Mindfully Present: Keeping the joy of living and passing it on to our kids

I was recently talking with a four-year-old that had just grabbed a big blob of hand sanitizer. As she was rubbing it all over her hands she became preoccupied with the feel of the gel. I watched her fade from the conversation as she pressed her hands together over and over enjoying the sticky feeling. This ability to enjoy being completely immersed in a sensation quickly loses its hold on us as we grow and become exposed to the non-stop interference of the mind.

The interference is not wrong. It’s the job of the mind to think and assess the world around us.  In fact, you could say that this uniquely human superpower is the basis of mankind’s success.  And, when the world was slower, we were more able to take the time to consider and judge the information coming at us without being overwhelmed it. But now-a-days, with the explosive rate of information, the chatter can be deafening. And let’s face it, frantically ticking off things on your daily ‘to do’ list is not where happiness lives.  If we grant for a moment that when you “feel” the sunshine on your face you are “feeling” a moment in the present, that we can recognize that the majority of the time the present is not where our problems lie. It’s the interfering thoughts of things from the past, or of the future, that make us depressed and anxious. So, clearing space to spend more time in the present allows us to experience more of the good stuff in life.

Research Agrees

There is a growing body of evidence that supports the amazing benefits of incorporating even short mindfulness practices into your daily routine. And these benefits hold true no matter which type of mindfulness you like.  You don't have to take up yoga or set up a meditation room to get the increased resilience and sense of well-being that this simple technique provides. 

Being Mindful

 So, what do you do? It’s super easy, and hard at the same time.  You just focus on what you are experiencing in the moment.  What do you see, feel, smell, taste and hear? And then let it sink in and really appreciate it. While you do this your mind will be throwing a bunch of stuff at you. The past, current work demands, family responsibilities, and future plans all vie for your attention. When these thoughts come into your awareness don’t get mad, just acknowledge them and let them go. Then focus back on what you are experiencing.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that you just finished a busy day of work and you’re leaving your office.  As you exit the building - pause. Notice the feel of the weather. Is it hot, wet, cold? Smell the air. Is it fresh, musky, foul? Breathe deep and feel the air as it comes in through your nose and fills your lungs. As you breathe out slowly, let your shoulders fall down a little heavier.  Hear the sounds around you. Do you hear cars, birds, or wind in the trees? Look around. Does the sun illuminate the buildings? Is there a mist of rain hanging in the air? Or, is the haze of the heat of the day still clinging to the ground? Whatever you see, smell, hear, taste and touch SMILE because you are a part of it. You are present in this moment. Now, notice the feeling of your feet as you walk. The feel of the sidewalk or pavement and the sounds that you make as you move.  Does the breeze send a chill? Does the heat feel like a sauna? Stay focused on all that you perceive as you make your way home.  You will feel much more refreshed when you get there than if you had spent the trip reviewing everything that went wrong today or that needs to be done tonight. [CLICK HERE FOR EXERCISES THAT AID IN EVERYDAY MINDFULNESS]

Encouraging Your Child’s Natural Talent

Now, what if you didn’t need to relearn how to do this?  What if it was a natural part of how you enjoyed being? You would have kept that wide-eyed open engagement with your experience that you had as a child, like our four-year-old. How do you do it? Again, it’s simple. By valuing and paying attention to her experience I help her keep and develop her natural love of being alive in the moment. I’d ask about what she is feeling and enjoy the moment with her. And what if, on a regular basis, I drew her attention to experiencing the world around her. The feeling of her favorite blanket as I tuck her in bed. The patchwork of greens that the sun makes shining through the leaves. The sound of the trees swaying in the breeze. And every time we notice it together we appreciate the moment and breathe it in deeply. This simple focus gives us both the gift of drinking in the beauty of the present moment. [CLICK HERE FOR MINDFULLY PRESENT EXERCISES FOR CHILDREN]

Emotional Wellness - What?

Photo by Robert Daly/OJO Images / Getty Images
Photo by Robert Daly/OJO Images / Getty Images



Nowadays you hear the words “Wellness” and “Resiliency” a lot, but what do they really mean? If I get up and get the kids to school and make it to the gym am I resilient? Do I have wellness? Yes, but it’s more than that.
Emotional wellbeing suggests that we are doing more than coping.  

We are comfortable in our own skin, or even thriving.

I can hear what you’re thinking… “I have so much to do, I don’t have time to add ‘stress management’ to my ‘to do’ list.” Of course we live busy lives and constantly have to manage the real world challenges that face us, but we can do some little things to make our lives better.  

For example, as silly as it sounds, we can choose to look on the bright side. Whether you look at the things that are happening from a pessimistic or optimistic point of view is really up to you. You can expect that the day will go badly and focus on all the things that you don’t like. And the day will be bad. Or you can make a different choice. Same day, nothing really different, but you add a little focus on the “sweet spots” that happen as you go along and it’s not so bad. Recognizing even the little things like the smell of hot coffee as you take your first wake up sip, is a way to take a second out of the grind (love the pun) and breathe in the moment.

The big blessings are easy to name and remembering them really does help us feel good; count them too. For example, “I’m lucky I have good friends, a loving partner, kids, a roof over my head…). Almost more important, try to find the little things, nano-moments, that make you feel good and breathe them in. Be present in that moment. Even for a second, it can feel like an escape. Like when you’re walking into the store and they’ve just baked fresh bread. Stop, take a deep breath and feel how good it smells. Maybe even let yourself go with a fantasy of being on vacation and having coffee and fresh baked rolls at a cute little Bed and Breakfast.  

How we think is really based on a pattern of thoughts, a habit. Habits are hard to change, but they can be changed. How? In this case the simplest way to start shifting your thinking is to catch yourself saying or thinking something negative and then immediately say, “… but, aren’t I lucky that ____ .” Fill in the blank with the good things that are also true about your life at that moment. Clearly this doesn’t change the reality of the situation. Rather, it balances our perception and makes things feel more doable. 

I confess, it’s a mind game. But either way, you are playing a mind game because choosing to focus only on the stress/negative is also a game. So, since you’re going to play one game or the other, I recommend it be the game that will make you feel better.  

And let’s be real – even if you are the most optimistic person in the world, “stuff” happens and you’re going to have feelings about it. Using these tricks doesn’t mean that you are going to feel good all the time. Rather, if we are taking care of ourselves as we go through the day we will be less rocked by the “stuff” that comes.  

Finally, SMILE, even if you don’t feel like it. Believe it or not, when you smile people smile back and then soon you are smiling too.