Just a few minutes ago, I reached for my untouched cup of coffee to take a sip. It was empty. I started blankly into its depths, thinking, when did that happen?
I drank the whole cup without knowing it, sipping it idly while doing—what had I been doing? I couldn’t really recall that either. I’d been on my computer, doing something…I strained to remember the flavor of a single sip of the coffee, but it was gone.
This reminded me of a question posed at a yoga training earlier this year:
How much time do you spend thinking about…
- What has happened
- What is happening
- What will happen
For me, the outside choices greatly outweigh the central. I flush with embarrassment over a stupid decision made five years ago; my stomach hurts as I worry about what could happen tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I drink a cup of coffee without realizing it.
I’m not saying it isn’t important to think about things outside of right now, but do we really have to think about the past and future so much, when doing so causes us to lose sight of the present? It’s absurd, when you think about it: the minority of our (at least, of my) time is spent thinking about what I’m actually doing at the moment. Everything else is devoted to things I have no control over—what’s already happened; or things I have very little control over—what’s not yet happened.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better at “practicing presence” on my yoga mat, but it’s still a challenge. Moving through Sun B’s, I find myself wondering what I’m going to make for dinner, remembering I need to buy toilet paper. Breathing in savasana, I realize I’m thinking about what happened last week on Dexter (and that’s rarely relaxing).
Per the suggestion of one of my instructors, lately in class I have been repeating to myself, I breathe in, I breathe out. Over and over. I breathe in, I breathe out. Sometimes, this leads to thought patterns like:
I breathe in, I breathe out. I breathe in, I breathe ou—oh, look at that girl, her stomach is so flat, and she has such beautiful back muscles, I should start weight training I don’t know how though, last time I did was in college, wow that was a while ago, I wonder whatever happened to that girl I used to see at the gym, what was her name, I wonder if she’s still with that guy, I should repaint my nails,
And so on.
Some days, I think it’s getting easier. Other days, I sit up from savasana and think, it’s over? Where did those 75 minutes go?
But I keep going back to this mantra, class after class: I breathe in, I breathe out.
And slowly, I’ve started to carry this mindset outside the yoga room, doing one thing at a time.
I work at a juice bar, which means lots of repetitive work. I do the same series of tasks every day. It’s a great exercise for presence. Washing one apple at a time, I try to notice the smoothness of its skin, the temperature of the running water. Instead of being frustrated by the repetition, I try to appreciate it. I breathe in, I breathe out.
Of course, the operative phrase is I try. There are still days when freshly washed apples rain down on my head from the shelf above, days when I think if I have to wash one more carrot, I will go on a carrot-killing spree, days when I just don’t want to take the time to be present.
Because that’s the thing—presence requires time. Presence means slowing down. Is there anything in this world we have less control over than the passage of time? For control freaks like me, this is a huge part of the challenge. We are always looking ahead, wanting to know what’s coming and to get there as soon as possible just so we can move on to planning the next thing. Being present requires letting go, accepting what you can control and admitting what you can’t.
And so I continue: I breathe in, I breathe out.