Practicing Presence

Recently, my mom asked me about meditation.  She said, “I just don’t understand how to do it.  How do you turn your mind off, how do you clear it?”  For a long time, I had no idea.  It was an elusive concept that seemed extremely easy to say, but much harder to put into practice.  How do you live in the moment? Do you let the moment guide you and your decisions? Live based off of your impulses?

Well, I’ve been exploring this concept and concentrating on applying it in my life.  Here are some practical tips I’ve practiced that have made this slippery concept more tangible:

  1. Focus on what is happening right now.  Who are you around?  Where are you?  What are the different stimuli your senses are taking in (what do you see, hear, feel, smell, or even taste?).
  2. Do not focus on what is not.  Let go of your hopes, expectations, or anything else your mind has created for wherever you are right now and get back to what is actually happening.  Accept that.  If you have a thought that creeps in, “Well I was hoping this potluck was going to have more vegetarian options,” tell yourself OH WELL!  Check out actuality instead and make your next move based on that.
  3. Catch yourself when you start drifting away from the moment.  Our thoughts and emotions are often developing so automatically, that this can be the most difficult step.  Recognize when you stopped taking in the outside world and when thoughts, often judgement, creep in (“I can’t believe she did that!”), or when emotion is building (stomach in knots).  When you recognize them, say hello, and then consciously focus back on the moment.  You may find yourself floating back to your thoughts and feelings, and that’s OKAY!  It takes practice.
  4. Be kind to yourself.  Practicing presence is like getting to know yourself all over again – you are re-wiring yourself to experience life differently.  It takes time and practice, be patient.

Overall, being present does not suggest abandonment of oneself.  It suggests staying in tune with the moment, in tune and in check with yourself, and taking it all one step at a time.  Yes, “Carpe Diem!,” seize the day, live (and love) now because tomorrow is not promised.  But don’t worry! You will not become a vagabond running rampant.  When letting go of your thoughts, judgments, expectations, fears, worries, doubts, etc, you are not letting go of you.  In fact, presence will likely bring you closer to your true self, while alloying you to shed all of the created conceptions of your identity.   You become the “I am,” and lose the, “I think I am,” “I should be,” and “I want to be.”

 
“Watch your thoughts, they become words.  Watch your words, they become actions.  Watch your actions, they become habits.  Watch your habits, they become your character.  Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”  –Lao Tzu

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Live Now or Forever Delay Your Peace

When my boyfriend in high school cheated on me with a long-time family friend, I thought a part of me died.   For a long time (five years) I didn’t dare let another man get close – in fact, it even impacted my friendships with other women.   A part of me had died – the trusting, forgiving, vulnerable being.  I felt violated, and thought of myself as a victim in a cold, cruel, unfair world that was love.

Trust, or distrust I should say, has continued to dominate aspects of my personal life.  It’s difficult to say whether I may take some twisted sort of pleasure in being the victim, or if the thought of my personal victimhood has been so pervasive in my self-narrative that it has become part of my identity.

In Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, he discusses the following idea which forced me to question my created reality as victim:

“What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now.  When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace… The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind… Past and future obviously have no reality of their own.  Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present.  Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now.”

The idea here is that, all that exists in our lives is the current moment.  Each passing moment, is the only reality that is real, alive, and breathing.    The past is a memory and only exists in mind.  Similarly, the future has not yet been created and also only exists in mind.  Therefore, the present is all and everything that we have.

I speak specifically of the past when I say that yes our experiences shape who we are in the present.  But it is the existence and moreover the persistence of our thoughts that allow those experiences and the attached beliefs to live on.  If I continue to believe in and engage in my thoughts of victimhood, I allow this past to endure and to exist in my current reality, in my “Now.”   The fire burns because I fuel it.

In this sense, we are both the cause and the solution to our problems.  This can be terrifying but it is also empowering.  It suggests that while the world around us is largely outside of our control, our thoughts, beliefs, and reactions are within our control – that our very thoughts are what molds our realities, our “Now’s.”  While I could not control the actions of my ex-boyfriend or friend, I have the power to prevent the memory from poisoning my current reality.  We are the deciders of our happiness, our depression, our serenity, our anxiety, or any other emotion.  When we can control our thinking (instead of letting our thoughts run amuck), we become oriented to and connected to the present moment.  Despite what is without us, peace and joy can still be found within us if we choose them and allow them to be.

So, what would happen if we stopped feeding our fires?  Would they go out?  Would they cease to burn? Well, I’m ready to find out – but I believe that eventually, yes!

Kicking Into Gear

Hi friends,

After a long hiatus, I am excited to be writing again.  It’s surprising that it’s been two years since my last post – time really does fly!

I bring this post to you in light of one of the ebbs of the flow of life – one in which I have been feeling stuck, stagnant, and as if forward moving progress has been limited.  While reflecting on some of the sources of impact (both within and without) I came up with the following daily reminders to begin moving forward:

  1. Don’t compare.  What we see, or what most people show us, is just the tip of the iceberg of their lives.
  2. Be present.  Listen to listen, not to respond.  Try to take each moment the way it is; don’t let your thoughts, beliefs, impressions, or expectations get in the way of the experience.  Be aware when those distractors occur and wish them off promptly!
  3. Be positive.  Be mindful of the negative thoughts and words that you may say about yourself to yourself, to others, or about the circumstances of your life.  It is okay to experience the aforementioned, it is not okay to perseverate.  Engage in positive, fulfilling, self-caring and self-loving activities.

How do you get your mind back in gear after getting stuck?  What are some ways you practice non-comparison, being present, and being positive?

25itude

Two days ago, I turned 25.  About two weeks ago, I resolved that with the new year I would practice gratitude.  One week later, I happened to attend a seminar at work where the speaker discussed optimism and how it fosters vitality and hope.  She suggested the use of a “gratitude journal” where everyday, you are to write a couple of current happenings for which you are grateful for.  Evidently, habitually identifying gratitude worthy incidences eventually rewires the brain to automatically do it itself!  So, every night, I began jotting down 2-3 bullet points of moments for which I was grateful for that day.  So far, I was writing down moments that made me happy.  While I understood how I could train my brain to practice gratitude, the concept of gratitude itself still escaped me until this evening while watching a movie:

“…I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me.  But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.  Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and its too much.  My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it.  And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude. “

-Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

So, gratitude is a choice.  Gratitude is a lens that enables us to find joy in anything and everything.  Gratitude is knowing that all that we live and feel is fleeting.  Gratitude is finding the joy, accepting that it is transient, allowing ourselves to live and love it, and being thankful that we were able to experience it once it is has passed.

What does gratitude mean to you?

Self-Love, the Silver Lining

Sadness.  Frustration.  Grief.  Anger.

When we are feeling these types of negative feelings, are they ever as bad as we think?  I don’t think so.  Humans survive – and sometimes even thrive – after experiences with harrowing events.   Part of human nature, and what makes us so special, is our ability to adapt.  So we do.  As much as we can.

Misunderstood.  Outcast.  Lonely.  Forlorn.

What happens when we feel no one understands our negative feelings or our experiences that induce these feelings?  Have you ever found yourself feeling unaffected after reaching out to others, or even feeling worse?  As a psychologist, I’ve been trained and discouraged to use terms like, “I know how you feel.”   Because no one ever really knows how anyone else feels.  Everyone’s feelings, perceptions and experiences are unique to them, to their history, to their environment.  Because of this, it is important to remember that others may not receive what we share the way we want them to (because they have their own feelings and experiences!), and it becomes equally important to choose carefully who we share what with.  For example – we may not want to share that we got fired with our gossipy friend, or share a night of drunken escapades with a judgmental friend.  Ultimately, we want to maximize our chances of feeling better, and minimize our chances of feelings worse.  This is not to say that our gossipy or judgmental friend is not trying his or her best – but only that they may not be the appropriate person for the circumstance.

Empathy.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Patience.

When we are engulfed by the negativity, and are unable to be pacified by our friends, family, peers, loved ones, etc.  I suggest that we expect the same compassion, empathy, kindness and patience that we desire from others, and give it to ourselves!   We deserve the same love from ourselves as much as we deserve it from anyone else (if not more!).

So, I leave you with this:

“As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But as I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART.”  – Charlie Chaplin

Inherently Acquired

Attachment theory.  The deep relationships and connections between humans that supposedly originate from our childhood bonds with our parents.  Everyone in the psychological world has heard of it, and many many people outside of that world are familiar with it – or have at least heard of it as well.  Here is a chart to summarize attachment styles, parenting styles, and the resulting characteristics of the now adult’s attachment style:

attachment

In general, I have always considered myself securely attached; however, I have recently been wondering how much of our adult attachments affect and influence our current attachment styles.  Without delving into my personal history too much, I will tell you that my first long-term relationship gashed my heartsoul, and that my second and third relationships only aggravated this wound.  My most recent relationship was marked by fear, silence, insecurity, and longing.   ” Secure in general” was history, and I found myself falling into the categories of avoidant and ambivalent.  However, I reflect on these experiences in retrospect.  The older we get, the more aware we become – of ourselves and of our surrounding world.  So I wonder:  Was I actually secure, and later molded by the bonds of my adulthood?  Or, was I unconsciously always avoidant and ambivalent?  How much do our childhood attachments reflect the relationship choices we make as adults?  How much do our relationships as young adults and adults further shape our attachment style?

I would like to end this post on a positive note and say no matter our attachment style, I believe it is in each individuals power to work towards the attachment we desire.  As the social creatures that humans are, we have an innate need for warmth, love, and belonging (check out this study here if you want some proof!) and I am on a self-proclaimed journey to fulfull this need!   I know this journey will be arduous, and it will require mindfulness, courage, and compassion but damnit, I am committed to it!  Join me.

The Honesty Continuum

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend about the politics of honesty.  As a young Turkish-North Americaner, I have concluded that the honesty scale is one that can be easily tipped.  Throughout my life, I have felt that Turks are often too blunt.  What do I mean?  I mean that when I had hit puberty, all of my relatives and close family-friends boldly pointed out my developing young lady parts.  Or when I have a pimple, how everyone lets me know that they can see it too, and why do I still have acne?  Or maybe that, wow!  I’ve lost/gained a couple pounds since they last saw me.  Meanwhile, I feel that Americans are often not blunt enough.  Even when we ask, the people in our circles are reluctant to admit to any changes in our weight (unless it is in the form of a compliment).  How about when we have something stuck in our teeth and don’t realize until we check in the mirror ourselves!  Or the classic question we ask (or are asked), “does this make me look fat?” Forget about it!  Perhaps my sensitivity to the frankness of the Turkish people is because I have grown accustomed to the quiet candor of American culture.  I believe that it is quite possible that the straight-forwardness (or lack there-of) of each culture is designed to protect the individual.  While these confrontations where we decide how honest to be are likely dictated by our comfort level and closeness with the person we are interacting with, I ask you:  Is there such thing as too honest?  Is there such thing as not honest enough?  When does our honesty benefit a person, and when does it hurt them?  When does our lack of honesty do the same things?  In what ways are the boundaries of honesty governed by culture?

What do you think?