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Creating Calm & Practicing Presence - Part IV

In PART I, we identified the power of practicing "presence" to fully experience the joy that can be found in the little things around us.  We also discussed how our obsession with the past or future can get in the way of experiencing the present moment.

In PART II, we focused on dealing with the past.  We talked about creating a space to process the past so that we don't dwell on it.  We also discussed the need for routines like verbalizing thankfulness to teach our brain to search for the positive.

In PART III, we focused on prioritizing, setting goals, and practicing focus to deal with the future.  We learned that we need to prepare for the future at structured times so that our minds can let it go and focus on the present.

In this post we will discuss several techniques that are good practice for living in the present.

Just like with the past and the future we need to create space for the present.  Our long term goal is to have a mind that defaults to living in the present moment, but we need to train it to get there.  This training requires structured practice.  Moses encouraged the Israelites to train their minds with regular intentional focus (Deut. 11:19).  Jesus encouraged folks to focus on the present (Matthew 6:34).  Even Paul taught us about the need to train our mind on the present (Thes. 5:16-18).  We can create the space for the present by looking back at three ancient Christian practices; Sabbath, church bells, and icons.

1.) Sabbath: This is the weekly practice of taking the day off to focus on faith.  Even though the Sabbath is included in the ten commandments very few practice any kind of Sabbath.  I would encourage you to give it a try.  Pick a day this week and turn off everything.  Spend the day focusing on each other as a family.  We live overstimulated lives and all of the electronics and information pull us away from each other, and away from the present.  Having one day per week with less stimulation can help us to refocus on the moment.  Our mind slows down and the world around us can snap into focus.  Doing this weekly creates a rhythm to life that helps make it quicker and easier to focus our attention on what matters.  You can use the same model to make certain times of the year, or even certain times of the day more sacred. You make certain holidays a time for Sabbath rest.  You may go on a yearly retreat with no electronics.  You may make dinner a daily retreat from distractions.  All of these ideas help to create rhythms and help us to practice spending time in the moment.

2.) Church Bells:  In the book "Practicing the Presence of God", Brother Lawrence talked about the church bells in the monastery. He explained that the monks would pause what they were doing and focus their attention on God every time the bells would go off.  He explains that the long term goal is to spend every moment in God's presence, but to get there you have to start by pulling your attention there on a regular basis.  I would argue that focusing on God and being present in the moment are the same, but if they are different for you then the technique remains the same.  You can practice focusing on the present by having daily reminders and alarms that pull you back to this.  I started this by setting 4 alarms a day and progressed to using an hourly chime on my watch.  I found the practice to be powerful and it altered my mood for the better as a bonus.

3.) Icons: Some Christian faith groups work will study a piece of art, usually a picture of a saint, for a long time.  They spend this time focusing on the virtues of the saint, and trying to piece together how they could put those virtues to practice in their own lives.  I personally don't get much from this experience, but I do find similarities between this and a technique we used in wilderness therapy.

We would give every child a raisin and we asked them to look at it and study it.  After about a minute we would encourage them to roll it around their fingers and feel all of the little bumps.  After another minute we would ask them to put it between their lips, but not in their mouth.  They would feel the texture again, as well as taste with the tip of their tongue.  A minute later they could put it in their mouth and roll it around but not bite it.  Eventually they could bite it, then chew it, then swallow it.  Each step of the way we asked them to really focus on their senses.  A shorter version of this is to just have a moment of silence in the woods and have the kids really listen to all the sounds.  After the silence you can have them talk about what they noticed.  Another thing we would do is "Body Checks" where we would ask them what they felt in their body, what they were thinking about, and what they were emotionally feeling.  This helped them to separate physical, emotional, and thought.  The point of these activities is to have them focus on their senses.  When we focus on our senses we really live in the moment and we experience the beauty in a more powerful way.

Hope you enjoyed this little series.  Let me know in the comment below if you put any of this into practice.


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