Peace of Mind: The Canvas for Painting a Beautiful Life.
For many of us living in this fast paced modern world, each waking moment seems to be filled with competing priorities and demands. Work, family, household, social, and financial obligations - each one constantly jockeying for position to gain a slice of our attention. The opportunity to experience peace of mind can seem remote at best. Over time, the stress imposed by such a survival mode of existence can lead to a downward spiral of chronic health ailments, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, and an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer, to name a few.
As human beings, the one thing that differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is an ability to remember the past, analyze events, and predict a future outcome. At one end of the spectrum, our intellect can lead us to a very comfortable and successful life. At the other end, is suffering in many forms.
So what decides which way we go?
The answer depends on where we invest most of our mental energy - the past, present, or future. When we use the past as a means to learn and grow, and the future as a platform to plan and prepare, our lives blossom. Anxiety and depression on the other hand, are the respective products of spending too much time worrying about the future and dwelling on the past.
Just as we can improve our physical health through exercise, we can train the mind can to focus on being aware of what’s happening here and now. Research shows that by practicing techniques that allow us to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement (a definition of mindfulness according to Dr. Jon Kabatt-Zinn; the pioneer of mindfulness in modern day medicine), we can significantly reduce the effects of stress, while increasing overall wellbeing.
So how do we do this?
There are many simple mindfulness practices that allow us to focus on the present. One of the simplest and most common techniques is bringing awareness to the breath. Another, is to bring awareness to the body. Both the breath and body only exist in the present moment, so by bringing attention to either of these, we naturally become more present.
Breath awareness involves simply bringing ones awareness to the process of breathing.
A body scan can be performed either sitting or lying down, and is an excellent way to relax and prepare the body for sleep - particularly useful if you are having any trouble sleeping.
Body Scan Practice:
Get comfortable; relaxed but alert
Gently close the eyes
Take a few cleansing breaths
Start by bringing awareness to the feet; noticing any sensations there
Slowly move attention up the body; pausing to pay attention to each part
As thoughts enter the mind, simply return attention to that part of the body
Continue the journey until you reach the top of the head
The whole process takes only a few minutes. Afterward, you should notice an increased sense of calm wash over body and mind. But even if you find it difficult to keep your attention on the body, remember that it is just a practice, and as with exercise, it needs to become a regular part of your routine to have any lasting benefit. Over time, you should feel less stressed, and experience more peace of mind. From here, all things become possible.