I’ve noticed a change in my behavior over the past couple of years that is slightly unsettling. I used to be someone who would cherish when it came time to settle into bed, gather four pillows, and prop up to read a book. I devoured them and prided myself on being able to go through lengthy reads in a week or two. Barnes and Noble was my sanctuary and also my wallet’s worst enemy (this was before I discovered the money-saving joys of Amazon). I would walk out with three or four new books, hugging them close, telling myself I couldn’t wait until bedtime to dive in.
Things are different now. I have a stack of books on my bedside that I have yet to open. Books that stare at me with judgment.
Reeeeead me. Why are you spending so much time on Instagram when I could be making you smarter? I’ve been sitting here for months – pick me up, dammit!
So what has changed? I still love, love, love reading, and I will never trade my paperbacks for a Nook or Kindle, promising myself long ago that technology wasn’t going to take over this realm of my life. Because truthfully, it’s pretty much taken over everything else. And now, I see how it’s begun to take reading away from me, as well.
These days, when I settle down into bed, I grab my phone. I flip through Instagram pictures that have been uploaded since I last checked it. I look at my Facebook, maybe watch some funny videos someone put up, or update my yoga page. I check my email to make sure everything I needed to send out has been sent. I scroll through my Twitter to see what people are talking about that evening. In total, I probably mindlessly scroll through various apps for about an hour until my eyes get exhausted and I throw my phone on my bedside table, turn over, and fall asleep with sore thumbs. An hour that could’ve been used to absorb two or three lovely chapters of a book.
So what comes up for me when I say, “I’m just going to read tonight.” Well, it sadly sounds a little like this:
“ I kinda want to see if anyone posted anything interesting from this weekend.”
“Oh crap, I better send that email before tomorrow morning.”
“I want to reread that funny comment on my wall – maybe think of a witty response.”
“I wonder if anyone retweeted my hilarious tweet from today.”
“I’m going to send my friends a Snap of my dog. She looks precious right now.”
Yeah. I’m being serious. This is the kind of crap that is keeping me from picking up my book. And when I do finally pick it up, I am bombarded with thoughts from my mental to-do list. Stuff I have to do tomorrow, or by next week, or people I need to get in contact with, or yoga classes I have to promote, or crap! I haven’t called my parents in a week. My mind is constantly pulling me away from my beloved stories, saying to me, “No time for this. We need to WORRY ABOUT TOMORROW.”
But worrying about tomorrow is pointless. Because right now all I can do is sit here and read my book. That is all I have control over. That is all I have going on. Tomorrow hasn’t arrived, and all the stuff that I’m concerned about will have its moment to be planned and taken care of. But right now, I’m in bed. I have a book in my hands and a few precious hours before it gets too late. I ask myself if this is really any way to spend the moments of your evening when you should be “winding down.” All I am doing is winding myself UP – constantly turning over activities and exchanges and errands that either happened that day or will happen tomorrow.
This isn’t restful. This isn’t beneficial. And this most certainly isn’t being present.
So I’ve made myself a promise. I promised to be more mindful of what is going on in my life in the present moment. And although it’s a tough battle I fight with my mind by the minute, I’ve found small ways to become more present in my life. I’m attempting to cultivate an ability to cherish what I have going on in that moment, as mundane as it may be. And here are some ways you can try it too.
1. Enjoy slow, quiet mornings.
When I first wake up, I almost immediately reach for my phone to check emails, notifications, early morning texts, what-not. I’ve started to avoid this. I think to myself that my brain just woke up, and if my brain is anything like me, it needs a minute! So why bombard it with info from an annoyingly bright screen right off the bat? Instead, I’ve begun to wake up and just enjoy being awake for a minute or two. I stretch, cuddle with my dog, look out my window, take in the weather, and stretch again. Then I give myself time for ME before reaching for my phone. I make some tea or take a hot shower. Most mornings, I sit out on my front steps while my dog does her morning business and just take in the day.* These small, quiet activities set a peaceful tone for my day. Savoring these morning rituals has slowly become my favorite way to be more present. Think of things you could do right after you wake up, like meditating for 5 minutes or drinking your coffee outside as you listen to cars drive by. And savor them, without worry or concerns bleeding into these moments.
2. When someone is talking, listen.
Easier said than done? I hear you. Try this one out when every single member of your family and all your friends are just as eager to talk as you are! The people in my life are opinionated and loud and hilarious and intelligent. Which is a wonderful thing, but also makes it kind of difficult to really engage with one another. I’ve learned to become a more receptive listener – to not already start thinking of my response when the other person is yet to finish their sentence. To stop interrupting. Be present with what they are telling you. They will instantly notice the difference. They will feel heard. This is especially helpful when someone you know is having a moment of distress. Instead of flooding them with advice (something I want to automatically do), listen intently. Empathize with them. Most of the time, all they need is to be heard and this is oftentimes more helpful than barraging them with your opinion of what you think they should do.
3. Being present with emotions.
We all have those emotions we don’t like to look at. Be it anger or sadness or vulnerability, we all have aversions to certain feelings. So what do we do when they come up? We run. We avoid. We distract. And then what? Yeah, they dissipate for a few hours, maybe days, even months. But ignoring your emotions is like sweeping them under a rug. You probably can’t see them for a while, but then that lump starts to get bigger and bigger, and then it becomes so obvious that you can’t ignore it. Finally, you become stuck not only dealing with one emotion, but a huge dust bunny of compounded feelings that becomes too overwhelming to deal with. Instead, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re angry, throw something (preferably not at someone). If you’re happy, dance. The more you let these emotions out and acknowledge them, the less likely it is that they will come and bite you in the ass when you least expect it. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Because it’s what you’re feeling. You can’t control that; you can only control the behavior that follows it. So be present with your emotions and learn to become friends with even the nastiest ones.
4. Spend some time alone.
There’s nothing more terrifying for some people than being alone. Some of us can’t fathom quietness for anything else but when it’s time to sleep. But alone time is essential for our mental health. We need time to process what we are feeling, to chew on things that are important to us, to organize all the pieces. And it becomes very difficult to do this amongst constant distractions. Soak up alone time. Becoming truly happy with just being with you is what helps us stop looking at external factors to make us whole.
5. Do yoga.
Yes, this is somewhat of a shameless plug for my favorite thing ever, ever. But it doesn’t have to be with me! Doing yoga isn’t just an exercise for the body – it is an exercise in being mentally present. You have to pay attention to minute details that are going on in your body in order to know whether or not you’re doing the pose in a way that is beneficial to you. Think of being in Warrior Two. Your mental conversation with yourself might sound a little like this:
Crap, this pose is hard. And she wants us to sink deeper into our front knee? I’m already as deep as I can be, lady! When can we vinyasa already?
That is not being present. You’re ready to move on from the pose because it is difficult. Rather than thinking about what comes next, listen to cues and listen to your body. Check in with every body part that needs to be engaged. Once you’ve noticed if your arms are fully extended and back leg is super strong, then just breathe. If your leg is hurting or your arms are getting tired, just notice that. Remind yourself of your strength and the benefits that come with doing this one pose. Come back to your body, and let your mind and inner criticisms soften.
We could all benefit from being more HERE. Cultivating a practice of enjoying the present moment will likely make our lives that much more beautiful because that is all we truly have. Tomorrow may never come and yesterday is already gone. So how can you make your right now the best right now?
* I’d like to thank my dog for taking her time to pee and having me sit patiently on those steps, as that is what caused the inspiration for this post.