Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mindful Monday: Practicing Presence (or Mindfulness)

On Mindful Monday, my readers and I practice the art of pausing, TRYING to be still, or considering, ever so briefly, the big picture. We’re hoping this soul time will provide enough peace of mind to get us through the week!

As I mentioned on my Ash Wednesday video, I am dedicating each Monday during Lent to one of the six practices of simplification that Abby Seixas writes about in her book, “Finding the Deep River Within.” The fifth week of Lent, then, is about “practicing presence,” concentrating on what we are doing when we are doing it, trying to stay mindful and present in the moment.


I’ve been trying to master mindfulness in the last few weeks like it’s a cute step sequence in a line dance. I have unofficially hired Dr. Elisha Goldstein, author of Psych Central’s blog, “Mindfulness and Psychotherapy” as my mindfulness personal trainer because he knows this stuff inside and out, and because I don’t have the time or money to hang out with the Buddhist monks in Tibet.

I’ve always aspired to better live in the moment–it was one of the gems I picked up in support group meetings back in college–but now I honestly feel like it could save my life–or at least keep my pituitary tumor from growing any wider and shield my heart from any more damage to the aortic valve.


How do you practice presence, or mindfulness?

The Buddha once explained it as doing one thing at a time, keeping your mind on that one thing. For example when you’re doing the dishes, your mind should be on the dishes, not on the project you were unable to complete that day and how your boss is going to fire off a nasty e-mail if you don’t get it done before morning, or how in the world you are going to get the little people to brush and floss their teeth without incurring a temper tantrum suitable for Nanny 911.

Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book “Being Peace”:


While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We ten to be alive in the future, not now. We say, “Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive.” When we have it, we say to ourselves, “I have to wait until I have a job in order to be REALLY alive.” And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. … Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to BE in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.


He makes it sound so easy. And yet every time I try to quiet my thunderous head, I get a second of silence before it’s back talking about some other item on my to-do list. Yesterday I gave myself these instructions: “You are to walk to that flag pole (about one-third of a mile away) without thinking about anything but placing your left foot in front of your right.” I didn’t make it to the flagpole. I made it about 10 feet. So when I got to the flagpole, I said a prayer instead:

God, I’m not doing very good at this. Sometimes I love the brain you made for me, and sometimes I curse it. Now would be one of the latter times. Could you give me some assistance with this whole mindfulness stuff? I want nothing more to be an instrument of your peace and love in this world, but apparently I’m doing something wrong, because I have all these unwanted medical conditions.


Later in the afternoon I told a friend how “mindfulness” was the next project on my agenda because I wanted to get myself some of that healing that Thich Nhat Nahn writes about in “Touching Peace”: “We need only to find ways to bring our body and mind back to the present moment so we can touch what is refreshing, healing, and wondrous.”

“Um, I think you’re setting yourself up to fail,” my friend leveled with me. “No offense, but you’re no Buddhist monk. You are a working mom. And for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve had difficulty chilling out. Why don’t you start with something that occupies your mind … and try to focus on that? Not on thinking nothing.”


She had an excellent point. Expecting a preschool class of 30 kids to be silent for longer than 60 seconds–with nothing to look out or do–wouldn’t work. However, if you gave all those kids a job to do–like eating a bowl of chocolate ice-cream with whip cream and sprinkles–and you’ve succeeded at carving out a bigger chunk of quiet time. The first step for me, then, is to eat ice-cream.

I could begin to practice mindfulness by thinking of nothing else but eating a large bowl of chocolate ice-cream with whip cream and sprinkles. Or, if I didn’t want a sugar high the rest of the afternoon, I could begin with an activity that engages my mind like ice-cream does. My friend suggested that I start playing the piano again.


Brilliant! That’s exactly how I used to tame my mind in grade school and high school. I would pound away at Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor. And my mind didn’t wander because it’s very difficult, for me anyway, to ruminate and obsess about your to-do list while trying to read music and playing well.

Step one, then, for me to learn mindfulness: head to the piano, or eat a chocolate sundae.

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  • melzoom

    I love this, T. It is one of the reasons I knit when I can’t handle walking meditation or sitting meditations. It is a project that requires focus but not a ton of focus. Knit 2, purl 3… click, click.
    I feel like at one point we talked about swimming…. swimming laps does it for me, too. You don’t have a choice but to focus on your breath and your body or you’ll end up flailing around or clinging to the side of the pool hacking up water. The first couple laps, I think of how cold the water is or that my form sucks compared to ‘the old days’ or what I might cook for dinner. But somewhere in there, it turns to just me and the water and then we recognize each other–our body is mostly water anyway– and there is just being.

  • Your Name

    This is good. This morning, before coffee even, I’ve picked up and put away several clothing items which were interfering with my being in the moment. My temporary bachelor abode suffers from my lack of housekeeping skills. But now that the task of picking up is complete, I am able to be here – completely.
    This is good.

  • Sandee

    Therese, your words were an answer to prayer for me this morning. For some reason my depression has ramped up its attack on my soul and very being for the last few weeks. Even though I’ve been trying to continue with the practices that normally keep it at bay, for some reason they aren’t working right now. Vicious self-condemnation has bought me to the point of feeling like I can’t live like this anymore and I’m so tired of feeling like I always end up back at this same place. Sometimes the fight just seems too hard. But your words this morning were like a tiny flame in the darkness of my blackened thoughts. Your courage to be honest and share your struggles has strengthened my resolve not to give up. I sense God’s presence urging me onward with a glimmer of hope and the reminder that I am not alone.

  • Your Name

    Right on T. This is why I love triathlons.(I am currently training for Alcatraz) The sport forces you to train on three very different disciplines and the only way you do that is taking them one at a time. Either hammering on the bike, laps in the pool, or pounding the pavement, I am forced to be there in the pain of the moment. Sounds sadistic, but when the endorphins kick in, it totally rocks.

  • Your Name

    Thank you Therese :) I’m starting to think about mindfulness too. I had a little giggle at your prayer – what do you think you are doing with this wonderful blog? Of course you are an instrument for God’s love and peace in this world through this! Amazing how God can speak through something sooo difficult like mental illness : ) So a big thankyou to you and as your friend said, don’t be too hard on yourself, you should be so proud of yourself for getting up everyday and carrying on.
    “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I wll try again tomorrow’ ”
    Mary Anne Radmacher

  • Your Name

    I am proud of myself!!!I am happy at this moment and i will
    remain happy for the rest of my life.I lack nothing…i have
    good health,i have people who loves me,i have people i love,
    i have a God who protects me,period!

  • Your Name

    I have to constantly learn to do this for eating. Otherwie, I eat when I’m not hungry or eat without thinking what kind of foods I’m eating, and often reaslized that I could look back on a day and not even remember what I had eaten throughout the day. Your explanation of being mindful is simple and easy to remember. Thanks!

  • Ashley

    Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d fieugrd I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My blog goes over a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!

  • Dweezil

    QuotesChimp’ll finish our discussion of auto insurance in the next chapter, where we cover the reforms we believe are necessary in the auto insurance industry itself and within each state’s regu�latory process if rates are to be permanently stabilized.

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