Tips If You Struggle with Staying Present

I’ve noticed that a lot of people, including myself, that have tried breathing exercises or mindfulness practices come away from them feeling as though they don’t work. For a while it was a mystery to me why some yoga classes or meditations felt so much more healing than others. I realized that the practices that weren’t able to recenter me were more like going through the motions rather than truly being present. I may have been meditating but my mind was wandering and/or my breath was short and shallow the entire time. Sometimes the internal experience does not mirror the outward manifestation of mindfulness practices.

Some days you’ll find you are just not able to focus as easily as other days. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t try breath work or yoga or that these practices don’t provide any benefit. One thing I’ve found that helps me stay in the moment if I find myself struggling is imagining I’m writing a story. When the mind is very busy, stopping all together can feel impossible. Instead, try to describe the tiny sensations, sights, sounds, feelings that are happening around you that you normally wouldn’t pay attention to.

For example, say you are taking a quiet moment to connect with the earth. Rather than merely trying to force your mind into focusing on the breath, start writing a mental story as if you are trying to explain everything you are experiencing in that moment to someone else. Are your feet in the grass? What does that feel like? Where is the sun in the sky? Is there a breeze blowing? What sounds are there around you? Be as descriptive as possible. If you find it hard to keep your mind on this task as well, you can even bring a notebook and physically write it out on a sheet of paper.

When you start to put seemingly bland or uneventful moments into words, you realize just how much is actually going on even in stillness that you might not have noticed before. I always find this practice very soothing and pleasurable. Even if it feels like you have no time or your mind couldn’t possibly stop racing, set a timer for just 1-5 minutes. It doesn’t take long for your to settle the mind and body. You may even find you enjoy it so much that you make a little more time than you thought you’d be able to devote to this little mental, emotional, spiritual break. And if not, be grateful that you at least gave yourself one minute to rest. You deserve it.

Where Am I Trying To Go?

It’s hard to find a moment where I’m not rushing blindly into the next. As if there is some final destination that I’m frantic to reach. Without even realize it, I’ve spent half my life in fast forward. It just feels like the past and the future are somehow more tangible and quantifiable than the present moment ever can be. I’m afraid to rest here precisely because it is so fragile and fleeting. Fearful that if I live in this moment, I won’t have anything to show for it a few years from now. But focusing on an imaginary future can never serve me. The happiness I say I desire above all else, can only be found right here.

For someone who is so caught up in mental machinations, it’s extremely hard to settle into the simplicity of bodily sensation and experience. Language and logic cannot hold onto the slippery, ineffable value of being just as I am. The effort to try to make sense of everything pulls me out of every moment and places me in an artificial bubble of self-awareness, severed from the here and now unfolding before me. It feels foreign to forget myself in the soft feeling of fabric against sensitive skin. My mind has become so powerful and proficient at wrestling my other senses into stale submission. Finding myself suddenly surprised to scan my body and realize, once again, I’ve bitten my finger until its stinging and bleeding. How can I continuously be so cut off from the physical manifestation of me?

Never would I have imagined that one of my life’s greatest challenges could be participating in it. I’m much better at meticulous planning and pushing and pulling myself than planting my feet mindfully in front of me with every step. How bizarre it is to attempt to do nothing, and fail so reliably. Sitting on the bank of a river, utterly unable to keep myself from casting a line again and again. Not even noticing that I’ve been fishing, then suddenly coming back to reel my over eager hook back in for the thousandth time. Not even finishing setting my intention to be silent and settle into the stillness before realizing that damn bobber is already back on the surface of the water. The stamina of my persistence and patience needs to be built up, and that will take time. I’ve been strengthening my practice of falling into frustration these past 28 years. I must allow myself to surrender to the possibility it may take 28 years to rectify that habit.

It seemed simple and exciting when I first stumbled upon the ancient knowledge of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and learned all that I truly desired was already mine. Little did I know that getting to a point where I was capable of granting myself permission to enjoy it would be a tremendously tedious and time-consuming trial. I must constantly remind myself that my repeatedly frustrated efforts, my failures, my relapses, my misdirections are all worth it. I want life to be easy, but I need it to be challenging so that I may learn and grow and develop into a being I can be proud of.

Every moment can be a celebration, a chance to be grateful, when I remember that I’ve already reached the destination I’ve been striving for. Every time I take a deep breath and notice the world around me is a victory. I won’t be discouraged by my many mistakes and missteps. They cannot spoil the joy contained within the rare moments where I manage to be fully present. Small successes still count. Whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward, in the end I will always be right here. And right here is the only place I need to be.

The True Self

My multitudes are mercurial
the ever shifting sand of self
spills through tightly clenched fists
scattered by hot wind into oblivion

Not fully embodied by either
the single granular piece nor
the expansive vastness of the dunes
rather residing somewhere in between

The jarring duel perspective of being
the witness and the subject simultaneously
surreal surveillance of mind and body
fabricated force of strained separation

Taking action is a distraction
over-the-top over analyzing of reality
obscures the resounding hum of here and now
learning to let go and simply allow

Releasing the tension of assumed control
setting down the false shield of ego
to finally reveal the safety we've been seeking
was hiding behind the fear of full surrender

Deep Belly Breaths

The hardest part of yoga
is letting myself breathe
after 7 years of practice
it still feels impossible

I've heard that meditation
can turn toxic if you let yourself
spend it ruminating on the negative
listening to that hateful little voice inside

I don't know how to avoid
that sharp pang of self-criticism
and still breathe into my belly
to find deep, full, relaxed breaths

I've spent my whole life
disassociating from that area
avoiding myself even in the internal
mirror of my own self awareness

Only on my back can I let myself
fully expand and take up space
with the help of gravity to hold me
and keep venomous thoughts at bay

How can I learn to love all of myself
when some parts cause me so much pain
this undercurrent of overwhelm at the idea
of accepting it's something I cannot change

The Endless Cycle of Introspection

Sometimes it takes an impending change to jolt us awake. It feels like I’ve been running on auto-pilot for quite a few years now. I’ve begun to wonder who I am and what I really want again. The misty idea of where I’m heading has become all together obscured. Do I even want to keep moving in this direction? Have I been moving at all? Why did I start wanting all these strange things I’m pursuing? When one change comes, for some reason, it starts to feel more possible to change everything, to choose a different course entirely.

It feels so scary to let go of all the goals I’ve been clinging to and clawing at for all this time. But there comes a pivoting point where I have to ask myself if the person that wanted those things is even still me. I think the brain likes to default to routines and rituals to conserve energy. It’s tiring to always be asking yourself why you’re doing the things you do. It takes a lot of brain power to start something new.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to contemplate recently is my seemingly life-long body goals. I think right from the very beginning, I never truly believed I’d achieve them. Although, I thought I’d get closer than this. The image in my head is still a high-school girl. The popular one with the perfect body that all the boys try to talk to. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes. That image is unattainable. My window of opportunity (if it ever existed) is quickly closing as I stare down the last two years of my twenties. Am I still going to be chasing the “perfect” body when I’m 50? Perhaps it’s time to start loosening my death grip on that aesthetic before this uphill climb starts to become a desperate, inevitable decent.

Why was it so important for me to look a certain way in the first place? All my inner longing has just left me years of unappreciated youth and a blindness of my own strange form of beauty. I’m sure I’ll look back on the body I’ve had with envy soon enough and wish I had enjoyed it more instead of wishing it were different. Still this battle has lasted long over a decade. It feels so foreign to let it go, not to mention the crushing sense of failure and acceptance of defeat.

I guess overall, I’ve realized that all I really want is to enjoy where I am, wherever that might be in any given year, at any given moment. That’s all any of us can do. Anything else is just wasting time we could have spent being happy. But after 28 years of immense self-hatred and dissatisfaction, I don’t know how to turn my inner dial to “happy.” Sometimes I’ll catch myself realizing how much better I’d feel if I dropped all of my self-imposed obligations and just let life be what it is. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s true freedom.

My ego is always quick to chime in and say, “BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” It yanks me back into old habits much easier and more frequently than I find those moments of surrender. The older I get, the more apparent it is that I’ve let the driving force of my life become fear. Fear is what inspires nearly every action I take, every thought that swims in my troubled mind. I’m always afraid if I don’t do this, that will happen, or if I do that, this will happen. I’d much prefer to move from a place of curiosity and love. But fear is such a primal force. It is so powerful. It closes down my ability to love, to access that higher self inside. I’ve known fear so much more intimately and often than I’ve known love. I’m terribly sad to admit it. Do I still have time to change that? Was it ever really my choice?

Some days I feel like I have an immense amount of free will. It seems completely possible to change course and fall into new patterns. But other days it feels like I’ve never had any say at all. Everything I am and everything I have been feels like a heavy weight around my neck. Standing still is all I can manage. It’s hard to believe I can simultaneously be every aspect of the self I embody. All of the shifting selves I’ve ever seen staring back at me in the mirror. Were all of them me? Or am I none of them? Can it be both?

Getting to witness the unpredictable and constant nature of change is one of the privileges of growing older. There is a point as a teenager where it really feels like you finally know it all. But life doesn’t stop. You keep going. And you realize you never knew anything, that maybe you never will. For me there was a beautiful, mysterious comfort in that realization. What a relief to know all the dark certainties I once held about myself and the world were just illusions, transitory passing clouds of perspective.

A big part of me has stopped trying to pin down or predict what is coming in life. Maybe that’s why it suddenly feels more possible to consider enjoying the present. When you aren’t sure of anything, it becomes much harder to move with aggressive conviction in any one direction. It seems much more practical to just enjoy where you are in the journey. Life was never a trip from point A to point B. It’s an expedition, an adventure through uncharted territory. Tomorrow I may push aside the brush to find a beach or a desert or a cliffside or maybe just more endless forest. It’s frightening, but it’s also what makes life worth living.

Moving Forward

Stepping back
taking a moment
to savor and celebrate
the seemingly small
but utterly transformative
changes I have made

Silencing the voice
in my head that says
not good enough
long enough to recognize
that at least now
I can hear it

I cannot ask for more
in this very moment
than the subtle awareness
I've taken years to cultivate
the bliss that breaks over me
as I reflect on my progress

The first step has been achieved
I've made the space to witness
chain reactions that were once
overwhelmingly automatic
I watch them with interest
and deep curiosity

I cannot always stop myself
but just to see is a greater gift
than I've ever expected to receive
knowing what I need to do
visualizing the path to peace
is more than I had before

I cannot expect to rush this process
of compassion, patience, and healing
I have a lifetime to play with, ponder,
and polish this gentle, loving practice
as it continues to unravel and reveal
new complexities and insights each day

I am so excited to see where this 
ancient knowledge of spiritual wellness
will lead me as I stumble faithfully
forward into my own mysterious future
my heart overflows with gratitude
for the lessons I have gathered

So thankful for the wisdom passed down
from strangers in foreign lands
and long forgotten times 
for the outstretched hands of spirits
guiding me from beyond the grave
I will not squander their selfless generosity

I will make my ancestors proud
as I continue onward through the unknown
with a recklessly radiant open heart
and the fervent intention to heal
not only myself, but the wounds left open
by those who came before 

Unsatisfied

My heart has been heaving sighs of discontent for days and days. Everywhere I look my energy is focused on what is lacking. I project myself into other people’s positions and convince myself happiness is beyond my reach, but not theirs. Envy, sharp and bitter vines twisting through my veins, poisons the fertile soil inside my soul. These feelings find relief through reframing, realizing I already have more than I could have ever asked for.

Picturing in the palm of one hand, this illusion of life that I’m lusting after, all the promise and perfection I’m imagining there. Then in the other palm, my own precious life, the beings I love most in this world. I contemplate a bargain with the universe that could be made, to trade what I have for these things I think would bring me happiness and spare all future suffering. Oh, the stinging swell of gratitude that rises up to resist this inconceivable option! I would easily forsake the most coveted riches and situations for the life and love I already possess. What a great comfort it is to consciously consider this fact.

This simple practice is a powerful reminder of how much love I already have inside, how much happiness is already in the life before me, if only I take the time to look. When I catch myself longing for something else and lamenting the lot I’ve gotten in life, I remember the true value of my current reality when I meditate on the ridiculous notion of exchanging it for another.

A Thousand Deaths

A morbid fixation on death overcomes me from time to time. Usually I don’t think much about it. Death hasn’t touched my life much at all in these 28 years. Somehow I haven’t really lost many close family members or friends. The death of beloved animals has been the majority of my encounters with this grim shadow that lingers on the edge of life. It’s been easy for me to live in denial of this unpleasant reality.

Last night as I was reading through the terrible ends of characters in books, I couldn’t escape the contemplation of my own inevitable departure from this world. I was petrified at the idea that I would die alone in some unimaginable form of physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. I don’t have any children, nor will I. I’m also the youngest person in my family. I only have a few close friends. It’s hard for me to picture how I would even avoid a horrific demise besides my near certain assumption that the earth with end before I have to worry about dying of old age or disease.

Then as I was falling asleep that night, a truth I have known for quite some time, but never fully felt in this way crashed over me. It is utterly pointless for me to spend my time and energy playing out this possible future in my head. If this is my fate, if my life ends in isolation and agony, so be it. Thinking about that will never be able to prevent it or change it. Yes, it’s hard to accept that death will find me one day. Even harder to accept that my final moments may be particularly sad and full of suffering. But making myself sick with fear from these thoughts will not spare me this death. Instead it will cause me to experience a thousand deaths rather than just one.

Permission to Pause

Coasting on momentum for such a long time, makes the idea of stopping a daunting one. One of the reasons I’m so fearful of allowing myself a moment to rest is because I worry that I’ll like resting so much, that I’ll never do anything again. Instead I keep white-knuckling my way through life hoping that somehow the tension will eventually break and things will get easier. My intuition for when to go inward and when to express myself creatively has gone dormant long ago. Now it’s hard to even tell what I’m feeling or need from day to day. I no longer trust myself. I have turned my back on my body’s wisdom.

Western society is so focused on outward expressions of productivity and progress. We have completely devalued and cast aside the inherent worth of rest, introspection, and mental/emotional/spiritual growth. I’ve been sensing the need to go in a different direction with my life for quite a while now. My daily pursuits no longer bring me the joy and sense of fulfillment that they once did. Still I continue to cling to them, walking swiftly farther down the wrong path, and then wondering why I haven’t discovered the new direction I’ve been searching for.

You can’t explore your other options and reassess things while simultaneously barreling ahead with your current routines. Especially when those routines are as time consuming as mine are. There needs to be stillness, quiet, and rest for you to gain new perspective and insight. Even if it feels like it or looks like it from the outside, slowing down and even stopping completely is not lazy, unproductive, or a waste of time. Come to think of it, what’s even wrong with giving yourself permission to be lazy and unproductive every now and then anyway? Moments spent “wasting time” can often transform into some of our most precious, playful memories. Whether or not something is a “waste” is all based on what you place value on. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Despite all of the endless examples presented to me constantly in nature, my human arrogance insists that the cyclical nature of things does not apply to me. As a species we’ve become so separated from the nature ebb and flow of activity and rest that we forget the importance of both. Now the setting sun no longer commands rest, the seasons have no hold on our ambitious routines. Even if we only cared about productivity and working hard, it would still be more beneficial for us to also take moments to relax and do nothing.

Forcing myself to do the same mentally and physically demanding tasks day in and day out, it’s no wonder that my inspiration and motivation have bottomed out. Nothing lasts forever, even our internal stores of energy and creativity have a limit when we never allow them to naturally be replenished. I hardly remember what it feels like to be bored. Maybe that should be my goal one day, to remember what it feels like to be so idle that I’m bored.

Having scheduled out every minute of every day of my life for years now, you’d think it would be easy enough to include a few days here and there to rest. Wouldn’t that be so nice? Wouldn’t that be such a loving treat to give to myself? Part of me is excited at the idea. Strangely, at the same time, I feel a deep fear rising up as well. In my desperation to avoid that fear, that voice in my head that says “you don’t deserve it” or “everything will fall apart if you stop to rest” is so powerful that I continue to push myself even though I’ve gone far past my limit. It’s high time that I acknowledge the fact that I can’t keep running forever. I can choose to face this fear and show myself that it is just a phantom. It will evaporate into dust in the shadow of my courage and loving awareness.

As winter shrinks back and the warmth of spring begins to thaw the frozen earth, I want to make sure I am able to pause and witness it. It’s been a hard year and I’m always so happy step our from the cold dark months to emerge again into the sunshine. This month, I am going to schedule at least one day to do absolutely nothing. I need to refill my cup. It’s long overdue.

Playing with Your Personal Edge

Yoga is a mirror to all of life. All of our habits, thought patterns, personal beliefs, and doubts can be discovered and analyzed on the mat. One thing you may have heard before if you’ve taken a yoga class is the phrase “your personal edge.” This is referring to pushing yourself not into any particular shape or variation of a pose, but just to where you feel yourself reaching the edge of your body’s ability. More specifically the edge is right where you feel challenged, but not any pain or severe discomfort in your body. Finding that edge is a practice in itself. There are many challenges to keep us from recognizing it. Our ego may want us to go beyond that edge, to show off, or prove something. Our self-doubt and fear may want us to hold back and never meet that edge to ensure we don’t fall or fail or whatever other story it might be used to telling us.

A lot of people, myself included, spend a lot of their yogic journey, trying to master advanced poses as if checking them off some kind of yogi achievement list, or attempting to fill up a well of pride inside. Especially now, when we have all seen the impressive feats yoga can train the body to perform on Instagram, YouTube, or somewhere else online, it’s easy to forget that these physical forms are not the purpose of yoga. These magnificent, beautiful shows of flexibility, balance, and strength are a byproduct of showing up every day and meeting your personal edge. I’m sure the first yogis had no idea that the body would even be capable of these asanas in the beginning, they revealed themselves to be possible little by little as these seasoned practitioners slowly followed that ever moving edge.

At the same time, meeting your personal edge isn’t necessarily about “improving” yourself either. All of these outward results of doing so are just distractions and illusions. The real benefit of playing with that edge is what it feels like when you’re doing it. In yoga, as in life, if we push ourselves too far we become frustrated and disheartened. But if we never challenge ourselves, we will become bored and stagnant. Sometimes even after we’ve learned these lessons on our mat, it can take years for us to make the transition off the mat and into our everyday lives.

I’ve always had a hard time finding a healthy middle ground, in yoga and in life. I used to push my body a little too hard in my practice, aggressively forcing it into every more strenuous postures, occasionally even resulting in injury. Then I pulled back. For awhile, this was a welcomed relief from high expectations and pressure to outperform myself every day. However, now it has transformed more into a fear of testing my limits at all, in favor of easier, yet perfectly executed poses. I have this same problem in every aspect of my life. I seem to be in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and boredom. I push too hard and feel awful when I inevitably fail or burn myself out. Then I pull back so much that I become bored and disinterested all together.

Watching “Is It Cake?” on Netflix the other night, I was in awe of the way these pastry chefs believed in themselves. I could not even fathom what gave them the courage to try things that I would have immediately written off as impossible or at the very least, far beyond my ability. I see so many people doing this every day. People starting businesses, creating their own products, writing books, etc. I envy their self confidence and bravery. At the same time, they’ve taught me that rather than lack of ability or external circumstances, I am what’s holding me back from achieving my own personal successes.

I worry so much about what the final steps will be and my perceived inability to reach them that I never give myself permission to start where I am and focus on the first step. I become so obsessed with the end goal, that I forget to enjoy the process. In life, as in yoga, the true reward is not the final product, it is the blissful focus and moments of flow that we experience along the way when we are teasing the limits of our own ability.

I’ve been waiting for something to come along and shake me out of this directionless boredom I’ve been stuck in for so long now, forgetting that I have the power to push past this whenever I want. Because I never feel “ready”, my growth is usually the result of unforeseen circumstances forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone. I think I comfort myself with the idea that “I didn’t choose this. I never said/believed I could do this. So if I fail, it’s not my fault.” In reality, I’m just afraid of my own ego. I’m afraid that if I believe in myself, if I try to do something great and discover that I can’t, then it will reaffirm my own self-doubts and cause me to face the tongue lashing of my own inner critic. Somehow it feels safer to expect to fail. Then if I do, at least I can say I was right all along. Ensuring that, if nothing else, I’m at least still smart.

Even though this is the way I feel, it sounds utterly ridiculous to read this rationalization back to myself. Yoga has also taught me to set intentions and use them as an anchor. For so long now, my unconscious intention has been “avoid looking like a fool.” Totally losing sight of my aspirations and goals, not even considering what exactly a “fool” looks like. When I really think about it, I wouldn’t call someone who tries to achieve something great and fails a fool. It’s far more foolish to live your whole life clipping your own wings in an attempt to save face.

As I move forward with this knew wisdom, I want to remember that I get to set the intention. It doesn’t have to be something so concrete as “publish a book.” An intention can be something like “to be curious” or “to search for my personal edge.” This leaves a lot of room for exploration, surprising ourselves, and unexpected forms of success that may not look like what we thought they would. When I become frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’ve gotten distracted and lost sight of my true intention. All I need to do is slow down and remember what I really wanted out of this experience and letting go of what my ego tells me success looks like. Really success doesn’t look like anything. It is not a physical manifestation, it is a feeling. Something that comes about it all sorts of unique ways. Something we are all capable of experiencing.