Good Life Practice: The Power of Two Minutes to Shape Your Life

02/01/2017 09:50 pm ET

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content. ~ Helen Keller

We can take two minutes of silence today to get out of our heads -- away from our ideas and arguments -- to connect with our feet on the ground, our breath, our hearts, our humanity. We can reach out and make the world a better place for someone for a moment. We can stand for what we believe with both kindness and courage. This is a choice.

There is a significant body of research and enduring wisdom that indicates that regularly training our awareness has a host of positive impacts on the quality of our lives, our relationships, and our performance. This is not magic and it does not require us to believe in spiritual forces we cannot identify. There is some basic biology here.

We spend our days putting energy into thinking, analyzing, worrying, anticipating, arguing, and reacting reflexively. I am not suggesting that we should not do these things -- many of them have value when living in a complex, demanding world. However, these are not the only way tools for working with our experience. We can strengthen other functions of our nervous system that allow us to be less reactive, less stuck, more calm, and more flexible.

We are human, this means that events around us trigger conditioned sensations and thoughts within us. Some of our sensations and thoughts are useful and some are not. Some are comfortable and some are not. When these sensations and thoughts show up, we are conditioned to behave in particular ways. Some of our behavior really works and some of it does not. 

The practice of observing, accepting, and having compassion for all of this is the foundation of a more conscious life. If we simply adopt a short daily practice for being with our surroundings, thoughts, and sensations, we would learn a lot about how calm, kind, and courageous we are capable of being.

This practice is not about clearing the mind of thoughts or feelings. It is not about avoiding, suppressing, indulging. or resisting what you are thinking or feeling. It is not about feeling relaxed or happy. The practice and skill of seeing and accepting events, sensations, and thoughts for what they are creates the space and opportunity to act based on important values, goals, and relationships rather than mindlessly pursuing comfort and avoiding discomfort. This is a source of incredible personal power. When we can be with whatever shows up, we can see the choices we have over which internal resources we cultivate and how we respond to our circumstances.

If we stop and pay attention, we may discover restlessness, anxiety, tension, and busyness of the mind. Or we may find that our experience is pleasant and relaxed. We are likely to find sensations in the body, and emotions and thoughts of all kinds. No matter how comfortable or uncomfortable we find our internal experience to be, this is all normal. The intention is to be with whatever we find when we pay attention.

 All human beings feel discomfort. We all feel anxiety about whether we are good enough. A greater awareness of our internal landscape can strengthen our connection to others as we gain insight and compassion for the internal experience that is universal to all human beings.

A wandering attention is normal. The more we are aware of when it has wandered, the more readily we can bring it back to what matters most to us. We can get distracted or thrown by a situation, and we can return our attention to the values, goals, and relationships that are most important to us. 

How to start a daily awareness practice

Choose a consistent time: You can practice this at any time throughout the day. However, practicing this at least once a day at the same time is more effective than practicing when you feel like it.

Set a timer: Choose a time between 2-10 minutes and commit to practice for the entire time

Find a stable posture: Sit or stand so that you are upright and taking responsibility for supporting your neck and shoulders. Open your chest and allow your shoulders to drop. Find a place to put your hands so that they can remain still. You can close your eyes or you can look gently downward

Find the sensations of the breath: You may notice movement in your stomach as you breathe. You may notice the rising and falling of your chest. Or you may notice the sensation of air moving over your upper lip, through your nostrils, or in the back of your throat. Wherever you notice the sensations of breathing, allow your attention to rest there.

Notice, accept, and return: Your attention is almost guaranteed to wander. This is normal. When you notice that it has wandered from the sensations of the breath, you can simply accept this and return it. You may notice boredom, restlessness, annoyance, or any other feelings – you can accept these as part of the process and return attention to the breath – that’s all.

 This practice gives us insight into our internal human experience and it creates space for us to choices that have been hidden by conditioning and habit. This is the foundation of well-being, growth, freedom, and connection.

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen - that stillness becomes a radiance. ~ Morgan Freeman

Dave’s Job with a capital "J" is to help people create a peaceful and purposeful relationship with life. You can contact him at dave@appliedattention.com
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