The Cycle of Life and Mindful Moments
I am not ashamed to discuss the difficulties in my life – especially if my experiences resonate with someone else. It is safe to say that I am not currently where I would like to be in my life. It is difficult to be mindful and positive in moments where you are fighting the unhappiness in your current situation. It is even more difficult to realize that this step along the journey is necessary. Today I want to unpack all of this in hopes that I can learn from teaching you and to share what helps me to find contentment in the now while still looking towards the future.
I was given the opportunity to conduct medical research at The University of Colorado | Anschutz Medical Campus. This opportunity is one that medical schools like to see on applications that help prepare for a future career as a physician. However, I am not doing the work that I thought I would be doing and I am struggling with the transition of living in a daily cycle. Wake up, go to work, workout, meditate, go to bed, and start the cycle all over again. It may be the millennial in me, but this progression is challenging for me. This may stem from being in school for most of my life – which was not itself easy – but I never thought that I would miss school as much as I do right now.
This growth period is just that – growth. It is a time that brings me out of my comfort zone and is absolutely necessary. It is important to gain experience so that I can be relatable and personable. Though this is not my favorite phase of my life, I recognize that this is an important step in many people’s lives and it is the cycle that many live in. So how do you allow your brain to comprehend that you are okay in the moment, or that you do not have to be here forever; and how do you change your thoughts to make the best out of your situation?
THE BRAIN ON PLANNING AND DECISION-MAKING
What is happening in our brains?
As I’ve learned from my new grown-up job, planning or looking towards the future is consistently flowing through our minds. We consider what we are going to make for dinner, plan to apply to school, or where we will be in five years. It amazes me how the brain can function to this capacity to let us think about a time that has not happened yet - and it requires only a small part of the brain to do so. The frontal lobe of the brain, more specifically the prefrontal cortex, is known for the ability to think as well as the ability to make decisions and multitask.
Throughout our futuristic thoughts, the brain tissue right behind our forehead and skull is allowing us to get lost in thoughts of the future and gives us the power to create the future in our thoughts. I find it beautiful that a small area in our brains allows us to come in and out of the present moment to plan and protect ourselves for the future. But I also have experienced the damage that focusing too much on the future or even the past can do. As I’ve written about in the past, the brain has the ability to rewire itself; so how can it be rewired to stop trying to escape the present? I’d like to share with you what has helped my day-to-day cycle become less difficult to get through.
“You never actually leave the present moment. You only imagine that you do.”
Living in the “Now”
My difficulty – and I believe many others as well – is that we constantly fade in and out of the present moment. We dwell on the past and we think about the future and allow anxiety to build based on these experiences. Especially when we are in places in our lives that we do not enjoy, our subconscious grasps these difficult moments and tries to escape. To find contentment and even happiness, it is important to shift our mindsets to live in the present moment.
This is something that I have long strived for, something that I have read numerous books on, meditated on, and try to be mindful of in my daily life. It is also one of the hardest things that I have ever done – but it can definitely be done. I often sit at my desk at work and wonder how my current position relates to my future goals. One thing that I have realized is that any opportunity or piece of knowledge is beneficial to life. Learning how to communicate, learning how to appreciate, and mostly: learning how to live in the current moment and not to let yourself stray to and from the past and future, are all useful for our lives.
"When we focus on our breathing, we have no choice but to be in the present moment."
The Brain on the Five Senses
The method that I use and best way to describe how to move back into the present moment stems from the book, “Invitation to Meditation.” This method utilizes mindfulness, the skill of being aware and conscious of the present moment, and the five senses to bring you back into the “now.” Our body anchors us to the current moment – so focusing on our smell, taste, sight, touch, and sounds all around us will quickly bring us back.
A research team from Harvard reported that with mindfulness and neuroplasticity, your brain can be trained to stay in control of your surroundings and to always come back to the present moment. In those moments of stress, anger, sadness, or even excitement for the future, focus on your breathing and the five senses to be able to come back into the present and see the current moment and all that it has to offer.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE WHILE LIVING IN THE NOW
This is the part that I have been struggling with myself – how do you live in the current moment while still planning your future? How do you look towards the future without getting stuck there? Personally, I have utilized the prefrontal cortex magic to focus on my days with lists. Whatever is on that list that pertains to the future - such as applying to school - I complete with excitement, but when I am done I come back to the present moment to focus on where I am now knowing I will one day get there. This makes each day not so daunting, but rather exciting to get to where you want to be.
When we are lost in thought - be it a happy or unhappy thought - we are not here. We are living in our imagination. We are missing out on the magically unfolding present moment. We are depriving ourselves of the richly textured, full-body experience of being alive.
USE YOUR TIME TO LEARN
I currently drive over two hours a day to and from work, and when I first started the commute was something I absolutely dreaded. This remained the same up until recently when I started to listen to podcasts and videos on topics that I am interested in, something that motivates me, or even something novel that changes my outlook on a topic. For those two hours, I can learn something new and that has made the drive seem even shorter. This is something that you can do even if you only drive 20 minutes to work and listen to the podcasts in segments. I recommend this because you can stumble upon interests in your life.
I CHALLENGE YOU
I have been challenging myself every day to stay positive and to remind myself that I am growing by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I aim to consistently return to the current moment every time I find that my mind has wandered off - I challenge you to stay accountable and to do the same. I promise you right now that it will not work some days, it will be challenging and difficult. But be delicate and patient with yourself and your brain, and allow yourself the time to learn these new ways of thinking. Practice this and be mindful of the strides you have taken to make changes in your life. Aim to use your senses to be grateful for where you have been, where you are, and where life will take you.
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