At any time of the day, take seven minutes to anchor your attention in the present. To do so, you will direct your attention fully into places that are always in the present—your body, your breath, whatever you see and hear around you. Sit in a chair with your back straight. Keep your eyes open. Rest the palms of your hands comfortably on your thighs. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Start by putting your attention in your body. Feel your feet from inside, your calves, your knees, your bottom and back against the chair, your abdomen, arms, hands, and head. Feel your body intensely from inside. Be mindful not to tense your muscles; instead keep them relaxed, but feel your body, all of it at the same time, all the time. If thoughts appear, don’t fight them. Don’t try to stop them, just let them be and continue to focus your attention on feeling your body intensely from inside, this will most likely happen for the whole seven minutes. Thoughts will appear. They may even steal your attention, but if you stay vigilant, you will soon catch yourself getting lost in thought. When you do, don’t judge yourself or think you have failed to do the exercise correctly. Just go back to feeling your body.
Once you are doing that, also put some attention on your breath. Keep feeling your body, but also pay attention to your breath. Whether your breath is on autopilot or you are consciously and voluntarily breathing in and out doesn’t matter. What matters is that at all times you know if you are breathing in or out, at the same time as you are feeling your body from the inside. Once you are feeling your body and noticing your breath, put some of your attention in what you see and hear all around you, without moving your eyes. Just notice whatever falls in your field of vision, and whatever sounds are happening moment to moment. That’s it. Do that for seven minutes every day. If you can do it more than once, fantastic. If you skip it one day, do it the next.
When your attention is flowing into anything in the present, there will be less attention left to flow into thought. As long as you are feeling your body, noticing your breath going in and out, seeing, and listening, your attention is anchored in the present and negative thoughts become weaker. When practiced consistently, you will strengthen your ability to direct most of your attention into your body, breath, and surroundings. You may even enter the state of flow, in which all your attention is on your body and breath and you become fully present.
The Anchor in Motion
The meditation technique above has something in common with most of the meditation techniques that I learned during my search: they are all done by stopping everything else that you are doing. You make some time, you sit down, usually in an empty quiet room, and you go inside. And then you stand up and go on with your busy life. This will also gradually percolate into your daily life and it will have a positive effect. You will be calmer. You will become a better listener. You will stop yourself getting lost in thought.
But there is also something you can do to lessen the grip of unwanted thoughts during your active hours. This may sound strange but it works and I urge you to try it out a few times. At any moment during the day, whether you are in a meeting at work or talking and playing with your kids, put some of your attention in your feet. Feel your feet from inside. Feel the temperature, the humidity, feel your feet touching your shoes, pressing against the floor. Don’t just do it for an instant. Keep doing it. Keep doing whatever you are doing and at the same time, continue to feel your feet from inside. It may seem counterintuitive to do that in the middle of doing other things. You may fear that by putting some attention on your feet you will be stealing attention from thinking about what you are going to say next, or from understanding what someone is telling you. But this is not what happens. Even if you are not fully aware, regardless of whatever else you are doing, there are thoughts happening involuntarily, stealing your attention.
That is why so many people seem absent at times even in the middle of an important discussion. But even if automatic thoughts don’t completely steal you from the present, there is an ongoing background noise made of thoughts. Sometimes they are hard to detect because we experience them as our normal “interpreting and measuring” self. They are thoughts that tell you something about what is happening, such as, “This is interesting,” “He is lying,” or “I can’t believe she is saying that.” Or you are guessing in your head what the other person is going to say. Or making mental notes of things that you have to do next.
We experience these thoughts as us. We don’t know anything different. We never questioned it before. When you direct some of that attention into the present you will become mentally clearer, allowing more space for connection and creativity to occur. Whatever you need to say will flow out in a more eloquent manner than usual. Because at the moment you are speaking or listening you will also have some attention in your feet, which are in the present, you will become more present yourself. Everyone in the work meeting will notice that, you will command their attention, and the meeting will go better than you expected. If you are with your kids, you will see that they respond to you differently. You will be more present, which they will feel as love.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.