Expert advice on being in the moment.
Nowadays, most people lead hectic, busy lives. Between work and household responsibilities, there is often not enough time for sleep, exercise, or relaxation. Add to this mix the “second job” of wedding planning, and life gets even more stressful, despite the fact that the reasons for that stress are positive.
In today’s society, we spend a lot of time training our brains to multi-task ––to juggle more than one activity at a time. While our brains can multi- task, it still does not mean that we are capable of doing two things at the same time as well as we can do one thing alone. This constant state of time and task urgency leaves our nervous system in a state of high arousal, which can cause both short- and long-term negative effects on our mental and physical well being.
What we often neglect to do is train our brains to be“in the moment,” also known as “mindfulness.” It is a skill that requires ongoing practice to master, just like learning to type or drive a car. How many of you can say that you are fully present as you go about your day? Do you really listen when you are having a conversation with someone, or is your mind thinking about your grocery list or what happened earlier at the office?
When we are being mindful, we are able to really experience an event to its fullest. We notice all of the details using all of our senses. Time seems to slow down, and all that matters is what is in our presence. I’m sure most of you have spontaneously experienced this at some time or another when you were really enjoying something you were doing. The trick is to apply mindfulness to even the most mundane of situations.
There are many ways to learn mindfulness. Breathing techniques, meditation, and yoga are wonderful ways to build your skills. You can even do simple exercises such as working with your senses and describing what you experience. For example, try eating a piece of dark chocolate or listening to a piece of music, but do it mindfully, and observe what you have never noticed about these experiences before.
Mindfulness not only makes you a better person as an individual; it also makes you a better person in your relationships. I think that one of the best gifts you can give your relationship is to be fully present. When you are giving your full attention and time to someone, they can sense it, just as easily as they can tell when your mind is somewhere else. Being mindful can be especially difficult if your partner wants to share information that triggers your own hot buttons, which creates emotions such as anxiety or anger that can lead you to internalize, rather than externalize, your focus.
I encourage you to get into the habit of setting aside some “mindful time” with each other every day. It doesn’t have to be long; just ten minutes a day will help. During this time period, turn off the cell phones, television, computer, etc., and just be with each other. Talk about your day, your dreams, or your fears, or just be the best listener you can be. If you have something important to discuss with your partner, schedule a time for this talk. You will increase the mindfulness factor overall if you are mindful of your partner’s busy schedule, rather than trying to get his or her full attention in the midst of an activity that needs finishing. People are generally good at this at the beginning of relationships when they are trying to win each other over, but it often diminishes with time -- unless you stay on top of it.
Your wedding day is one of the most important days to practice your mindfulness! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard couples say their wedding day was a blur. It will only be a blur if you let it. There is so much going on that day -- photographs, greeting guests, nerves, etc. If you’re worried about how the day will go rather than what the day is about, then you will easily get caught up in the blur. One of the best pieces of advice I heard before my wedding day was this: At least once every hour, go and find your spouse, and take just five minutes to connect and “drink it all in.” Make a clear snapshot in your head of what you are seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, and tasting. Really enjoy all of the work that went into your special day and all of the people who have come to enjoy it with you.
It is very easy to get caught up on the treadmill of life and all of the trappings that our high-tech, modern society encourages. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and working to better your life, but there is also a grace to learning to enjoy and to be content with what you have right now, in this moment. In the end, relationships trump everything else when it comes to finding real joy, so really learn to be present with your spouse. Your relationship will thank you.
Opening photograph by Michael Adams