Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’ve been feeling tense a lot lately and very scattered. I need to do something about it because my work requires a lot of concentration. In “Enlivening Ourselves” you have written about ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’. It sounds like it would be good for me, but I don't know how to do it. Could you explain how to do it?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Thank you for this very useful question! The essence of mindfulness is bringing your awareness to the present moment. This involves developing the art of nonjudgmental observation, i.e., just noticing, with curiosity. There is a steady stream of thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. that arise within us moment-to-moment, triggered by our inner world and outer experiences. Our tendency is to respond to this without awareness, letting the thoughts, feelings and sensations take us wherever they want. Without awareness, these (often unconscious) thoughts, feelings and sensations allow us to drift through our lives like a boat without a rudder. With awareness we can take hold of the rudder and begin to steer. Life happens whether we are present for it or not, so why not choose to be present for it and consciously create the life you want; moment-to-moment?
Paying attention to your senses will bring you to the present moment. Start by noticing your breath as it naturally rises and falls. Then notice the sounds around you. Sounds that are close by and sounds that are more distant. Keep your awareness of your breath as a constant touchstone and companion. Notice with curiosity any thoughts, feelings or sensations that arise, and then return to your touchstone, the breath. If you discover that you have been lingering with a thought, memory or feeling, just note it, then start again. The next moment is always available. This is not a matter of judging yourself or forcing your attention. A gentle, kindhearted approach is in order here. Remind yourself that it is not that serious of a matter. After all, where have you strayed to? Just a mood, thought, or sensation. The present moment is always close at hand. Your breath is always there with you. Let go into the present. It’s just a matter of returning over and over to the here and now. Give it a try and write again with any further questions that arise.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2010 Chaitanya Counseling Services