Week 8: Present Moment Awareness

“When water is still, it is like a mirror, reflecting the beard and the eyebrows...And if water thus derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind?”  


The natural follow up to last week’s focus on appreciation is to increase present moment awareness.  We’ll begin doing this by developing a daily awareness practice.  Dr. Graham Mead offers some instruction:

Developing a daily awareness practice by Dr. Graham Mead

“You have all been committing yourselves to behavioral change in various areas of your training and life in order to begin to uncover your relationship with these various aspects i.e. food, addictions, familiar training routines etc. and how they affect you."

This week we are going to look at an approach to being still, present and attentive to ourselves and our surroundings. By making time to enrich and nurture ourselves internally, we can regain a deep sense of who we are and restore our inner well being by reconnecting with ourselves and with life. This connected state is not far away or out of reach, nor does it require a particular environment within which to discover it. Instead it can be found by simply relearning how to pay attention to what is happening right now, both internally (inside the body) and externally (the environment surrounding us.)

For this week I encourage you all to take only 5 minutes (or even 3 minutes) twice a day to do the following simple practice. You can do this at the end of your training routine or at the beginning. You can do it in your car just after you arrive at work or directly after arriving at home - providing you are of course stationary! You can do it as the first thing you do once you have gotten out of bed or the last thing you do just before going to sleep. You will find that these mere 5 minutes twice a day can make an extraordinary change to the way you feel on a daily basis. Take 5 minutes of your lunch or tea break or wherever you are waiting for someone else to arrive for a meeting or where you have arrived early for a meeting. Simply sit still with your eyes closed and run through the following:

1.    Pay attention to the sounds around you, outside of the space you are sitting in.   If you are in a building, try to notice some of the sounds outside on the street.  These sounds may be pleasant or unpleasant, loud or soft, even a little irritating or disturbing. They may be calm, natural sounds, far off or close by. They may be the sound of people talking or cars driving by. It really doesn’t matter what they are - just pay acute attention to them as if it is critical that you hear absolutely everything around you. Try not to identify with any of the sounds. This can prove a little tricky, but it is worth watching your mind identify the sound and then relax into it or get agitated with it once it has decided that the sound is useful or not, pleasant or unpleasant and so on. For this part it is important to just observe the sound itself, not its source. Let the description of its source just flow through your mind without any grip on it.

2.    Pay attention to the sounds inside the room or space you are sitting in. Follow the same approach as above, but now focus on the immediate environment you are in and the space that closely surrounds you. Again no attachment to the source of the sounds or whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. Observe all the sounds exactly as they are. Relax your listening to allow it to become very acute.

3.    Now begin to pay attention to your own respiration. Be careful now. We don’t want to change anything here. Avoid dipping into a familiar breath exercise you have done that brings you relief. Avoid deep breathing, slow breathing, throat breathing, breathing with prolonged exhalation or any other breath exercise. Just observe your breathing as it is right now. Notice whether the breathing seems fast or slow or perhaps medium-paced. Change nothing-just notice. Notice whether the breathing feels deep or shallow and whether it seems to be an effort to breathe or whether the breath feels effortless and easy. Observe the rhythm of the breath. Is it even and smooth or perhaps wobbly, staccato, uneven and unbalanced. Remember: Change nothing at all. Just observe.

4.    Notice how you feel as you breathe. Pay attention to all the sensations. We will identify two forms of sensation simply in order to encourage awareness of sensations per se. The first we could call physical sensations. These include, amongst many, many others the following and can be felt anywhere in the body: Warmth or coolness, numbness, tightness, emptiness or fullness, tingling, prickliness, tension, a feeling of restriction, contraction, pulsation, expansion, sharp pain, aching pain, a feeling of relaxation, ease or flow. The second group of sensations we could call emotional sensations and they include: Irritability, agitation, sensitivity, melancholy, sadness, grief, anticipation, expectation, joy, disgust, resentment, guilt, overwhelm, relaxation, ease, envy, wonder, amusement or goodwill. Any emotion. Remember to just observe-don’t judge anything that you feel as good or bad. Give yourself permission to feel whatever shows up in these few moments. Everything that you feel will forever keep changing and will not stay fixed in your experience if you simply, briefly observe it in this way.

That’s it-you’re done. Nothing to achieve, no way of failing here. But remember to do this EVERY day for 5 minutes twice a day and then notice what happens to your inner state as well as your interaction with those around you. 5 Minutes is all you need, but the continuity of everyday practice is important.”


AFTER A FEW DAYS: Hopefully, you’ve committed to Dr. Graham Mead’s daily awareness practice for 5 minutes twice a day.  Now advance the exercise as follows:

“For the duration of this week I want you all to notice, simply notice the nature of the emotions that surface in your interaction with others. Pay attention to every interaction including those with people you hardly know or seldom deal with, but in particular your relationship with your immediate family, intimate partner, children, work colleagues and friends. Observe both the feeling that surfaces and exactly what happens inside you in reaction to the feeling. In other words if an uncomfortable feeling is triggered through an interaction, identify the actual feeling and notice whether you defend yourself, justify yourself, suppress the feeling, move away from the person, attack the person verbally, reach for alcohol, cigarettes, a foodstuff or exercise. Don’t judge what you do, just observe with active curiosity as if you are noticing a behavior for the first time.”

This week’s step may seem esoteric and foreign for some.  That’s okay.  Take the time and the leap of faith to give daily awareness practice a chance.

What’s the use of building a strong healthy body if the mind is too noisy and judgmental to enjoy and appreciate the simple act of being alive?  The mind and the body should act in synergy, as allies.  

Establishing a daily awareness practice with help you do just that.  The benefit to yourself and those around you will be inspirational!