This is How You Find Calm in the Chaos was written by Benjamin Foley and originally appeared on Medium.
Of course, thinking is necessary to survive, but most of the thoughts you have floating around in your head are false and should not be listened to. However, it is as, in your head, you have a broken record that continues replaying the same thoughts over and over again with no end.
When you consciously focus on the breath you are not just cultivating mindfulness; you are also creating stillness in your mind. Giving it a much-needed break from the constant barrage of thoughts that plague most of your day.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ― Pema Chödrön
For the average person, we spend most of our days projecting into the future or reminiscing about the past. In both cases, we are absent in the present. Therefore, absent from life.
We think about why Sheryl in accounting hasn’t emailed us back or how many carbs that sandwich we ate at lunch today had or worrying about if our career is on the right path.
If these thoughts were just a record, you could press stop. But life is not so simple. We cannot just stop our thoughts. No matter how badly we want to or how hard we try.
This is why it's important for us to practice, 'the art of being awake.'
You see, for most things, there is a science to achieving them. Follow this guide and work hard and you will get to where you want to be. However, there is no science for learning how to live a fulfilled life. No one set of instructions everyone can follow to achieve mastery of living.
Your life is a blank canvas. YOU are the painter. Mindfulness is the art.
The art of living.
Mindfulness is not mediation. It is an operating system for your life. It is the underlying framework upon which you can paint the masterpiece of your life. It is a dance that requires the skill to maintain awareness of our minds as they jump from one thing to another, seeking distraction or avoiding difficulty.
So how do we learn this art form?
The answer, I’ve found, is finding stillness.
Our mental processes — jumping around and distraction and being caught up in stories — only cause us stress when we latch onto them and tell ourselves a story about why they arise. These thoughts are not only common; I think they are part of the normal human condition. But if this is how our minds are most of the time, then being afflicted by this condition is probably going to cause us constant anxiety.
Instead, I find it more helpful to learn to:
• Be aware of these mental conditions;
• Be present with the mental pattern and stay with it; and
• Work with the situation in a mindful way.
• The only way to master this is by finding stillness in your day.
Mindfulness is not mediation. It is an operating system for your life.
We are starting to get a little more serious now. Are you up for it?
Find Stillness: Take one 8 minute break out of your busy day and try to do the following:
• Sit still and look away from all devices and other activities. Just sit there, maybe with your eyes closes, perhaps looking at nature or a wall.
• Take a moment to assess your condition. How do you feel? Are you tired, anxious, frustrated, calm, happy? What state is your mind in?
• Assess how you’ve been behaving recently (today, or just in the last hour) … have you been constantly distracted? In a state of busyness? Focused? Procrastinating? Anxious or fearful? Irritated? Feeling down?
• Stay with these feelings for a moment, just being curious and non-judgmental about them.
• Feel each of them, and notice the mental pattern that caused it. If you’re frustrated, are you stuck in a resentful story about someone else or your current situation? If you’re anxious, is there some desired outcome that you’re holding tightly to? If you’re feeling down, are you comparing your situation with some ideal that you don’t have?
• Bring your attention to your body. How does it feel? What sensations can you notice in your head, neck, arms, hands, torso, hips, butt, legs, feet?
• Can you find gratitude at this moment? Can you find love or compassion, for yourself or others?
You don’t have to do all of these things each time you find stillness, but these are all things you can help you become more aware of what your mind and body are trying to tell you.
Tips for when/how to make this happen:
Do it in the shower: The average person takes an 8-minute shower every single day. This could be an excellent time to create space for stillness in an activity you already do. Try not to try to remain present the whole time.
Do it first thing when you wake up or right before you go to bed: The first thing I do every single morning right after I wake up exercises my mind (i.e., meditation). Not because it offers more value in the morning, but because the morning is the one time of day that I completely control.
Do it on your commute: You may be reading this on your commute right now. Stop and set a timer for 8-minutes and just sit. You do not have to close your eyes or chant. Just stop whatever you are engaged with and find stillness.
I can give you all the tips in the world, but ultimately it is up to you to take the time to find stillness in your life. It will benefit your life in more ways than you can imagine!