A gift for you
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
I’ve been pondering a lot about what I felt drawn to write about at this time of year. Looking around and seeking inspiration, I see that nature slows down. The trees have shed their leaves to save energy. Some plants go into a dormant state. Animals too slow down, and some hibernate. There is a sense of going within; resting; waiting. I find myself wondering about how this time of year for us humans can sometimes feel hectic, outward-facing, bright and bustling: somehow the opposite of what our natural world around us is doing. Yet we are part of nature and connected with it. Learning (or rather, perhaps, remembering, as I believe that we all have this peaceful place within us) to go within, and be with what is, can help us to feel more grounded and at ease, whatever arises during the festive season.
If you pause for a moment, here and now, what is going on for you? Slow down. Notice where you are. Feel your feet grounded on the earth. Just notice your breath as you inhale and exhale. What thoughts are here? How is your body feeling? Do you notice any areas of tension or congestion? What is your emotional weather pattern in this moment? Happy? Sad? Excited? Frustrated? Tired? Anxious? Grateful? Whatever is here, just notice it. You don’t need to judge it or try to change it. Just be with it. Notice what sensations in your body are present with these emotions. Be curious. You may find yourself getting caught in your thoughts. When you do, you can simply notice and bring the focus of your attention back to your breath.
This is the essence of being mindfully present: full awareness of right here and now, without judgement. You can choose what you focus on: whether it’s your external experiences of what your five senses are processing; or your internal world of thoughts, emotions and sensations. The ‘without judgement’ is key here. Perhaps particularly when we notice thoughts and feelings that we don’t like, we might fight them. ‘I feel sad and I shouldn’t feel sad. Now I feel angry with myself for feeling sad’, for example. Just notice what you notice and be with what is.
It’s worth me giving a disclaimer here: I am probably making this sound simpler than it is. Learning to be more present in the here and now, and not in our heads, ruminating over something in the past or something that is in the future, is ongoing learning. Like any sort of change or new way of being, it takes practice and kindness to yourself. So let me rephrase myself there: it is simple and the progress is in the practising. Minds like to be busy and solve problems and worry and evaluate: it’s what minds do. What we can do is choose to notice when this is happening and observe it, rather than be immersed in those thoughts.
Simply pausing and being for a few minutes each day can be a great start in becoming more present in the here and now. As with everything, there are many books, apps and resources out there that you may find helpful. I often recommend the free app Insight Timer to clients: it has a wealth of different meditations you can listen to or you can set a timer with background sounds or music to tailor your time as you would like. Other apps include Headspace and Calm. It's a case of finding what works for you and what you enjoy, as we are all different.
If you like a book to read: I’d recommend:
Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation for everyday life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The power of now by Ekhart Tolle
Inhale Exhale Repeat: A meditation handbook for every part of your day by Emma Mills
I wonder how it would be to give yourself the present of presence over the festive period. To pause and be calm and still. To breathe. To just notice and observe what is going on both around you and within you, without judging it or trying to change it. I wonder also what further gifts your presence could bring: both to yourself and others. Whatever comes up, I wish you well in being present this winter season.
Jane Williams is a counsellor in private practice and the voluntary sector in Bedford, UK. She works with adults and has an interest in and passion for integrating mindfulness into therapeutic work with clients.