In order to live a more satisfying, joyful life, on the one hand, and, on the other, in order to create a more peaceful, quiet mind, a mind that will help us reach the truth of what we really are, I find there are three fundamental exercises that we should return to over and over again.
The first exercise, one we do every time in the Yogilates classes, is simply to come into the moment and, every time we lose it, to return to it.
We can use every opportunity we have for it but, at least in the beginning, an opportunity may not be in the middle of an important meeting or when you are on a deadline. To start with, opportunities arise in simpler moments, when nothing dramatic is going on; and even in very busy lives, there are plenty of moments like this: going up or down a stairs or an elevator, washing the dishes, walking from one’s desk to the kitchen or the toilet, brushing your teeth, opening or closing the door of your car etc. All those moments – and there are so many of them – can be used to practice presence. To stop the momentum of thinking and just to experience, to look, to hear. And then of course, when we grow to value presence more, these moments also grow. There is no limit to how much they can grow, it just depends on how much we value presence. Like with anything else, the more we value something, the more we look for it.
To stop the momentum of thinking – planning, regretting, worrying about the past or the future – and, instead, to be interested in the simplicity of ‘what is’. And for this, we can use any of our senses: our sight, our hearing, our taste, our touch, our smell. Every time we want to come into the moment, use any of the senses as a doorway to it, just by looking, hearing, touching, sensing and/or smelling. See how simple it is? There is nothing unusual, nothing complicated or extraordinary.
To see: Just see, but really see. We often look, but don’t really see. Most of the time, we use our eyes only at the level of survival: we look just enough to make sure there is no danger around, while at the same time, the mind is taking all the rest of the attention into mumbling its worries, plans and complaints.
Take a moment, even a few seconds, and look around. Don’t move to much the eyes around but chose one object like a blade of grass, or an apple, or a tree, or a leaf, or a wall, or a pot, or a cloud and really look at it like if you have never seen that object before. The mind will want to define it: that is an apple. But really, what is an apple? Look at the colors, the shadows, the form and don’t comment on it. Just look for a few seconds and then if you want, move onto another object.
To hear: Close your eyes, if that is possible, and simply allow the sounds to enter your mind. Don’t name them, but just let the sounds fill your whole body. Stay there. If you stay long enough, you can also try to hear the silence underneath the sounds, the silence that allows any sound to appear.
To taste: Grasp your cup of coffee or tea or take a cookie and slowly take a sip or bite (make sure you sip your coffee and bite your cookie and not the other way around J). Close your eyes if you can and let the taste fill your whole body. Don’t think about it, don’t comment on it. Just be there with the raw experience.
To touch: Put the tip of your fingers of one of your hands on your leg and sense what you find. If you have pants you will feel the cloth, otherwise the skin. But don’t name it, just let the fingers move very slowly over whatever you are touching. Just feel the sensations and let them ‘talk’ to you. After a few seconds move onto another texture.
To smell: This is done better in nature or in front of a particular smell like a perfume or a fruit. Close your eyes if you can and gently push the air out of your lungs; then take a very slow, deep breath and repeat this several times. Let the perfume fill your body, but don’t put a name on it. Remain open.
Now, let’s say we are in a place where there is nothing really interesting for our senses (even if this is not common at all, since there is always, no matter where one is, some color or shadow, some form, some sound, some texture we have not seen or heard or touched before) – instead of using the senses, we can pay attention to the breath, come into it, simply notice that we are breathing.
You will see that if you are paying attention to it, it is very difficult to think. And if you are thinking, it is very difficult to pay attention to the breath. It is like both of them need the same kind of attention, and so it can only be directed to either one or the other, but not to both.
To breathe: Just notice the breath, and stay there. Allowing the air to come, and allowing the air to go. Nothing to change, nothing to correct. Notice the cool air coming into the nostrils and the warmer air leaving them. The air does not need to flow in any other way than exactly the way it is flowing. Just for a few seconds, breath, and nothing else.
This first exercise is simply to find moments in our everyday life to stop the momentum of the mind and to really experience ‘what is’.
The second exercise is: find the way not to fight with the moment, not to fight with ‘what is’. I am talking about both small things, like a slow person in front of you not allowing you to walk at the speed you would like to or a serious sickness the body may get. Whatever it is, learn not to struggle with ‘what is’.*
This has nothing to do with repressing one’s feelings, but everything to do with the understanding that whatever is in the moment, whatever appears now, cannot not be. If it happened, whatever that is, it happened because it was supposed to happened according to the infinite laws and happenings and consequences of those happenings that create every little moment, like this moment right now. ‘What is’ cannot not be.
Now, if it happens that we do find ourselves fighting with ‘what is’ – and this can happen to anybody since our first impulse is generally a reaction coming from our past, from our conditioning, with very little control on our part – we need to return as soon as we can to the understanding that fighting with the moment is not what I want to do with my life, including fighting with my own response.
There is no end to how much we can fight with the moment. A lot of the (easily preventable) unhappiness that most people experience is simply the non-acceptance of ‘what is’, and it gets worse with age. Fighting with ‘what is’ is always a lost battle because ‘what is’ cannot not be. If we can resist the temptation to struggle with ‘what is’ and instead allow the moment to be as it is, the energy that otherwise would be lost in that struggle can be used as a fuel for an intelligent action towards positive change, if that is possible. And if not, it will be used as a way to bring us closer to the reality of life, to love itself.
It is nice not to be sick, for example, but if in this moment I am sick, I cannot not be sick. This is so very obvious, but still, we continuously fight. We definitely can do something about the sickness – go to the doctor, follow a particular diet, stay in bed, whatever has to be done – but not resist it. We need NOT allow a thought like: ‘I should not be sick’ and instead, invite a thought like: ‘Ok, I am sick. What do I need to do in order to get better?’ And if I cannot get better, a thought like: ‘I will make the best with what I have’.
This second exercise is not allowing ourselves to fight with ‘what is’, because ‘what is’ cannot not be. It is allowing the moment to be exactly as it is.
The third exercise is to learn to be grateful. The essence of a happy life, the essence of a beautiful human being is based on the capacity to be and experience gratefulness.
We need to learn to be grateful beings. One can practice this as an exercise even if one is not completely clear why, but also, and more importantly, one can understand the reason to be grateful.
Nothing that we have, absolutely nothing, belongs to us. Everything that we have was given to us for a short period of time, to use and enjoy, but not to keep. We can understand from our hearts that all we have is a gift to us. Somebody may say: ‘That is not true. I have built this great and powerful company with my own hands, with my own struggle. This was not a gift, but a sacrifice, and I don’t owe thanks to anything nor to anybody’. I will answer (or not really answer because this is very difficult to understand and most people can’t, but I will know it in my heart): The capacity for sacrifice was given to you. The strength and will to go against all problems and difficulties was given to you. The intelligence to know how and when to act was given to you. The health that allows you to support the pressure of such effort was given to you. The eyes that allow you to see were given to you. The air that allows your lungs to breathe was given to you. The body, the hands, all the organs, the life itself without which this company will never had happened was given to you.
We need to learn to be grateful beings. To give thanks to life for all that it has given us, for the food, for the clothing, for the roof over our heads, for our friends, for our loved ones, for our bodies, for the fact that we are alive. And to give thanks to other people too. If anybody does anything to you, big or small, be grateful. Maybe a smile or a ‘thank you’ is all that is required, but make sure that you do it. Show your gratefulness, make it clear. Don’t take anything for granted. See the abundance all around you, and be grateful for it.
* It is very important to remember that ‘what is’ is not a story in our head like: ‘I am not good enough’. That is not ‘what is’, but ‘what I think it is’, and is not what I am talking about. ‘What is’ is always an indisputable fact: ‘I am here, not there’.