is used for its vibratory qualities to settle the mind. When you silently repeat your Primordial Sound Mantra, without straining or concentrating, you go beyond the mind’s noisy internal dialogue into the silence and stillness of pure awareness. There are certified Primordial Sound Meditation teachers throughout the world, and you can check here to find one in your area.
6. Participate in the 21-Day Meditation Challenge.
The Chopra Center’s Meditation Challenge is a simple and free way to learn a variety of meditation techniques as you establish a daily habit of spending time connecting to the deepest aspects of yourself. The Summer Meditation Challenge begins this week, and I invite you to explore it as an opportunity to make going within and silent awareness a regular aspect of your life.
Register for the 21-Day Meditation Challenge here >>
7. Keep a Journal.
Writing is a powerful way to gain perspective on your inner feelings. When you put your thoughts and emotions on paper, you make them explicit and can more clearly perceive the conditioned thought patterns that keep you from being fully present to experience the gifts of a human incarnation. When you allow yourself to write uncensored, with no concern for spelling or grammar, you tap into your soul’s wisdom, discover the unconscious sources of pain, and release their hidden charge. Writing will also reveal new creative ideas and dreams your heart is longing to express.
Journaling doesn’t have to be an elaborate, time-consuming effort. You can simply keep a small notebook with you so that you can write when you have a few spare minutes. Even writing just five minutes a day can be powerful When you have a longer block of time, you can write more. Experiment to see what works best for you. Some find it helpful to write after their morning meditation. For others, an evening practice is ideal. There is really no correct way to journal, so trust the method that works best for you.
I encourage you to choose one or two of the above practices that resonate with you and commit to doing it regularly for the next month. I believe that if your exploration helps you weave even just a little more silence and peace into your daily life, the benefits will be profound.
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