Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mindfulness: The practice of living in the now.

Since I seem to be a little behind on keeping up with my blog, I decided to invite a guest writer to join us to keep this thing moving. I think you’re gonna like him.

Meet Kevin Klumpyan, good friend, coworker and fellow overthinker.

Kevin and I have had many a conversation about our uncanny ability to overthink most situations. We’re both extremely aware of the speed at which the wheels in our heads turn and how easily they can spin out of control, if we let them. Good thing for us, we’re both writers, so we know exactly how to turn our deluge of thoughts into nicely organized, mildly entertaining words on a page.

The main difference between the two of us: Kevin has taken his struggle with overthinking to a higher, more  precise level. He practices mindfulness, a technique that, when attended to regularly, teaches you to just be, right here in the moment — because as we’ve talked about before, right here in the moment is all we ever have. 

I've attempted mindfulness. I've even experienced some real success with it. But like many things I take on, I get distracted by a shiny thing and lose my place in line. I'll keep trying. That's the great thing about mindfulness — you can keep coming back to it if you do lose your place in line. 

Enjoy Kevin’s insight. Pay particular attention to his step-by-step instructions for living in the now on a more consistent basis. Print those instructions out and practice often. It will make a difference. 

I’ll be back with a new post of my own very soon — promise. 

Without further ado, here’s Kevin:

Where are you?

I read an article in the Huffington Post a few weeks back, just before the turn of the New Year. The author of the article predicted trends that would gain momentum in 2014. Eating kohlrabi was one trend set to explode (poor kale, your 15 minutes is at 14:59, apparently). So was the popularity of boutique juicing bars. Living mindfully is supposed to gain traction, too, and the little blurb about its emergence caught my eye.


Because I’m an overthinker. My thoughts behave like an untamed stallion that bolts and bucks all over creation. Worse yet, I’m on the stallion clinging to its neck for dear life. I’d give anything to finally exert some control over this beast so it would calm down and just mosey for a change. I’m tired of the fight. I’m tired of being dragged to places I don’t want to go. I’m tired of the worry and stress the ride causes me.

How many of you have a wild stallion inside your skull?

I bet we all have one to some degree that drags us into the future, which causes worry, anxiety and nervous anticipation, or into the past, which makes us sad or depressed. We’re everywhere but here in the present moment when we engage with our rapid-fire thinking. Our bodies are here but our minds are minutes, days or months into the future, or looking back replaying events, analyzing something that’s done and gone. When our mind and body are split, we’re never truly alive in the only place that’s real — right now.

How many nights have you spent obsessing over the day because your mind wouldn’t shut off? How many hours have you lost to stressing over a meeting at work, a first date, a job interview? There are more benign situations, too, like knowing you ate without really tasting the food, or driving miles through traffic without recalling how you actually arrived at your destination

If any of these sound familiar, you’ve been riding the stallion, too.

Here’s where mindfulness becomes extremely useful. Mindfulness puts a saddle on the stallion and breaks him, busts his spirit real good. I know this because I’ve practiced being mindful almost daily for the past 10 months. Oh, trust me when I say he still brays and bucks but now when I yank the reins, he calms down real quick-like.

How can you become more mindful? It’s simple but it ain’t easy. While there’s slightly more to it, I’ll tell you what’s worked for me, changed my life, in fact. Here’s what you do:
  1. Find a quiet place. Early morning or late at night work well. Sit in a chair or on the floor and rest your hands in your lap. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  2. Before you start the timer, take a few deep breaths and set your intention. Say out loud, “I’m going to follow my breath.”
  3. Keep your eyes open OR slightly open, but don’t close them.
  4. Put all of your attention on your breath. Bring the in-breath through your nose and push the out-breath through your mouth. Use your belly to breath. Feel the air tickle your nostrils. Feel your belly expand and contract. Use these sensations to ground you in the present moment as your breathe in and out.
  5. As much as you try to focus on your breath, thoughts will come up and try to distract you, try to carry you off. The key to being mindful is to not engage with the thought. When a thought comes to you, acknowledge it and then watch it go. If you’re mindful, you’ll be able to return to your breath immediately, which brings you back to what’s real — the present moment.
  6. More often than not, your shoulders will “drop” after a few minutes. Whether they drop or not doesn’t matter but it sure feels good. This is your body letting go of tension. This is you being one with your body.
  7. Don’t try to repress thought. Don’t try not to think. Trying not to think only energizes thinking. Thinking is neither good or bad (how you react to your thinking is another story). This practice is all about strengthening your attention to the present moment, to what’s real right in front of you. The breath is a vehicle to bring your attention into the moment.
  8. Try to practice at the same time each day. Make that time your time to tame your stallion.
With consistent practice, you’ll be able to enter and be in the present moment longer and longer. When your attention is focused on what’s real, on whatever you’re doing wherever you are, your thoughts won’t have a chance to race to the future or linger in the past. Your world slows down. Athletes call this “the zone.” The rest of us call it peace. 

And when thoughts that serve you no purpose do arise, you’ll be trained to let them go instead of you letting them take you for a ride. In time, the stallion will do what you want it to do. 

With practice, you’ll always know exactly where you are. You’ll discover that right here, right now, is the only place you want to be.

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