November has ushered in unseasonably chilly temperatures, prompting me to retire some of our outdoor plants sooner than expected. Yesterday, I was surprised to see a solitary bumblebee grazing on the few flowers that are still hanging on for dear life on our porch. I think that, like me, he didn’t want to admit that summer is really gone.
I watched the bee for a moment, worried he might be lonely. Does he have a plan for where to go next? I wondered. Doesn’t he know it’s going to snow soon? But just like the young buck I’ve seen roaming through our neighborhood lately, this bee seemed wholly unconcerned and unhurried.
Perhaps it’s in their DNA and they really don’t have a choice, but our non-human counterparts – bees and bucks and everything in between – are so good at that: just being fully present in a moment, not rushing to the next. How often have I been able to do the same?
As this year winds down, I know I still have a lot to learn about mindfulness. I can’t count how many times well-meaning friends have told me, “You really need to check out mindfulness. It would be so good for you!”
They’re probably right. But the prospect of meditating quietly in a room alone with my thoughts and the sound of my own heartbeat is, frankly, a bit terrifying. If I’m not in motion, my anxiety tends to rise.
But maybe practicing mindfulness does not always have to mean sitting still. William Pullen is a psychotherapist who uses mindfulness in the context of exercise like running and walking to help ease stress, anxiety, and depression. When negative or worrisome thoughts arise, the main idea is to simply notice your thoughts, allow them to pass, and refocus on what’s actually happening around you. So if you’re out on a run or a walk and you start to feel doubts creeping in, you can apply mindfulness by recognizing that while those thoughts will come and go, they don’t have to define you. Pullen calls this “making peace with your inner critic.”
I know that critic all too well. When I’m running and start to feel uncomfortable, my inner critic usually pipes up with some variation of, “You’re tired, this is too hard, you’re too old for this.” Sometimes these thoughts can even snowball: “You’ll never be any good at this, you’re going to get injured, you should just give up now.”
The way out of this is not to try to silence or fix that negative voice, but to simply pay more attention to what’s going on in the present moment. For example, what are the birds doing? How many trees can I count along this route? Do I feel the wind on my face? Often, it’s that connection with nature that can be the key to achieving true mindfulness and helping us have a better experience.
I’m planning to try this strategy on my longer runs, and I think it could definitely apply to other areas of my life as well.
Do you practice mindfulness? What helps you stay focused on the present moment?
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