As I write this, I’m sitting in a well-lit room. The sun streams through a large bay window. There’s a stillness around me. Ambient sounds include the tumbling of the dryer in the hall, the hiss of tires on the pavement outside, and the clicking of my keyboard as I type. I choose to stop typing to just BE.
Just BEing allows me to view, to observe, and to truly see. Just now, my eyes see a movement, and I observe the gentle caresses of the wind on leaves. I catch a colour and marvel at the beauty and the brightness of flower petals under the clear sky. There’s a grace to it, a grace that often goes unnoticed by me.
For me, just BEing takes me out of my thoughts. No longer am I ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future. Instead, once I pick up my laptop, my attention becomes each new word, then sentence and finally paragraph. Too often this is a rarity.
The truth is, I’m like everyone else. The ruminations or worrying occupy too much of the now, so that the now is lost. I, we, do this even though the past has come and gone and we can’t change it, and the future is yet to be and is uncertain. Yes, we can learn from the past and we can plan for the future, but we don’t have to let either take away from our present. But that’s precisely what we do. We deny ourselves our present, our now, and by doing this take away our chance of simply BEing.
It’s this lack of BEing that makes mindfulness so beneficial.
The practice of mindfulness, which is essentially secular Buddhist meditation, asks us to set aside past and future thinking and instead pay attention to the present moment, the Now, so that we can BE. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines “mindfulness” as:
“…paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment, and
So, not only are we in the present moment, but we’re there deliberately, and non-judgmentally, paying attention to something – breathing, washing the dishes, eating or walking. If we’re washing dishes, we’re doing just that. Our mind will travel, to past and future thinking, but we can bring it back to now, to the dishes. This allows us to simply BE with the dishes and by BEing we’re fully immersed in our senses, freed from our troubling thoughts.
Consider eating. For many of us, it’s an act we rush through as quickly as possible. I’m guilty of this as well. But every now and then I pause and choose to BE with my meal. I slow down, taking the time to actually look at what I’m about to eat, seeing the various colours and textures. I inhale the scent of spices, the scent of the food itself. I pause just as I place the food at my mouth, inhaling anew the scents. Once in my mouth, I pause again to allow my taste buds to enjoy the flavours and my tongue to explore the textures. As I swallow, I follow the heat of the food as it travels to my stomach. Eating is transformed from a mad rush, to an act of contemplation. The meal becomes an opportunity to BE.
To many, eating food in this manner is awkward. However, like all meditative practices, it can be learned. My learning began with the simple raisin exercise. Let me share it with you:
- First, take a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb.
- Take time to really focus on it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention—imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique features.
- Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture. Maybe do this with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.
- Hold the raisin beneath your nose. With each inhalation, take in any smell, aroma, or fragrance that may arise. As you do this, notice anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.
Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the raisin in your mouth; without chewing, noticing how it gets into your mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments focusing on the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
- When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in your mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment. Also, pay attention to any changes in the object itself.
- When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the raisin.
- Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into your stomach, and sense how your body as a whole is feeling after you have completed this exercise.
Take your time with this exercise and resist the temptation to ridicule. Experience the raisin as you rarely have before. Then, practice it with your everyday meals and snacks and experience the benefits that include: reduced overeating; reduced binge eating and weight loss. BEing with your meal can help overcome or reduce anxieties you may feel about your appearance, your body especially as you see evidence of safe weight loss. Remember, though, it will take time and practice to achieve these benefits.
As I finish this, I sit in a comfortable chair. The sun continues to stream through a large bay window bathing me with its warmth. The wind has died and the leaves rest. The stillness has grown. Ambient sounds have quieted. I continue to just BE.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.