Noticing now: Musings on mindfulness

main.jpgI firmly believe we are new in every moment. We have never lived this long in these bodies, with these lives, on this earth, with the myriad and cumulative experiences we have had prior to this second. Or this one. Or the next.

What a thing to behold. And yet, in our fast-paced, externally-focused culture, it is something we are rarely trained or encouraged to regularly behold. Especially for young nonprofiteers, pouring so much of not only our heads but also our hearts into our work, it is essential to find ways to pause, reflect, and nurture our individual human capacity and the resulting resources we seek to share with our communities.  

So if we are to act based on identity-driven leadership and in accordance with our mind, body, and spirit, how might we invest in and cultivate these instincts and wisdom? The answer to our modern-day challenge, fortunately, is timeless and old as the ages: to practice.

Practices for Being Present

Following are four small ways to begin practicing mindfulness in daily nonprofit work and life:

1. Practice noticing this present moment.

Whereas a pop-culture picture of what it means to meditate is sitting on top of a faraway mountain, cross-legged, chanting “Om,” mindfulness urges us to simply slow down right where we are and to pay attention to what is. Noticing, without judgment, what sensations or discomforts our bodies may be experiencing, what sounds or noises may be in the near or distant space surrounding us, or what thoughts may be running through our minds. Becoming aware, while not becoming attached, offers us choices. In so doing, we have greater capacity to identify shifts within ourselves as we sustain our practice over time and more options based on that increasing awareness.

2. Practice connecting with your body.

Meditation can seem intimidating when presented as being entirely devoid of thoughts, but this practice of keener observation merely frees up some space to focus on things other than our thoughts. We can pay attention to our bodies and recognize where we have tightness, the temperature of our skin, or any activation in our limbs. This cues us to be aware of where past pain or trauma presently reside and how to give attention to that which becomes stored in the body so that we can identify, work with, and release it. If we can grow more attuned to and less judgmental of our physical bodies, we can more capably leverage the resources of breath, muscle memory, ever-at-work organs, and central nervous systems to support and work in accord with our minds and spirits. While a problem-solving and entrepreneurial brain is undoubtedly important for managing the rigors of nonprofit work, being guided by the instincts and intuition held in the body’s lived experience can be just as effective, and should thus be equally glorified, in developing innovative approaches and taking right action.

3. Practice enjoying simple pleasures.

When asked to do nothing, anxious feelings can arise. Rather than focusing on an attempt to not do anything well, mindfulness asks only that you notice what you are doing. And fully engaging with the simple things you enjoy – savoring the flavor of the first bites of your favorite food, gazing at a particularly interesting piece of art or architecture, taking pride in crafting a witty tweet to promote your organization’s event, or reveling in that first sip of hot coffee in the morning – helps to slow yourself down to truly appreciate and luxuriate in that moment. The more we mindfully absorb and appreciate, the more expansively and meaningfully we can experience life’s simple joys.

4. Practice slowing your pace.

Posted speeds on the roads as well as the flow of your work and life are often faster than human scale. Even if you are capable of moving fast and keeping up, how slow might you go at any given moment if you could? I recently had the chance to take part in a daylong meditation retreat at Common Ground Meditation Center and it felt as though we participants had come to conspire together in slowing down. Given the expectation and encouragement to be mindful, we ate and walked at a calmer speed, slowing our rhythms and interactions to a more natural pace. It was powerful to be with a group validating this way of being for both the individuals participating and the community created that day.

These practices need practice and one resource is Headspace, an app which offers a free and nifty “Take 10” program to help begin and grow your meditation practice.

So go ahead and practice. Right now. Take two deep breaths. Really.

What do you notice?

Recognizing that the present moment is the only one that matters, but that it has been informed by the ones past and will then inform the ones to come, it is invaluable to make the time and space now to catch up with ourselves.

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