By Mary Boutieller
How we think, feel, speak, or act in one situation ripples into other areas of our lives. The invitation here is to be present.
What a beautiful time of year! As cold winter months come to an end and make way for verdant spring, there is a sense of busyness in the air—a ramping up or calling to do more. As the momentum shifts toward more light, maybe we can pause long enough to notice the subtle and not so subtle changes happening all around us.
I’ve been playing with the idea of “being” versus “doing.” Maybe you’ve heard the saying that we are human beings, not human doings. Yet as human beings, we are wired to work and do and achieve. Many of us seem driven to close the gap between here and there, to improve upon our circumstances, make a better life, be happier, and get more of what we think will complete us. For me, I sometimes find myself filling my day with activities, yet not being fully aware of what I’m doing in the present moment. Then I’ll notice that I’m on autopilot and I’ll pause to recollect myself. Interesting to me that one definition of “recollect” means “to bring oneself back to a state of composure.”
Recently, I worked with a student who was in Savasana (corpse pose), yet I could tell from the tenseness of her body that she wasn’t really in Savasana. She was doing the shape of the pose for sure—body stretched out, lying on the floor—but her thoughts were active, her breath was short, and she was nowhere near the state of Savasana. I wondered how often we perform a yoga pose, get all the details correct in our brains, but never really sink in and love the pose or love our bodies in the pose? And although the details are important—at some point in each pose, we just have to be in the “soft animal” of the body. We have to move from knowledge to wisdom, from thinking state to feeling state, from the thing outside of us to an inward understanding of what is happening in the here and now.
As most yoga lessons do, this one translates beautifully to life in general. Almost anything we do in life creates a microcosm for the big macrocosm of our lives. The small lesson begets the bigger lesson. The tap of a spider web on one end affects the entire web; nothing happens entirely in isolation. So how we think, feel, speak, or act in one situation ripples into other areas of our lives. The invitation here is to be present. Be present with your thoughts, your body, your judgments, your discomfort, and your bliss. Imagine being fully present just 10 percent of your day! What would you notice?
Take a moment now and try this experiment: As you sit (or stand) here reading this article, how are you feeling? Are you in a hurry and hoping I’ll get to the point? Are you also eating, standing in line or side-shifting your gaze as the pings come in on your phone? Can you feel the unnecessary tension created by thinking and doing and multitasking and rushing and trying to stuff one more thing into your already overcrowded, breathless day?
Now, start over. Pause just long enough to take a nice deep breath and smile as you notice what part of your body is touching whatever it is touching. Is it your feet, your back? Is there a breeze blowing across your cheek or do you feel the warmth of the sun? Is your belly soft or drawn in? Maybe look away from your phone or computer. What do you see? Can you take in the green of the leaves or the face of a loved one, just for a second? Let yourself BE in this one moment. Feel the tension start to release? Each time you become distracted—each time your mind takes you from here to there—pause, breathe, relax, and then continue.
Dr. Zendel Sigel, PhD, who works with mindfulness and depression, said that the doing mode is “goal oriented…and motivated to reduce the gap between how things are and how we think we need them to be.” The being mode, on the other hand, is characterized by a “direct, immediate, intimate experience of the present.” Wouldn’t that be preferable if we want to live this life? Going numb or tuning out is simply a habit. Burying our faces in computers or blankets or the ego’s need for one-upmanship is a lousy way to lose our connection to what is happening on the inside (and on the outside). Quietness, non-doing and single moment awareness all help us reconnect with ourselves and the world.
From his book The Mindful Way Through Depression, Dr. Segal and friends also said this: “For most of us, a typical day involves hurrying from task to task, forgetting that there are other possibilities for us. Even a tiny bit of mindfulness, brought to any moment, can wake us up, thus subverting the momentum of doing for at least one moment—and that’s all we need to be concerned about. We don’t have to stop what we are doing. We simply bring greater moment-to-moment, non-judging, wise awareness to our unfolding moments. The solution to our mood problems may not require heroic attempts to change our inner feeling world or the outer world of people, places, and jobs. Rather, it may simply involve a shift in the way we pay attention to all of them.”
I’m not saying that doing is somehow wrong. It’s important and necessary to do all those things that are needed or desired to move through this wonderful life of ours. Otherwise, we might all become blobs in the grass gazing at the flowers. But in excess, we can lose ourselves. We can forget how to feel, how to trust, how to know if we are content or happy or in balance—whether we are in a yoga pose, a relationship, or a life event.
There is a Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Tom Barrett explains on his blog Interlude Retreat, that it’s all about being in the moment:
“When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock. Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it. When you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.”
Indeed, life happens to all of us if we are lucky. How life happens is a choice-by-choice, moment-by-moment adventure. There will be barriers and dead-ends, and shortcuts along the way; the bottom line is, if we sleepwalk through it all, we’ll miss the whole point of being here! The question is: Can we release the need to stay busy doing busy work, lest we spend time with ourselves? Can we lighten our emotional, mental, fictitious loads and let the light of spring move us forward? Let’s all take a nice deep breath and say “Oh Yeah!”
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.