Or, Six Steps to Daily Mindfulness Plus a Cool Video!
If you haven’t yet seen the Lotte Time Lapse Video, it’s possible you may now be in the minority.The video is brief- just 2 minutes and 45 seconds, but it’s become incredibly popular in the last week, with over 2.8 million views. It was put together by Dutch father and filmmaker Frans Hofmeester to chronicle his daughter’s first 12 years in brief video clips. It’s an amazing little capsule of a life.
So what is it about this latest viral video that so captures our attention? What keeps us coming back 2.8 million times? The comments below the story voice a common thread- I love this, I wish I had done this with my children, they change so fast…
The Lotte Time Lapse Video is a beautiful example of the universal human need to grasp things as they are now- to cling to our lives as closely as possible, to avoid inevitable change. We know that our condition is impermanent. Babies become girls who become women who become old ladies… And so we make scrapbooks, take photos, check in with FB, buy commemorative plates, so that we can freeze time in whatever way possible. It’s completely natural for a parent, or even a “pet parent” (in my case) to want to capture every moment as fully or completely as we can.
Pema Chodron, in her book “When Things Fall Apart,” uses a lovely metaphor for this attachment: “We are like children building a sand castle,” she says. “We embellish it with beautiful shells… the castle is ours, off-limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet, despite all our attachments, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.”
So: there’s nothing inherently wrong with photos, or time-lapse videos, or even (ahem) framed plaster-cast paw prints. The key is not clinging to each moment desperately (“Honey! Get the camera!”)- but to capture the moment by living in it fully, presently, and completely. This is possible through the practice of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? You’ve probably experienced it before- a moment where you became intensely aware of what you were feeling, the color of the sky, or the touch of another person’s hand. Perhaps you even realized that you were experiencing something in a more intense, awake sort of way. Meditation teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has a nice definition:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment, and
In other words, being mindful is to purposefully bring your complete awareness to the what’s happening right now. It means not passing judgment, not running a commentary, just experiencing the experience. You won’t be able to sustain this mindful awareness for more than a brief moment- but you can touch into it as frequently as you remember to do so. See how this might lend itself to capturing a moment fully?
How do we get there? In many cases, we may find our introduction to mindfulness through a yoga practice. “Become aware of your breathing,” or “observe your reaction to the pose,” a teacher may say. In this way we learn to hear the chatter in our mind (as discussed in this post), but we also learn to return to this moment, to this breath. Of course, It’s easy to be mindful when your instructor is reminding you. How can you carry this practice off the mat?
Let’s get started with six steps to a basic mindfulness practice.
- Begin by setting a goal for yourself of 5 or 10 times per day to start- where you will be completely mindful and present in the moment.
- Create touchstones for yourself- hang up a special image or a phrase (ideas: “be here now,” or “aware”) where you will see it and be reminded to become aware. Your bathroom mirror, the kitchen, your computer monitor, the visor in your car might all be good places for you. You could even use technology, setting reminders on your smartphone.
- Use these touchstones as cues. When you see your image, or word, draw in a mindful breath. You may say to yourself, “I am breathing in.” Use your senses completely. What are you seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, feeling? Are there emotions or thoughts present? Let your mind’s touch be light. When you lose the awareness, let it go and move on. There’s no need to cling to that mindful attention- it will be there again when you are ready.
- Throughout the day, as often as you can, bring mindfulness to your interactions with others. At work, when you’re talking to a co-worker, turn away from your computer or your desk. Look in their eyes and engage completely. While on the phone, close your eyes and really listen to the other person’s voice. When talking to a loved one, turn away from what you’re doing and give them your full attention. You’ll find the quality of your interaction increases dramatically.
- Resist the temptation to multi-task. If you are eating, put away the computer, book, phone, and bring your awareness to each bite. If you’re washing the dishes, really just wash the dishes. Unless you need to really look at it, try making a habit of turning your phone over on your desk so that you are not tempted to look at it every time it vibrates or makes a noise. The Facebook message can wait.
- Be compassionate with yourself as you practice. Remember the goal is not to judge, but simply to notice. If your mindfulness attempts are frustrating, or if you catch yourself finishing off a bag of chips while watching TV- just tune back in. Be aware in that moment, and notice your reactions. This is mindfulness too.
It takes consistent practice, but mindfulness can become a natural part of your daily life. So build your sandcastles, take some pictures. Maybe even a time-lapse video! More importantly: don’t forget to smell the salt air, and feel the sand under your fingers. In this way, you may find a way to, as Pema says, “enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.”