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On how to be present, or at least try to
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I have been feeling restless since we arrived to Tulum, somehow not fully here, but also not anywhere else. In a sort of limbo, reflecting often about how I think I should feel, but also totally confused about how I actually feel.
Being somewhere so beautiful, being reminded often how lucky I am to live in “paradise”, doesn’t help clarify anything, it actually makes things murkier. It’s like the world is telling me that feeling anything but joy in a magical place is not allowed, it’s an impossibility. It’s a constant internal fight between what I actually feel and what I think I should be feeling.
This is a feeling I have experienced many other times in my life: the weight of the should.
I should be grateful.
I should be happy.
I should be perfect.
My internal self-talk never letting go: “What am I even complaining about? Who do I think I am to ask so much of this world?”
Maybe you have felt this weight too?
And then I stumbled into the video of this beautiful song by Bomba Estereo, one of my favorite bands, called Ahora / Now, and things sort of clicked. The song starts with these lyrics:
Estoy sentado en el lugar correcto
En el momento correcto
En el tiempo correcto
Deja que tu corazón se abra
Y repite este mantra:
Estoy bien, estoy bien, estoy bien
I am here
I am sitting in the right place
At the right moment
At the right time
Let your heart open
And repeat this mantra:
I am okay, I am okay, I am okay
It’s funny how the lyrics of a song, or a line in a book, or a phrase someone says to you in passing can have the power to center you, ground you, remind you that now is really all we have. I can dwell on the past and worry about the future, but neither of these feelings are productive and I know this. I just needed a reminder.
So, I am here, surrounded by lush and beautiful jungle, appreciative of this special space I get to call home, frustrated with the slowness of the job market, grateful for a weekly swim in warm Caribbean waters, overwhelmed by repairs and improvements to our home, joyful at learning new ways to work my mind and move my body, disappointed in the state of the world.
Estoy aquí y estoy bien / I am here and I am okay
Following this simple realization, I started being more and more conscious about being present in my day to day life. And although I am absolutely no expert in this, I thought I’d share what I learned and what I have been trying to practice to be more present each day.
None of this is a mystery or something new and novel. It’s basic stuff, but basic stuff doesn’t mean it’s easy to do! Actually, this stuff is hard, you have to be intentional about it, calculated, thoughtful. But I promise you it’s worth trying.
Here we gooooo:
Move! your! body!
Nothing is able to bring me more into the the present than moving my body, challenging it and feeling my heart pumping inside my chest. Without fail moving my body *always* clears my mind. My advice is to find something you enjoy, not whatever you think you *should* be doing (again, ditch the should!). Whether you focus on one or ten different practices, move slow or fast, in groups or alone, intense or calming, doesn’t matter. What is important is to just do it. Prioritize it. If you find it hard to stick to a routine by yourself, then get a personal trainer, join a group class, or buddy up with a good friend to keep yourself accountable.
Other ideas to successfully make moving your body part of your routine: establish a consistent and specific schedule (i.e. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at 8am); while working out limit distractions, turn off your phone, lock your room, etc; if you are not feeling inspired by a type of workout then change it up, ditch it and don’t look back; create a workout space, even if it’s just a tiny corner of your room or living room still designate a specific area for workouts (side note: as someone who workouts everywhere she is and moves around a lot I can tell you that truly *any* space can be conducive to a good workout, so don’t let your space or lack of it keep you from doing this).
As we are often on the move I have become well-adjusted to doing workouts at home, lately I have been doing either Heather Robertson’s workouts (free) or Jeanette Jenkins’ ones (paid). There are plenty of other websites/apps and channels focused on other types of exercises as well, I have tried BeachBody, Glo, Insanity Program, and others. Now that we are in one location for a few months I started going to group classes of pilates and also belly dancing, and it has been wonderfully challenging.
Work your mind
As you work your body, you also have to work your mind. Your mind needs to be taught how to bring you back to the present when you wonder into the past or the future, because this is not an intuitive thing to do. Training our minds how to be mindful is hard and important. Meditation is a powerful tool for this, but I will be the first to say that it’s difficult to make it a daily practice, or at least it has been for me (send tips pls!). I have had months in which I am very committed to the practice and dedicate at least 10min a day to it. But then somehow I always fall off the wagon. But, I *know* it’s good for me, so I keep coming back to it. Headspace is a great app to start trying to meditate.
That said, meditation is certainly not the only way to work your mind and practice mindfulness. Here are some other ideas I have put into practice that might work better for you too:
Mindful breathing. Just as it sounds, you don’t need to be meditating to practice mindful breathing. At any moment, when your mind is wondering and you want to bring it back, just take a few conscious deep breaths. Focus on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body.
Journaling. Write what you feel, reflect on your experiences and emotions without judgement. Even if it’s only a few phrases a day, even if you are just notting them down on your phone, whatever works!
Intention Setting. Start your day by setting specific intentions for what you want to accomplish and how you want to feel. Come back to these intentions throughout the day, check your progress, and modify as needed.
Visualization. Dipping your toes into meditation 101, just take a moment to close your eyes and visualize a peaceful moment. Picture the sensations and emotions associated with it.
Get out of your comfort zone and try new things
Learning new things can be an extremely powerful way to be more present. New experiences are often challenging, which requires you to be more present and attentive as you navigate the unknown. When you focus on simply going about your routine you can end up in autopilot, not fully present because your brain follows familiar patters (like when you drive, run, or drive a bicycle). Trying new things disrupts these routines and encourages you to be more present. So, sign up to learn that language you have been wanting to learn for years, go on that solo trip you have postponed many times, commit to learning how to bake, sign up for that glassblowing class, learn how to garden, etc etc.
Create time to do things you already love
Might seem obvious and simple but we very often don’t do this. We get busy and other things and other people take priority over ourselves. But if you want to be more present, it’s important to find time to do the things that bring you happiness. Remember that time is not found, it’s created. You are the owner of your time, so don’t let external factors take over, don’t become a passenger on your own ride. I know it’s easier said that done but take charge, schedule time for yourself, say no to commitments that get in the way of this, eliminate habits that take time without giving you anything back, wake up earlier, and delegate responsibilities so you can free up time. Go on that bike ride, allocate an hour every day to read that book, set boundaries so you can cook at home, stop scrolling and dance instead, get up early and go on that hike.
Consciously feeling grateful is a sure way to be more present and appreciate the current moment. But what does this mean exactly? Honestly, it could be as simple as taking a few minutes of your day to think through a few things you are grateful, big or small! For example, right now I am grateful for the somewhat annoying singing of the Yucatan jays outside my window (bc that means we haven’t yet driven them out by all the construction in this small but growing town we live), I am grateful for the papaya with lime and mango juice I am eating and drinking (bc it’s fresh and yummy and not easy to find elsewhere), I am grateful to have people in my life that love me unconditionally. What are you grateful for?
You can do this throughout the day or at some specific times, whatever works for you. For example you could do it right after waking up or before going to sleep, or at some specific times during the day, or simply when something happens that makes you feel good. This morning I was working out and it was incredibly hot and then a beautiful breeze blew over, and I stopped what I was doing, closed by eyes and felt grateful.
Limit your social media / news intake
Everyone gets this, but almost no one actually does it. I could tell you that technology can help you here: “just set up your time limits in IG and actually stick to it”, but you and I both know you will just tap out of it and go about your scrolling. Social media is designed to keep you there, the apps are not trying to help you. The only thing that has actually worked for me is being super aware of when I get the urge to open up my phone, and then redirecting that energy to something more productive. I grab my phone but open up Duolingo instead of IG/news, or put down the phone and grab my kindle to read a book, or go to the kitchen to make myself a snack/refill my water water, or literally leave the phone in another room. Consciously redirect redirect redirect!
A long time ago I also muted most notifications on my phone and moved the apps I felt I relied most when distracted off the main screen, and these things have been helpful as well. Designating tech-free zones, like your bedroom or the dining table, is a good idea I’d like to try but haven’t yet.
Connect with nature
Nature is healing, and has immense power to center and ground you. Find ways to connect to it even if you live in a concrete jungle. Stroll through your neighborhood park, go on a hike, do a picnic under a tree, go camping, or just sit outside. Let yourself be in these spaces, don’t take pictures the entire time or even listen to podcasts or talk on the phone. Truly disconnect from technology and simply be - engage your senses, pay attention - at least for a few minutes.
Find joy in the little things
Ah, out of everything in this list, I am a solid 10 at: prioritizing moving my body, practicing gratitude, connecting with nature, and finding joy in the little things. I am not great at everything else, but at least I am trying :). To me finding joy in the little things simply means: 1) to accept that small and “insignificant” things can make you happy and 2) to pay attention to your surroundings all the time.
When you are about your day, be aware, literally ask yourself: what is going on around me? Even when you are home or in some familiar place, you will be surprised by what you notice. Smell the air, listen to the sounds, look around you instead of at your phone. Pay attention to the flutter of birds, the expression of someone you are passing by, the leaves dancing with the wind, the state of your house plant (if bad, water it!), the tail wagging of a dog, the smell of fresh brewed coffee. Acknowledge and embrace that these little things bring you joy, and ground yourself in that feeling.
Accept there is a lot you can’t control, and let go
JUST LET GO! I know it’s easier said than done, but really, why hold on to emotions in regards to things you can’t do anything about? The world is a complex place, life is filled with uncertainties. We have power over lots of things, but certainly not most things. First up, accept this: there are things you can’t control, period. Then, distinguish between what you can and cannot control, and focus your energy and effort on the things you have influence over, such as your actions, choices, and reactions. Those things that you cannot control? See them as opportunities, embrace uncertainty as a natural part of life. And remember, letting go of what you can't control is a continuous practice that requires self-awareness and patience, don’t be too harsh on yourself, which leads me to the next point…
Be kind to yourself
It’s so much easier to be kind to others than to ourselves, why???? There is no reason! Treat yourself with the same kindness, patience, and understanding that you would offer to a close friend facing whatever you are facing. Literally ask yourself: what would I say towards this good friend of mine if she/he were in my position?, and then say that to yourself. This has been *really* difficult for me lately, but asking myself that question every time my self-talk is negative has been really helpful. Another thing that has been meaningful is setting realistic expectations of myself; not thinking I can do everything but instead setting achievable goals and recognizing that I am human.
It’s easier to feel all over the place if you don’t have some sort of structure to your days and hours. When you don’t organize your time you become fully reactive rather than proactive, and hence you simply do what’s in front of you / what seems the most pressing rather than doing what is actually the most important and meaningful. So, to be present it helps to be organized with your precious and limited time. Here are some ways to create an environment to foster mindfulness and living in the moment:
Prioritize your tasks, create a to-do list and prioritize it! Knowing what needs your attention first helps you stay focus and present on what is most important
Set specific blocks of time for different activities throughout the day. By allocating dedicated time for specific tasks, you can be more mindful and engaged during those periods
Eliminate distractions, following the suggestions above for limiting social media /news and focusing on your prioritized list
Set boundaries! Learn to say no to commitments that overload your schedule.
Setting clear intentions, practicing mindful breathing, and practicing gratitude can also help you be more organized
In summary, the path to mindfulness and being present requires embracing acceptance, gratitude, and joy in life's little moments. Letting go of what we can't control, prioritizing self-kindness, and staying organized can help us create an environment conducive to living in the moment. None of this is easy, but we gotta keep trying, right? If you have other ideas or things you practice to achieve this, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you.
I wish you mindfulness <3
PS - In the last journal post (as well as in an IG story) I asked for your opinion on what to write next - thank you to everyone that got back to me! - and one of the most common request was: “tell us more about your lifestyle!”, basically: how do we make it all work? And I just want to say, I hear you! and I will write about this soon. Please do keep sending over ideas!