Updated: Nov 10, 2020
There is immense beauty in the human brain’s ability to adapt constantly to new information and circumstances both positive and negative; a new relationship, a painful diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, an exciting new career opportunity. In all of these cases we are asked to face the unknown and overcome it. But in a society where overcoming obstacles and powering through challenges is the norm, it might be important to focus on a new challenge: the challenge of slowing down. Rather than striving to reach the finish line, living always in the future, we might find ourselves called instead to what is going on right now, focusing not only on the end but also on the process.
You might be wondering what this means, “focusing on the process.” While we often determine our actions according to the outcome we’d like to see, the present moment can sometimes inform us better than our own plans for it. Professional athletes, educators, yogis and even stand up comedians all know the importance of reading the moment to determine what outcome is best and how to get there. We can learn a lot about ourselves and what we truly desire by listening to the signals that our bodies and minds send us amidst the challenges of our daily lives.
It’s not uncommon to ignore or be unaware of tension in our bodies during stressful times. These are often indication that we need to reassess, slow down and practice self-compassion. In these days of widespread change, unrest and confusion, many of us may be feeling great tension, fatigue and uncertainty. Many of us may be focused on “pushing through” rather than on the present moment, using our quarantine to “get ahead.” We may find ourselves fixated on an uncertain future and the pressure to somehow make this time count, feeling limited all the while by an uncertain present. For some this may be a source of anxiety, stress and worry. We may see our current circumstances as obstacles rather than the means of integrating our inner and outer lives, using this time as a catalyst for deep self-discovery and self-compassion.
So how do we step into this new world of inner and outer integration? How do we find that stillness and hold onto it, armed with tools to help us feel confident, adaptable and open?
A great way of slipping into this mindset is a breathwork practice or meditation. This practice can be as short as ten or fifteen minutes but can have an immense impact on the rest of your day. Find somewhere calming and comfortable. Set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes, take a seat and close your eyes. Breathe in deeply, focusing on this inhalation, noting any tension in your body. Release and exhale, note the sense of relaxation in your chest, in your arms and legs. As you breathe in and out, allow your attention to drift to any other sensations in your body, any tightness, pain, tingling, even numbness. Meet each of these sensations with compassion and a willingness to listen--you’d be surprised what your body might tell you.
In addition to these physical sensations, you may notice thoughts and feelings emerge as well. Practices like these can often bring forth complex emotions within us, some more or less comfortable than others. We may want to push away or overcome such emotions by focusing on the future, but in sitting with these feelings, and acknowledging their presence, we allow ourselves to be open to the insights that they may give us. These insights are often illuminating in their own quiet ways. Practices like these can teach us the skill of self-compassion, understanding how to be with ourselves in moments of stillness, change and uncertainty. With time and practice, we can bring this quiet strength and awareness to our daily lives.
In taking part in such practices, we may also feel ourselves gravitating towards other practices which sustain us and support us. Other physical practices such as yoga or dance may seem appealing, or we may feel drawn to diving into our own inner dialogue by talking or journaling. We even may feel like starting a new project or routine. The key is prioritizing these simple but effective practices that keep us grounded in ourselves, noting the feelings in our body and emotions that may arise, and learning to engage and dialogue with them.
It is rare that we in our own lives are allowed to slow down, rarer still for individuals across the world to do this together. Now more than ever we ought to dig deep, honing in on our values, sharpening skills which empower us (regardless of how “good” we may be at them), finding fulfillment in simpler projects, connecting to the wide global community that is now at our fingertips. It is a time, too, of deeper reflection. We may find ourselves able to see more clearly what matters to us most of all and what has fallen away. This clarity can greatly inform our next steps in the coming months and can serve as an indispensable light in dark times.
Here are some helpful resources to keep you grounded in the present moment and focused on your process:
Mindful Awareness, Mindful Breathwork
Nadi Shodhan Pranayama - Alternate Nostril Breathing
Thought Field Therapy EFT Practice
Free Guided Meditations through UCLA Health
Apps like Headspace, Calm
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
30 day yoga challenge, and other exercises.
Next week we will begin our Resilience series. Resilience is a key skill for all of us, especially in difficult times. This will be a month long newsletters series where we send insights into the science and practice of resilience, straight to your inbox. We can’t wait to share these insights with you!
[This post was originally a part of our ongoing newsletter series—Leaning on Your Strengths with Eugenie Lewis]