Bringing presence and intention into everyday life is not easy for us twenty first century humans. We may occasionally find the time to tuck ourselves away in a nurturing retreat, travel across the city to meditate with our teacher, or simply start off a new year with genuine yogini devotion and intent, but there comes a point in every person’s week when the noise of the mind takes over and mindfulness and calmness scamper almost imperceptibly out the window. Our past thoughts and future plans bear so much weight in our daily lives that inevitably they come crashing into our inner skies like tidal waves and defeat even the most accomplished modern buddha.
On my winding and continuing journey I have learned a few basic and simple gifts that we can all give ourselves to bring presence and calm into the everyday – and since this seems to be something so elusive for so many, I thought I would share them here in this online space of exploration and inspiration.
The one thing we all do again and again on the spiritual path is beat ourselves up – for not meditating, not going to yoga, passing a quick judgment, reacting in the moment in a way we barely recognise… the list goes on and it is so often the spiral of our own self-judgment that precludes any deep inner work. We are programmed to do this and it is one of the hardest patterns to overcome. In tantra we say yes to everything, nothing is wrong, what is right now is simply right. And I try to bring this approach to daily life – no judgment or negativity but an acceptance of where I am at today. This comes first and foremost: the rest follows naturally.
1. Daily meditation
Whatever your lifestyle and however you tick, daily meditation is a basic need if we are to find balance our overcomplicated, technology-fuelled lives, and something that gives such rich roots and foundations to everything we do. A friend recently described her meditation as if it were a relationship and it is a simile I really relate to. Like a friend, sister or partner, you need to check in regularly with your inner landscape and see how it feels, what it’s been experiencing, who is at home today, or you will fall out of touch and become separate. It’s easy to be an absent friend but soon you will not be a friend at all. And this daily tending to our inner gardens is just the same – but, in my experience, so much more peaceful and relaxing than engaging with anyone else. Nothing is required but the willingness to look inside. Sitting with what is there, maybe with a mantra or maybe just the breath, and not judging it but just exploring it like a painting, we come to know ourselves with a new depth and acceptance. Ten minutes a day can enrich everything.
2. Setting an intention
Sometimes the word intention sends us into a spiral of panic. We trip out because we do not know what we want, what we would like, how we think we should be, what our heart is telling us – or even, sometimes, where our heart is. But the power of intentions is so strong and they can be so small and simple. In fact, for me, that is exactly what they must be. Creating a stripped back, basic focus for the day cuts through all the noise and calls of duty: it is a gift to yourself that you can fall back on when things fall apart or plans shift and change and we lose our ground: today I will listen; today I will be present for whoever or whatever is in front of me; today I will read my book instead of waste my time scrolling through Instagram; today I feel like the sky is falling down but I will invite only positive thoughts.
Setting an intention is also a gentle way to step back and look at where we are in our lives. We ask ourselves what we need and build our days around it little brick by little brick. We become our own compass.
3. Listen to the wisdom of the body
An extension of this intention is not only seeing where your heart and mind are at: the body holds the strongest wisdom and is so often the first thing to be ignored when the going gets rough and days are filled with coffee and running and doing and surviving. This is how we come unstuck and imbalance sets in both pyhsically and emotionally. Our bodies and our minds are not two separate entities: they are part of the whole and if we can respect our apparatus enough to ask it what it wants each day, and listen to the answer, it usually has an intelligence far greater than the one we want to impose upon it. Cravings are not for nothing.
So take time each day to pause and ask your body what it wants. This is often an entirely new experience for many of us, but it is a good way to reconnect with our instinct. After all, we were built to eat slowly and with very little choice; with so much to choose from now and so little time do do it, we end up grabbing the nearest thing and devouring it on the move even if it bears no resemblance to what our bodies are needing or asking for. It can be like eating a mountain of things when you’re actually thirsty, but you only realise it later when the food hasn’t fulfilled you. Our bodies often deserve more than we give them and learning to hear them is an amazing tool to keep us connected and healthy every day, every time we are about to put something in them. Listen to what yours wants.
4. Respect your boundaries
This is something I am still working on and it is a long journey undoing a lifetime of habit. But it begets a self-respect and honesty that bring a little more clarity and energy into each day and it is worth sharing here.
So many interactions in daily life require something of us and if you are a yes person you will inevitably smile and say sure thing to most. I have done this by default for years, and it can drain our energy and presence at a surprising rate. It is not easy to rewire the response but with a little awareness it can slowly turn into something more honest, and listening to your inner voice and respecting yourself enough to say no, express discomfort or just not get involved is an amazing tool in life and one that’s easy to practise every day, whatever it brings you.
Just as in tantra, everything is right, it is so healing and liberating to realise that saying no or holding back is also right if that is what your heart is saying. With a daily awareness of this, when we do give, it is from a place of truth and strength and presence. Know your boundaries tomorrow and see how you feel expressing them.
5. Daily gratitude
At the end of the daily scramble there is always so much to be grateful for but sometimes the troubles that came alongside the goodness can swipe the rest of the scene away. Nothing is more healing than remembering what we have, what we are thankful for, the fundamentals of life that give us back our perspective and wipe the slate clean. We all contain the capacity for joy and celebration: acknowledging our daily gratitudes, no matter how small or basic, creates a positive space to come back to when the chips really are down and we are losing ground fast. How we perceive our lives dictates the journey of our days and remembering what we have is just as easy as forgetting it. In those times when it’s hardest, having that list to fall back on is a little window into a world we thought we left behind; a little reminder of what makes you smile.