Many of us – especially through the pandemic – struggle with upsetting emotions and don’t know what to do about it. Normally, we might reach out to a friend or spend time with a family member to feel supported. But even before we were bound to our homes or kept physically-distanced, we may have been too busy to connect with them. Our devices have taken over for much of the time we would be spending face to face with people we care about. This may leave us feeling disconnected from the world, depressed, and anxious.
There are many ways, however, that we can release these feelings, shift our mindset, and increase our sense of happiness and satisfaction with life, even while sheltered in place. The most powerful that I have found – and the simplest – is practicing Presence.
Believing Our Thoughts
Recently, I was working with a client who was struggling with anxiety. She had a fear about what other people might think of her. It’s a very common experience that you might be able to relate to. She was also feeling very alone, and as a result, a bit down.
What she discovered as we journeyed through the session was that she spent a lot of time imagining the worst, thinking about all the awful things that other people might judge about her, all her shortcomings, etc. Yet when she reality-checked those thoughts – were they true? Did she know that those people were thinking about her at all? She recognized that they had no basis in reality. But when she repeated those thoughts over and over, and believed them, she spiraled down into worry and sadness.
Shifting from Thoughts to the Here and Now
Introducing the practice of presence created a palpable change for her. Over several minutes, shifting her attention from the thoughts to the physical sensations of her emotions, she discovered that the emotions would release. She was left with a feeling of greater ease and relaxation. It wasn’t from trying to get rid of the thoughts; it was from shifting her attention to the here and now, palpable experience through her senses.
We’ve heard of mindfulness practices; presence is similar. By becoming present, we stop for a moment, notice what is happening, and let go of the need to think. Thinking keeps us in the world of thought, spun by the mind. Thoughts pull us out of presence – and often into mindsets that create agitation and upset.
Thinking vs. Being
So in practicing presence, we do our best (albeit imperfectly) to let go of thinking and reorient ourselves to what is happening right here in the moment. We fully give ourselves to whatever we see, hear, feel, touch, or taste, and allow it to touch us. Presence helps shift us out of constant doing and thinking into Being, which is our true nature.
When we’re fully present with our breath, the sound of the leaves blowing in the wind, the taste of morning coffee, or our steps on the pavement as we walk to our car, we receive a break from the demands of life and spaciousness opens within us. In that calm quietness that comes from letting go of thoughts and focusing on the present, we can feel a deeper connection to ourselves, the world around us, and the Divine.
Presence is a Practice
This practice of presence is so very simple in concept, and yet simple doesn’t mean easy! When we practice mindfulness in the moment, one of the first things we notice is everything that gets in the way of being present. Over and over, the mind gets triggered into thoughts that lead to emotions, and those can trigger many more thoughts that take us far away from being right here, right now. It’s an ingrained tendency to get caught up in thought.
So it’s important to be patient with yourself when learning to practice presence. It takes some time and effort to change those tendencies. And it’s a practice – we aren’t expected to do it perfectly.
Give It a Try
It is much easier to learn presence from someone who has walked the territory. But you can still practice on your own. When you notice thoughts arising, shift your attention back to your senses; what is happening here right now? What do you feel in your body? What do you notice around you? If a strong emotion arises, give yourself permission to feel it in the body, but try your best to let go of thoughts and stories about the emotion. Experience it as it is – a sensation moving through you, like a wave.
This is a simple and short introduction to presence… and I will share more about presence with you in coming posts from my book, Awakening from Anxiety. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, give presence a try. Share here any questions, and what challenges you have from “thinking”. Together, we can shift out of the mental agitation into more joyful, peaceful, fulfilled lives.
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