about a week ago, one of my favorite yoga teachers taught her last class in LA. i walked into the room, put down my mat, and immediately thought, this isn’t what i’ll remember.
here’s what i will recall: how the studio glowed with warm light on dark winter nights, my drive home, discovering new music through her playlists; the precise and demanding sequences balanced with encouragement and humor; rushing after work to arrive on time, running into her at a nearby CVS and discovering we were both buying dental care products (she, toothpaste; me, floss).
but the last class, charged with a heavy, THIS IS IT energy and tainted with nostalgia before it even began, was a mutated version of what i’d come to love. the impending finality changed the atmosphere, coating everything with ash in an attempt at preservation, like Pompeii after Vesuvius erupted. i couldn’t help but have dreary end times thoughts, like, this is the last time she’ll correct my stance in warrior two, and i never got to show her how close i am to holding crow pose.
my first class with her also gave a false read. i spent it preoccupied with settling in and comparing her to previous teachers. the spectrum’s extremes—beginning and end—are not indicative of the whole. one’s too close to the past, the latter halfway in the future. initially, you don’t have enough information for an opinion. by the end, you’re bursting with memories and wondering what’s next.
ultimately, we remember not the initial taste or the tearful goodbye, but the muddling through. the forgettable middle. the average, everyday times. that’s where the true experiences and the most accurate reflections, lie.
this is why it’s so important to be present.
because ironically, the same characteristic that makes the middle forgettable—its predictability—is what makes it magical. the heartiest, most connected, and entrenched-with-others memories happen when you’re thoroughly embedded where you are, soaking up your environment.
here are six ways to be more present:
1. use your senses to completely see, smell, taste, feel and hear your surroundings. internally narrate what you notice. for example, while looking out the window recently, i saw the night sky isn’t black but very deep blue.
2. how you use these observations is limitless. here’s an excerpt from Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, describing how her young daughter collects moments of presence:
“At one point we were on a paddleboat, feeding ducks stale bread that we had brought from home, when I realized that she had stopped pedaling and was sitting perfectly still in her seat. Her hands were wrapped around the bread sack, her head was tilted back, and her eyes were closed…I watched for a full minute, but when she didn’t move, I got a little nervous. “Ellie? Is everything okay, sweetie?”
Her smile widened and she opened her eyes. She looked at me and said, “I’m fine, Mama. I was just making a picture memory…a picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy. I close my eyes and take a picture, so when I’m feeling sad or scared or lonely, I can look at my picture memories.”
i remember doing this on family vacations for scenes of incredible natural beauty—the Grand Canyon, the Italian countryside. solidifying the moment and engraving it in your mind for future use works!
4. designate a “mindfulness bell,” which is a cue to bring you back to the present. the residents at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in France, use this technique and describe it eloquently:
“When we hear the sound of the bell we relax our body and become aware of our breathing. We do that naturally, with enjoyment, and without solemnity or being stiffed.
When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop all of our conversations and whatever we are doing and bring our awareness to our breathing. The ringing bell has called out to us:
this wonderful sound brings me back to
my true home.
By stopping to breathe and restore our calm and our peace, we become free, our work becomes more enjoyable and the friend in front of us becomes more real. Back home we can use the ringing of our telephone, the local church bells, the cry of a baby, or even the sound of fire engines and ambulances as our bells of mindfulness.”
from now on, I’m using stoplights as my bell of awareness. i wonder if it’s easier to remember the “bell” if it’s paired with a physical change—for example, shifting from movement to stillness. or you could use every bus or subway stop as mindfulness bells.
5. the Plum Village post continues: “With just three conscious breaths we can release the tensions in our body and mind and return to a cool and clear state of being.”
cool and clear state of being? yes, please. it feels impossible to take three deep breaths and not be changed, if only slightly, if only physically. try it.
6. the insight timer. it’s a mindfulness timer but it also shows you who's meditating and where. their worldwide network includes people in 130 countries!
it offers guided meditations and the traditional, peaceful chimes one associates with meditation. next month, they’re rolling out an updated timer with more customization, like ambient sounds and open-ended sessions.
the best part about these six options is how you can mix and match them. if deep breathing isn’t working, try tuning in to your senses. or, if the picture memories aren’t cutting it, meditate.
how do you stay present? will you try any of these suggestions? let me know in the comments!
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