For the first 28 years of my life, my mind ran the show. And, to a large extent, it still does. But the difference is that now I'm watching my mind like a hawk.
There's one thing people don't realize about the mind:
The mind can take you anywhere at anytime. It's the most powerful a time traveler in existence.
Let's take walking to your bedroom, for example. It seems like a simple task. You get up and walk down the hall, right? But in the time it takes you to walk down the hall, your mind could take you to your office, to Italy, to the house you grew up in and back—just by remembering the deadline you're facing, by glancing at the photo of last summer's vacation, and by catching a whiff of baby cologne.
You're probably not even aware of how often this happens to you.
How many times have you laid awake at night, unable to fall asleep and recounting a thousand horrible things that have happened to you? I've even found myself physically cringing thinking about something I said to someone earlier in the day, when I'm in the pitch black safety of my own bed, miles and hours away from when that encounter took place.
How many times have you sat at dinner with your family and been mentally checked out? Sure, your body was there, but your mind was transported to some other place, some other time—past or future.
We all live this way, and we aren't even aware of it, most of the time. It causes us anxiety, stress, and anguish because we use the mind's time traveling abilities to almost exclusively apparate to negative experiences, usually bypassing the opportunity to relive happy times.
But I've found there's a way to soften the blow of these time traveling abilities.
Hitting the brakes
Back when I first started blogging in 2010, I wrote a post about how much I love feeling in awe of something. In that particular post, I was writing about my experience hiking a volcano here in Nicaragua and how its staggering height triggered that feeling of awe.
I realize now, through what I've read about meditation and mindfulness, that the reason I love feeling in awe of nature and its beauty is because it plants me firmly back in the present moment.
While I love mountains and lakes in and of themselves, what I enjoy most about being in nature is turning off my mind by using my senses to absorb the world around me.
But we can't spend all day in nature, right? Unless you're a nature photographer or something of the sort, in which case I'm jealous! If its unrealistic to rely on nature to keep us bringing us back to the present moment, there is another way to practice the whole "present moment" thing...
On January 1st, I started meditating daily. Before that, I'd only tried it a handful of sporadic times. So far, I've accomplished a formal sit down meditation practice on 14 days out of 19. I started out with 2 minutes, am now at 5 minutes, and will up it to 10 minutes soon. To me, this is a huge success.
A formal meditation practice is new to me, but it's quickly become a favorite part of my day. As a busy mom, I'm not strict on when I get it done—some days right before bed—but it's especially awesome at the beginning of the day.
What I've experienced so far is that meditation is a way of practicing paying closer attention to the thoughts that come in and out of our minds and then doing our best to ignore them.
Meditation is learning to put the brakes on your mind.
I've been reading the book Your Brain At Work, which explores the struggles our brains encounter at work and how we can better use our minds to improve our performance. And I love how this book explains that meditation is like most everything else in life—the more you practice it, the easier it gets.
Now, I'm okay with my formal meditation practice feeling like a struggle. I think if meditation were extremely easy, more people would do it. But I am fascinated by how the brain takes my meditation practice and then spreads its benefits onto the rest of my day.
The more I meditate, the more I'm able to put the brakes on my time traveling thoughts.
When I'm trying to write an article (like this one).
When I'm putting my baby to sleep.
When I'm having lunch with my husband.
When I'm only halfway through a grueling workout.
When I'm bored and thinking travel or shopping will make me happy.
When I'm wide awake before anyone else in the house.
And with every time I'm able to put the brakes on my thoughts, I'm able to stay rooted in the present moment, focusing on the fact that life is good in the here and now. No matter what happened earlier or what may happen later, right now, life is good. The wind is blowing, the birds are chirping, the baby monitor is whirring, and I'm sitting here with my computer, writing a few words down to share with all of you.
A habit for serenity? Yes please.