The idea of adopting a meditation practice can seem daunting. If you feel like you’re already pushing the parameters of time itself by squeezing in a morning workout and cooking dinner after work (or getting any food in you at any time after the sun sets), then you are not alone. But meditation doesn’t have to mean finding long stretches of time to sit in silence and go completely inward. While that is a beautiful and wonderful journey, there are ways to center yourself in the here and now.
You can work on your practice all day long. No, you don’t need to go to a silent retreat, meditating for hours, fasting, and ruminating on every passing thought. We are talking about being present. It’s called a mindfulness practice, and every waking moment is an opportunity to practice. Which is great news, because when you slip up, you always have the entire rest of your life to give it another go.
Allowing yourself to be completely present might seem like a nebulous notion. “But I’m already here!” you might think. Typically, we are always thinking in the future or the past, meaning that our present selves hardly exist in our own minds. We worry about what is next, what people will think of the thing we are doing right now, what people have thought about what we’ve done before, who to blame or resent, and what we don’t have. Allowing ourselves to focus on the exact present moment, its gifts, and all its sensations is absolutely liberating.
You can start practicing your presence next time you eat. Don’t have lunch at your desk, try not to have dinner in front of the TV, and don’t scroll the gram. Just sit with your food and taste. Chew thoroughly. Pay attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations. Not only will you appreciate your food more, but you’ll likely eat less. When we scarf our food, we don’t properly chew it, which can result in indigestion, excess gas, and bloating. They say that digestion starts in the mouth after all, but perhaps it all starts in the mind.
If you’re trying to pick up a new skill, whether that’s learning a new instrument, a computer program, or a language, instead of stressing about how long it’s going to take you to master it, just focus on where you’re at with it right now. Sweating the end result before you’ve begun will give you absolutely meaningless—albeit powerful—anxiety. Sometimes this anxiety is enough to keep you from excelling or even starting in the first place. It’s like an existential crisis, but about menial, real-life tasks. Stop floating outside the universe, and get grounded.
While understanding the big picture is important, thinking about a huge project or undertaking exclusively as a whole can be quite discouraging. That’s where the phrases “one step at a time” or “one day at a time” originate and come into play. It’s the only way we can physically complete any task at hand, so it makes more sense to approach it that way in our minds. Being mindful and present for each step will bring peace, clarity, and ease to the bigger picture, without so much of the stress. A way to think of this is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR.
This study shows that sufferers of social anxiety disorder (appropriately acronymed SAD) benefit greatly from MSBR. Sixteen SAD patients underwent MRIs during moments of social stress and negative thoughts, as well as when they were focusing on the present moment and their breath, revealing “improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem.”
Sometimes physical tools can help get you there. Keeping a stack of intention cards or handwritten reminders at your desk for reference might be helpful to keep you on track. Alarms on your phone that ding to pull you back into the now can wake you from a depressive state. As always, don’t forget to breathe. Focusing on our breath is the easiest and most accessible way to gain perspective into the present, and drive a little more oxygen into our brains.