She sat in her usual spot in the corner of the cafe.
Ordered her usual strong Americano.
Slung her bulging laptop bag in the same spot under the table, wedged against the table leg.
But something was different.
She looked around and took in the burnished silver, industrial style lighting that hung above the counter. The counter itself overflowed with buttery pastries nestled alongside “raw” healthy treats in various shades of brown.
As she looked down, the flooring caught her eye. It was definitely not the same as before. She must have shown her confusion on her face because the owner of the cafe stopped and asked her if all was ok.
“Have you redecorated?” she asked, feeling fairly sure they had because those lights also looked new.“Yes, but it was nearly a year ago now….”
Has that ever happened to you?
The scenario above happened to a recent client of mine. It was both shocking and disorienting for her to realise that she hadn’t noticed major changes around her. But at the same time it allowed her to realise how far she had come. How differently she was now experiencing her life.
This is what can happen to us when our busy, stressful lives have no release valve. You travel through your days on autopilot; distracted and trying to juggle all the things, and then suddenly you realise that things have shifted while you weren’t paying attention. Research shows that almost 50% of the time we’re not thinking about what we’re doing and that distraction costs us – we’re less happy when we’re not thinking about what we’re doing, no matter what that activity might be.
One of the big side effects of a meditation practice is being more “present”, and more often, in your life. Which means you start to notice without judgment what’s happening around you.
Many of my clients report moments like the one above to me. Other examples have been a client who suddenly felt he was hearing the songs he played on his commute as if for the first time – despite listening to the same Bruce Springsteen album every day on the train for 15 years! Or for another, finding herself smiling for no apparent reason as she walked into town, and being pleasantly rewarded by a smile back from the people she passed.
So what does it mean to be more present and how can you tell?
Here’s three ways that meditating, even for just 5 minutes a day can change how you experience your life:
1: You notice the little things:
Instead of rushing between events and activities, you find yourself tuning in to the in-between moments. Not because you’re trying but because you’re less distracted. Those in-between moments are where you notice things like the way the sunlight falls on the grass or the gentle movement of the trees in the wind. It’s also where you can find happiness that’s not the hedonistic, attainment type of happiness (like buying that new car, new dress or that holiday) but instead the satisfaction with things exactly as they are. A richer experience of your life.
2. You stay curious when someone is talking:
How often are we listening to someone but really just waiting for our turn to talk? Often we don’t even notice that we’re doing it but it impacts how well we connect with others.
One of the big things I noticed in my own life was that meditation gave me the space to pause and reflect. That flowed through to the way I communicated with other people. I had time to listen without that urge to instantly speak. I can still have a tendency to talk too fast and get excited when I’m passionate about something (especially meditation!) but now I notice when it happens and so I have the opportunity to slow it back down.
3. You can let small frustrations stay small:
That traffic jam when you’re already late? That colleague or family member who did something thoughtless that’s added to your workload? Those are the things that can trip you over into anger and overreaction. When you meditate regularly and build that ability to stay present with exactly what’s happening without judgement, it’s amazing how your reactivity decreases. Of course you still feel frustrated when things don’t go your way or how you expected but they don’t tip you over. You can stay calm and choose your response.
So, how about trying to build even 1 minute a day of meditation into your routine?
It can be as simple as just closing your eyes and focusing on your breath rising and falling. Guided meditations can also be incredibly helpful. My favourite app is Insight Timer – you can search by how long you’ve got or even what your hoping to tackle, such as stress or anxiety. My meditations are published in there too. You can also sign up to receive a free 5 minute meditation download on my website so you an meditate anywhere, along with some simple tips to get started.
Let me know how you go!