It seems that every waking moment our minds are occupied with a tremendous amount of thoughts. No matter whether we are driving in the car, taking a shower, or trying to go to sleep, our minds are awash in a whole range of thoughts. Much of time we think about the past - the would'ves, should'ves, and could'ves - as we relive various moments regretting some and reveling in others. And the rest of the time we are occupied with thoughts of the future whether it's a mental to-do list for the day or the dream of when we have more time and money. But it is fair to say that we think very little about the present moment which leads to the paranoid feeling that we forgot to lock the front door or that we have driven many miles and are surprised when we suddenly arrive at our destination with no recollection of the journey. We seem to be on autopilot as we go on with the business of our day worrying and thinking about so much other stuff that we forget to live in the moment.
Recently I have been working on being more mindful of myself in the present moment. It began dawning on me recently during a vacation to the beach as I sat and watched the waves. The waves rolled in one after another, and though I began to think about riding my body board, I quickly found myself just being there watching the waves. Thoughts about grabbing my board, where we would eat lunch, or what waited us when we got back home just slipped away. It was as if I had become part of the wave as it moved toward the beach. I felt that sensation several times during our six day stay, and each time I sat for hours just watching the waves, listening to their crashes, and feeling the breeze blowing. I was very present in the moment and very mindful of the waves, the sun, the breeze, the people, and the sand.
I have also been reading quite a bit of Buddhist writings including the Dalai Lama, and mindfulness is a key component that these various writers bring up. Being present for each moment and being mindful of that experience whether it is eating, meditating, or walking can help eliminate distracting thoughts and dispel afflictive emotions.
So, I have tried to be more mindful as I go through my days. My biggest mindful experiment was a recent hike. Usually as I hike, thoughts of all kind flash through my mind - everything from thoughts about previous hikes to imaginary conversations to ideas for future books and blog posts. And often miles can go by and I find myself thinking "How did I get here already? I don't remember passing that one part of the trail." Basically my thoughts take over, and my body moves through the woods without paying much attention to my surroundings. I find that I often cannot remember large pieces of the trail.
This past week I tried to hike while being more mindful of myself and the hike. It wasn't easy. I found all kinds of thoughts entering my mind, and I simply acknowledged them, and let them go always bringing my thoughts back to the hike. I looked around much more as I hiked, I "listened" to my body so that I did not get winded, and I trusted that my feet would find the best spots to step so that I wasn't hiking with my eyes staring at my feet scouting out each step. And whenever a stray thought entered, I just tried to let it go. I didn't allow myself to follow the thought and get caught up in reliving the past or trying to plan the future. I let it go and turned my thoughts back to the hike. I found myself hiking more softly and gracefully. I didn't plod along tripping over rocks and stomping down the trail. I felt much more like a deer moving through the woods ever on the look out for trouble.
It was an amazing experience, and though I hiked that section of trail a hundred times or more, that was the first time that I really experienced the hike. I can remember the hike much more vividly. Everyday now, I try to find more ways of being present and being mindful.