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The Present is a Gift: The Benefits of Being Mindful

12/03/2014 05:57 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
Tom Merton via Getty Images

I'd like to begin with a little story about something we all love and will all be faced with much of this month -- the holiday party. Follow along with me, here... You're running late. You throw on your most flattering LBD and start to apply makeup just as your bestie calls to vent about the bad date she went on the night before. You put her on speaker phone and offer your ear and support as you wipe on your favourite shade of plum lipstick. (Hooray for multitasking!)

You get in the car and drive yourself to your festive function. Along the way you honk at the guy who cuts you off, and sing along to Mariah Carey's greatest Christmas hits on the radio. You park the car, take the keys out of the ignition and then realize you have no recollection of actually getting there. You walk into the party and introduce yourself to some new people, only to forget their names seconds later. Then, you walk over to the food table and eat a handful of trail mix that you don't even want, without actually tasting it, before pulling out your phone to pass the time while waiting in line for the washroom.

If this story sounds even slightly familiar to you, then I have bad news -- you're as terrible at being mindful as I am. Most of our lives are spent on autopilot. Each of us has a database full of mindless, passive default instructions that we can access and utilize at any given moment. Think about it... Driving. Eating. Cooking. Brushing our teeth. Applying lipstick. Even, having sex! Most of the things we do in life are done mindlessly from memory, and not actively aware.

But, don't worry! All of that empty space in our minds that isn't filled with consciously completing tasks is not going to complete waste. Oh no -- at any given moment we have a lot to think about. What are you going to make for dinner? Regretting what you ate for dinner last night. Booking a hair appointment for next week. Wishing you never cut your hair last month. Future bills; previous bills; dentist appointments; waxing appointments; setting the PVR; planning a vacation; paying for the vacation... I could go on, but I'm starting to stress myself out. The point is we're incredibly busy thinking about everything BUT the present moment, itself; what is happening right now. The present has become like the forgotten child, or the Kevin McCallister, of our lives. And, of course, most of us are completely unaware of it.

It wasn't until I took a mindfulness meditation course that I realized what we are all missing out on! After weeks of intense practice I've come to a few realizations. One is that I'll never be the type to do an hour of meditation every day. (Please, I can barely find time to shave my legs!) Having said that, the course did offer me a few incredible lessons, (or as the Mighty Opes would say, "Aha" moments) that I think we can all benefit from.

Be Bored!

Here's another question for you, and be honest! When you have a spare moment, waiting for an appointment or for a friend at a restaurant, do you ever resist that urge to pull out your smartphone or turn the pages of a tabloid mag? Chances are you don't. No judgment here! I've spent much of my adult life the same way. Any minute not filled with errands, conversations or episodes of Scandal, I fill mindlessly checking in on all my "friends" on social media...because obviously it's really important to know what Karl Lagerfeld's cat, Choupette, is eating for lunch. (The answer, nothing! She's on a diet.) The question I came out of the course asking myself is -- why are we so afraid to just be in the moment?

Instead of killing time on Instagram, why am I not savouring time with myself; connecting with my body and how it feels in that exact moment? We're always so busy trying to keep up with the Kardashians that we've forgetten to keep up with ourselves. And sometimes what you really need is some good old QT with yours truly.

So, I challenge you, the next time you have a minute alone, to really sit with yourself and try to feel what it's like to be exactly where you are. Sounds hokey, I know, I get it. But just try it -- step out of the box and into your body. If you choose to take on this tall order, here are some tips: focus on your breath. Feel your feet resting against the floor and your backside pressed against the chair. Are there background noises? How does it feel to be where you are? Spend even 30 seconds like this and check in with yourself, in lieu of 'checking in' on Facebook.

Don't Go For Gold

Not to continue this stressful expose, but have you ever realized that nearly every single moment of our lives is goal orientated? Think about it. We wake up to go to work. Work to make money. Work out to maintain our weight. Shop to eat. Bathe to clean. Even reading this article you're working towards finishing it and maybe even hoping to learn something? (Hopefully I don't totally disappoint on that front.) No wonder we're tired out, stressed out and strung out! Most of the things we do are done striving towards something else; focused on the next step, the next move, the next moment; focused anywhere except where we are, right now.

Instead, think of how nice it would be to focus our minds in towards the present moment, without trying to accomplish anything. Let me tell you, it is nice. Being non-goal oriented, even for a moment or two, can be very effective for stress relief and just general relaxation. So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, over tired and just generally over it, take a moment to shut off thoughts of the past and the future, and channel your awareness towards what is happening in and around you in that very moment. Can you tune into how the breath feels as it moves through your body? Feel your belly expanding or your eyes blinking? Is there music? Are you actually listening to it? Take a time out from the noise in your mind and cue into the small, sweet noises surrounding you.

Savour Pleasure

One of our homework assignments during the mindfulness course was to take time every evening to journal a pleasant moment that happened that day. As per usual, I met this suggestion with a slight eye roll, so if you're doing the same thing right now, again, I get it. Despite my close-minded hesitation, I complied.

Whether it was a super sweaty hot yoga session, the first sip of wine after a long day, a great chat with my sister, or feeling good about my nail polish choice at the salon. (Nail colour anxiety is a real thing!) Singling out these moments made me more aware and more appreciative of the good things, however small they may seem.

After a few weeks of logging the "good things," I'm starting to be able to identify these moments in the moment; helping me tune in and actually enjoy them as they're happening, live! It's pretty awesome and I recommend it. Just do me a favour, instead of taking your phone out to document the pleasant moment in a post on Twitter, resist the urge and just take it in, for yourself. There's only one "like" that really matters. (Hint: It's yours!!)

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