During my four years of studying with the Gestalt Institute of Toronto, I heard one of the catchiest – and inspiring – phrases of my life (so far):
This phrase is born from the idea that in order to live in the present moment, we need to stop ruminating about our past and to stop worrying about the future. In essence, we need to allow ourselves to get out of our heads – lose our minds – and become fully AWARE of our bodies and more specifically, our five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. This also includes being aware of our breathing and any pain, discomfort or feelings present within our bodies.
This allows us to become more present – and in the present, there is no past and there is no future and therefore, we are not ruminating or worrying. There can only be a state of awareness and this is where we can do our most meaningful internal work.
It is interesting that in our society we are told we should not lose our mind – to lose our mind or our head infers that we are in a state of some irrational or uncontrollable emotion or that we have checked out of reality.
I don’t know about you – but sometimes doing just that, feels really good!
More often than not, however, we use food, alcohol, drugs or any number of external stimuli to help us get out of our minds and escape reality. So, how do we learn to achieve this state of being – aware and in the moment – without these stimuli and why is it important to do so?
First of all, I am not condoning or judging anyone’s need for these external stimuli – in a world like ours with so many stresses, it is no wonder that we feel we need these things. In fact, some of these things – in moderation – can help us to be more in the moment. A glass of wine every once in a while can relax us and allow us to enjoy our sense of taste!
Even after a lot of this type of training – and believe me, when I first began learning about being in the present moment, I was generally always in my head – I was struggling with being aware of my senses and therefore, being present. This was never so obvious until one day, I was having lunch with a friend in a little deli that was partly under renovations. We were engrossed in a very heady conversation when I realized that I had been leaning against the wall – more like framework with studs – for 45 minutes; and sticking out from the beam that I was leaning on, was a nail – the sharp end protruding out.
Had I really been leaning my arm against the sharp end of a nail for 45 minutes and hadn’t noticed? I thought to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, how numb am I to my own senses and how much pain can I actually take before I take action?”
Interestingly enough, another exercise that we did in our group training was holding our index fingers against someone else’s cheek and pressing in – the instruction was to do this until the person receiving the pressure told us to stop. While we did this, the person who was experiencing the pressure was to state – as best they could in this position, “I can take it. I can take it,” over and over. I took the pressure for at least 2-3 minutes without ever telling the person to stop. After the exercise, we were asked a series of questions:
1. How long did you take the pressure or pain?
2. If you did take it for a prolonged amount of time, what made you continue taking it?
3. Why did you take it at all?
This was one of the first revelations I had about my ability to take pain in my life; and my need to prove to myself and everyone around me that I can take it and how very strong I am. The most significant question that our leaders posed to us after this exercise, was, “why would you take this pressure at all, if at any given moment – the first second it started – you could have told the person to stop?”
What a question! Yes, why did we?
Why do we accept pain so easily and why do we – why did I, have something to prove regarding my own pain? It wasn’t that I was unaware of this pain, like I was with the nail – which was really more frightening to me as I had to wonder, how could anyone lean on a nail for 45 minutes and not be aware of it?
The exercises around this topic taught me that I was almost completely unaware of my own body. In fact, I was so unaware of my own internal pain that I had become numb to the things that caused me external pain and I had this stubborn need to prove to the world that I could take anything it threw at me.
The real issue with this is that as long as we remain numb to our pain; we often remain numb to joy and contentment as well. Hence, I have written blogs on depression and how it creeps up on us because of our inability to allow ourselves to feel our pain – our sadness or anger; hence, we end up not being able to feel anything – not even joy or satisfaction.
There are a few quick and effective ways to begin tuning into our bodies – ours senses – and they are well worth the time.
1. A quiet room: One of the things I do is sit in the sauna – this not only affords me complete interaction with my body in that I am sitting quietly allowing it to breathe and to sweat – I am usually completely alone and able to take the time to get in touch with how I am feeling emotionally and physically.
2. Sitting in or Near Water: Not everyone of course, has the luxury of having a sauna, but taking a hot bath or shower can work as well – anywhere there is water or the sound of water can be soothing and cleansing – being in water cleanses our entire chakras and aura. The sound of running water also affords us the luxury of tuning out external noises and distractions. Furthermore, the bathroom is great as it usually is the only room in the house with a lock on the door – especially if you have young children or anyone living with you that could be distracting.
3. Closing Our Eyes for 30 Seconds: You can do this anywhere – even at work. Close your eyes and check in with your body – from the top of your head, right down to your toes. You can simply do a mental scale from top to bottom or you can actually ask your body what it is feeling. The important thing is to become aware of any sensations within your body – good or bad – pleasant or uncomfortable – without judgement.
Notice how you are breathing as well. Once you become aware of your breathing, attempt to take in deeper breaths through your nose and out through your mouth. Some people are very uncomfortable with the idea of meditating or doing long breathing exercises – I totally understand this as I am still working on it myself – but even 30 seconds can ground you and bring you back to a state of peace if things are hectic around you or within you.
4. Go lose your mind: Exercise, run, play – do anything physical that can bring you out of your head and into your body. If you want, punch a punching bag or go into the woods for a walk and smash a stick against an old root – apologize to the root beforehand perhaps if you feel badly about it – and lose your mind. This is a great way to release tension, stress and anger that is built up. After you’re done, check in and notice what emotions come up. You might be surprised about what you get to finally release or whose pictures come to mind!
5. Massage: Whether you visit a massage practitioner or you simply ask for one from a partner or just massage your own feet, be sure to get touched at least a few times a day as our body needs to have this sense stimulated as it releases endorphins and it simply feels good.
6. Pet an animal: Petting an animal certainly is one way to become connected with your sense of touch. It also calms our breathing and usually while we are being stared at by big brown eyes or listening to the purring of a contented cat, we escape from our minds – and the stress of the day – at least temporarily.
Namaste – Peace Be With You!
Next Blog: What is Sensory Perception and How Do Our Perceptions Lie to Us?