Relax. Reflect. Resolve.

Use what can be easily found in your environment to help you relax.

Sometimes when you are hurrying through your day, trying your best to get just one more thing done, you might notice that you are going a little too fast. Perhaps it is your mind that is spinning out of control, over-processing details, or ruminating about something that is not to your liking. In other moments you might notice your body is in hyper drive, that your heart is racing, you are out of breath, or your muscles are tense and tight. 

Most people, however, are not very good at noticing when they are mentally and physically speeding.  In moments when you don’t realize you are going too fast you are at risk of making unwise decisions, acting impulsively, or making unnecessary mistakes. Similarly, when you are driving if you don’t realize that you are going to fast you run the risk of getting a ticket, or losing control of your vehicle. If you notice that you are speeding, it is not hard to slow down, but if you don’t notice – or you notice and disregard the fact that you are speeding then there may be danger ahead.

Often when I am in a counseling session with someone, I notice they are speeding before they have any awareness that their mind, and sometimes their bodies are moving a mile a minute. When I point this out, people often have a moment of stuttering or confusion. I often suggest they take a breath. They usually have no idea they’ve stopped breathing. After I have their attention, and they have taken a couple of deeper breaths, I may take the opportunity to teach them a simple mindfulness technique called “connecting with the present moment”.

I ask them to take a deep breath, hold it in for a few seconds, and then focus their attention on their breath leaving their body as they exhale for as long and hard as they can. On the next breath I might ask them to notice all the sped up energy in their body, and when they exhale to imagine this energy falling out of their body, and onto the floor. On the third breath I will ask them to inhale, hold for a few seconds, and when they exhale to use their sense of hearing to listen to all the sounds they can hear in the present moment. I will ask them to notice sounds that have been present as we talked but that they had not been aware of – like the ticking of my desk clock, the sound of my ceiling fan, or the sound of the gentle ocean waves coming from the sound machine in the hallway. I am utilizing their gift of hearing to help them bring their psychological attention to something specific in the here and now.

As the person fully attends to the sounds I am asking them to notice, they naturally drop their attention away from the whirlwind of thoughts they were just trying to process all at once. Their state of mind begins to settle and they begin to physiologically quiet down, giving their parasympathetic nervous system a chance to recalibrate. As we continue to breathe and notice sounds, I will ask them to notice sounds that are close by and also notice sounds that are far away like the distant chime of Beaumont Tower. While still taking some slow and deep breaths, and exhaling fully, I may ask them to notice that some sounds come and go, like a passing car or a voice outside my office.

Since I moved into my new office in Linton Hall, it’s funny to me how often when I ask someone to do this type of quiet listening what we both hear is the sound of a moped speeding past our building. It is like the students are intentionally assisting with my mindfulness lesson and drive by right on cue. Every time this happens I chuckle and say, “There’s always a moped”. My client and I will take another deep breath and listen intently as the sound of the next moped rises to a whiny crescendo, and then fades into a beautiful moment of quiet. Who knew that mopeds would become part of the daily meditation practice of so many MSU employees?

Not everyone has the same peaceful reaction to the mopeds on campus. Some folks experience them as a hassle, others as an irritant, still others as something worthy of full on resistance and anger. One woman I spoke with recently was really quite bothered by those pesky little motorbikes. When she heard the mopeds she experienced them as an irritation, an interruption in her focus. When this happened she would physically tense up and move into a mild state of resistance to the presence of the mopeds. It was one of her least favorite things about being on campus. When I shared with her that I had been using the sounds from the very same mopeds as a way to help clients calm down and center themselves, she was intrigued. I encouraged her to try greeting the sound in a new way. To acknowledge the presence of the moped, bring her full attention to the sound, and to use the moment to take a breath and allow herself to relax as the sound fades. As she directed her attention to the sounds, she dropped her resistance, and she was surprised to find that she now has a very different experience of this common campus occurrence. (She later told me that she used the same practice to make space for her husband’s snoring and she is significantly less bothered by that sound as well.)

This mindfulness tip can be used wherever you are, and no matter what is happening in your current environment. It simply requires that you listen for whatever sounds are present, right here, right now, without judging the sounds as good or bad. Just listen and allow yourself to relax in the moment. Try on this portable practice and notice the shifts in your state of mind and sense of wellbeing in the moment.

 If your sense of hearing is not available to you, you can use any of your sensory gifts to notice fully the present moment. You can also use more than one of your senses and can ask yourself: “What 5 things can I notice about this moment?”

 What is most important is noticing when you are going too fast, and using this simple technique to take your (mental) foot off the gas.

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