Sleep walking through life
Have you ever noticed how you can drive from A to B and, when you get there, not have any real recollection of the actual journey? Yet you stopped at all the red traffic lights, allowed an elderly lady to cross the road, avoided collisions and, to all extents and purposes drove safely?
It’s amazing that we can go through large chunks of the day on apparent auto- pilot. Although we are in the act of living, can we describe that we are truly alive if our conscious awareness is not activated?
If you’ve ever surfed the Internet for hours on end, become absorbed by a TV or radio program, or been distracted by your own internal dialogue whilst having a conversation with somebody else, then you know you can be aware and awake without being fully aware or fully awake.
This tendency to ‘switch off’ in the here and now actually prevents us from being both a) here and b) in the now of the present moment.
Many people do not realise they have a choice about their level of awareness or the implications for level of awareness in mind management.
A mid life crisis
Olive, a 50-year-old executive was very distressed. We had what I would call a ‘wet session’. There were tears and regrets about the passage of time.
‘I feel as though I’ve been sleep walking through my life.’ she sobbed.’How did I get to be 50 without stopping and thinking about how I wanted my life to turn out? I feel like I’ve simply gone from goal to goal, progressing my career, rushing from one meeting to the next, always thinking forward and never taking the time to stop and reflect.’
Olive, it seemed, was having an existential crisis.
It’s not uncommon for people to reach the middle years and begin to reassess their lives.
Olive described ‘sleep walking’, not being fully conscious and never taking the opportunity to stop and climb off the career hamster-wheel for long enough to wonder whether this was actually how she wanted it to be.
Some opportunities had already passed her by as she moved up the ladder. That special relationship, the baby she never had, time with friends and family had all taken second place to her corporate life.
Being fully present
Mindfulness is about being fully present, in the moment. It’s about being fully alive in your own skin and fully conscious in your own mind.
Formal mindfulness practice can have a really positive influence on living. It involves sitting and contemplating with focused attention on an object, a thought or the breath. Formal and regular practice is proven to have a real impact on the executive function and control areas of the human neo-cortex.
But many people, with their hurried lifestyles, are resistant to setting aside 20, 30 or 40 minutes a day when they simply sit and ‘do nothing.’
For many, informal practice is the answer.
Informal practice is about choosing those moments in the day when you choose to be fully aware and fully conscious of living in the moment.
Human beings have a choice of perception.
Make the most of positive influence. STOP and take a step forward into an experience, into an emotion or even into a memory, or you can choose to STOP and take a step back into your observing self, to put some distance between you and an experience. Or you may choose to simply STOP and take a psychological ‘step to one side’, choosing a different view and noticing choices and context.
Less is more. One step to mindfulness
Accept it. Sometimes less is more. ‘Busy-ness’, activity and rushing around are all ways of running away from thoughts, emotions and experiences.
Follow this simple step and take the short cut to mindfulness and positive influence. Whatever you are doing, you can press the psychological ‘pause button.’
Say ‘STOP’ and become aware of your choice to step forward, back, or to one side of the experience.
Example: A mindful moment in the shower.
We often daydream in the shower. When we are distracted by thoughts of the coming day, you could say we are being ‘mind-less’. It’s easy to lose precious moments of your day by not choosing to be fully present.
So how about really noticing the feeling of the water or the shower gel on your skin? Notice the temperature of the water,
Pay attention to the smell or fragrance of the soap? Or you might bring into focus, the sheen of the tiles, the steam on the glass, the shape of the bar of soap? How do these things look?
And what about the sound of the water, the radio, the noises outside?
Learn to watch the passing of time
‘Savouring’ or allowing yourself to ‘really connect’ with the experience is like turning up the volume of your life.
Paradoxically, learning to slow down can be a way of doing more and achieving more.
In my work as a Fusion Therapeutic Coach, I make good use of story and metaphor. Often, I am inscrutable and will not fully explain the meaning as in this simple story influenced by the Haiku novel ‘Snow’.(1)
‘On the island of Hokkaido in the north of Japan on the morning of his seventeenth birthday, Yuko and his father were walking by a frozen river. The first cherry trees were beginning to bud.
The young man’s boyhood was nearing its end and it was time to choose a vocation.
‘Father’ he said ‘I want to become a poet.’
The sun reflected on the icy surface of the water. Winter mist floated in the air.
‘Poetry is not a profession. said the father.’ It is a way of passing the time. Poems are like water. Like this river flowing beneath the ice.’
Yuko lowered his gaze, then turned towards his father and said:
‘That is just what I want to do, father.’ he said.
‘To learn to watch the passing of time.’
The air does not breathe
Water has no mind to swim
Snow is simply snow