Can you picture it?
The waves crash lightly as they rhythmically come in and out. The smell of sea air, with it’s slight aroma of seaweed and salted perfume, sifts through your nose. The grit of the sand wriggling in-between toes as you walk the length of the beach. With each deep breath, you notice the color palette of the setting sun painted with peach, pinks, and reds along the skyline. Stretched out cotton balls lay gently along the horizon as far as the eye can see. The warmth of the air mixed with a tempered breeze lightens your load with every brush across the face.
The beach is a common place to help us find restoration, whether we literally make a visit or simply imagine ourselves there. However, going to the beach and actually being present at the beach requires our intention and attention. Not only do we have our own minds to contest with wherever we go, we have all the external stimulus competing for our focus. In a world where attention is the gold currency, learning to tune our mind, body, and emotions into the moment can truly make the difference between coasting through life and truly living our lives. In fact, one of the ways mental health clinicians assess for health is whether a person can live in the moment or if their past or future dictate their way of being.
In other words, do yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s worries steal from today? How would you answer this question for yourself?
Summertime is a wonderful time to practice the art of noticing and being present. Take a moment to breathe deeper. Neuroscience has discovered that inhaling four breaths and exhaling six breaths resembles the same rhythm of a calm brain, fully at rest. What is even more amazing is that we can actually trick our brains to switch gears and become more calm by the way we breathe, even when our surroundings are chaotic, worrisome, or traumatic.
Sometimes in the middle of deep sorrow or significant stress, the reminder that emotions and circumstances will change, can help us to attune our minds and bodies in the here and now. Dr. Gary Landreth’s reminder to, “focus on the donut, not the hole,” can help us be people who are grateful for the moments we have. Instead of focusing on the missing hole inside a donut, slow down and recognize what part of the donut is actually there: The chocolate frosting, the colored sprinkles, and the soft cake waiting to be enjoyed. Disciplining our attention is like any other discipline in life; it does not just happen. When we do this, we benefit. Our spouses benefit. Our children benefit. Our communities benefit.
Tomorrow is not a guarantee. Stress and work will always be there. The past still needs to be processed and grieved, but when the past interferes in our present, we may be missing the reason(s) for our existence. The present moment is ours to live. Choose to be there…all there.
Five ways to practice being present:
1. Take a deep breath and focus your attention on your five senses wherever you are – work, home, chores, the car, with the kids, on vacation, etc… What do you see, smell, hear, feel, taste?
2. Take a day to unplug from all devices. Notice what it’s like to live in the reality of your life instead of the fantasy of others’ lives and expectations of you.
3. Make a list of what you do have instead of accounting for the things that are missing in your life. Tell those you love and appreciate today, what they mean to you.
4. Take a walk in nature. Stop and smell the roses. It truly is more than a saying, but a scientifically proven way to reset our minds, bodies, and souls.
5. Find a calm app that helps you breathe deeper. For example, My Calm Beat App, will help you train your body to be calmer, regardless of the external stimulus around you.
Written by Terra A. Mattson, M.A. LPC, LMFT Clinical Director, Co-Owner & Co-Founder Living Wholehearted