These past few days, I have been waking up to a jumpy body and an overall sense of “How am I going to get it all done?” It seems that life has a way of constellating all the “yeses” I have offered over a long period of time into lots of activity in a short period of time.
As I sat meditating, I reached for a copy of Tao Te Ching and read these passages:
Act without doing;
work without effort…
Accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.
I shifted my attention to the next breath, a small act in the great task of becoming more mindfully aware. Then I focused on the next breath, and the next, expanding my awareness to include where I was feeling the breath in my body, noticing the thoughts passing through my mind, witnessing the emotions of the heart, and expanding into the spirit, or spaciousness around me.
At the end of the meditation, I felt calmer, clearer, and more capable of getting done what I had committed to do. I did not change what was on the list, I just changed my relationship to it. The overall internal sense shifted from constriction to expansion and from pressure and effort to spaciousness and focus. I also had new insights about how to approach the items on the list.
Mindfulness does not occur just in the mind—it occurs throughout our bodies. Practicing mindfulness, similar to experiencing emotions, evokes physiological changes in the body.
How does this advance the exploration of fields I have been doing in three recent posts? Prior to this meditation, my thinking had created a field of pressure and hurry inside me. This is not how I want to approach taking care of my commitments, nor how I want to influence those around me and the field in which we are interacting. We are inseparable from the fields around us and fields are inseparable from us. Awareness and acceptance of our current state—body, mind, heart, and spirit—is an important step in generating the internal and external fields in which we want to live.
A Series of Small Acts
Please take a moment to look at your To-Do List. Notice what is going on inside your body, mind, heart and spirit. Describe what’s going on, without any judgments of yourself or the list! Based on what you just described, how would you characterize the quality of your relationship to this list? Are you excited and happy to tackle these things? Overwhelmed? Angry? Dreading it all? Or, perhaps you are just neutral?
The challenge for many of us is paying attention to doing small acts from moment to moment while also keeping the “great task” in mind. It takes practice to expand our attention so we can be aware of our internal state as we accomplish the small acts, while also keeping in mind the “great task” and the social fields we are generating.
Strengthening our capacity to pay attention to the body and its various sensations is an important step in expanding our attention. It calms the Default Mode Network and keeps it from drawing energy away from the Central Executive Network. The simple practice of awareness can help us step off of the spinning hamster-like wheel of negative ruminations about self and others. Simply paying attention to your breath and noticing the sensations in your body are great practices in helping expand your attention.
Let’s try a series of small acts right now. This will take no more than three minutes. Start by bringing your attention to your left foot on the floor and how it is resting there. Now, focus your attention on your right hand, where it is, and the sensations within it. Shift your attention to your left ear. You might even want to touch it. Observe what is happening inside you as you do these things. Finally, expand your attention to include your breathing as you continue to pay attention to these parts of your body, or the body as a whole.
Now, please return to looking at your To Do List. Has your relationship to it changed? Has your internal state changed? If so, how? Do you have new insights on how to approach it?
“You must be present to win.”
So says the marquee sign in front of the casino in Las Vegas. I invite you to experiment with coming home to yourself—body, mind, heart and spirit—at least for a few moments over the next days. Perhaps it’s taking a moment in between each item on your list, or at particular times of the day. Often it only takes a minute to check in with yourself before moving onto the next act.
Our bodies and breath are doorways to coming home to ourselves, to the present moment. We cannot be aware or make conscious choices about the internal and external fields we want to create unless we are present as we pursue small acts in light of the great task we have set for ourselves.