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Being There: A User's Guide to Mindfulness

By Abby Straus

I'm on the phone with my son, who's telling me a story. But I'm also checking my email. "So what do you think? he asks. My mind goes blank. I have no idea what he just told me. "I'm sorry, honey, could you go over the last part? I get up and move to the sofa, determined to pay attention and to be there'really be there"for my boy.

I get in the car and turn on the radio. A piece of music comes on that rubs me the wrong way. As I reach over to change station I think, just for kicks, why not be there with this music for a while. Explore it. Find out why you don't like it. Maybe you'll learn something.

I'm on my way to a party. I don't want to go. I don't know many people there, and I keep thinking about what it will be like. I might feel uncomfortable, or not know what to say. Then I think, why not just show up? Why not just be there, without all this thought baggage, and see what happens? You can always leave. I go, I stay and I have a great time.

Why is it so hard simply to be there? To sit with what is and not have to do anything or change anything or control anything? I've realized that it's a huge challenge, not just for me, but for most people as well.

Being isn't something we do well in our culture. Doing is our thing. We talk a lot about being; but, when you get right down to it, we seem to avoid actually doing it. So I've taken it upon myself to learn this art and to practice it often.

When my mom makes a comment that pushes every button in my body-mind, I ask myself, "Ok, what is it like to be with this? What does it feel like? What does it look like? I might say, "I'm interested in this." And pretty soon I don't feel angry, or suffocated, or hurt anymore. I'm an observer now, not a participant. I can still have a conversation, but I respond from a different point of view. There's no struggle inside me, no need for one. No need to judge or to make a decision about what to do.

This leaves me feeling peaceful; and I'm learning that I've created and participated in a degree of struggle that isn't necessary. Not only that, it doesn't interest me anymore. I'm attracted to the spaciousness I feel when I let go of the need to react to everything"to hook into it. I won't die if I live for a while in the same space as my discomfort. In fact, by being present with it, I come away feeling as if I've really lived.

It's the same with joy, which can be just as hard to be with. I had dinner with a friend the other night; and afterward, I found myself taking stock of the evening like an accountant looking for missing figures. Then I thought, what are you doing? You had fun. Case closed!

What's this about? When I'm sad I want to be happy. When I'm happy, I'm looking for sadness. In the meantime, I'm never really anywhere because I'm never really where I am. Too confusing"

So now I'm playing a lot with this idea of being present with myself in the moment"of really being where I am. And I'm finding that I'm happier, more relaxed and more grateful for everything I have, which, of course is the way to get the things I want. It isn't easy, but it's very interesting.

It takes a great deal of effort. But not the pushing kind. The trick is to let go and relax and just observe what's there; then to observe how I feel about what I find, and so forth. It's an adventure deep into my life. As with any adventure, it's easy to resist the first steps, but the rewards are huge. I have much less stress in my life now, I'm happier, I'm more available for other people, I'm better at everything I set out to do. As you can see, this is a win-win situation. It really is worth cultivating the art of being there.

Here are a few pointers that will help you be there:


It's been said that your consciousness travels on your breath. In yoga, and martial arts, the breath is the most important tool for focusing and gathering power. Breathing fully and deeply brings you back to the here and now, anchoring your consciousness fully in your body. Focus on your breath. Follow it with your awareness, feeling the air move in and out. You'll notice almost immediately that you feel more present.

Be your experience.

If you feel emotions mounting or discomfort rearing its ugly head, do what you were taught to do when you were a kid and wanted to cross the street: Stop, look and listen. Just observe what's going on inside you. How do you feel? Does your stomach hurt? Are you shaking? Are you suddenly very tired or sad? You might ask, "Have I felt this way before? You might remember another experience that triggered you in the same way. There's nothing to do with these observations. The idea is simply to make them, and to be fully present with whatever's happening inside you. With a little practice, you'll begin to feel more peaceful and able to act from a place of more awareness.

Do one thing at a time.

This may sound crazy in a world where multi-tasking has been elevated to a fine art. But it isn't always the best thing to do, particularly when you're dealing with another person who needs your attention or a task that requires precision. Turn off the TV when you have a conversation. Close your email program when someone calls. Walk away from distractions and really concentrate on participating with everything you've got. You'll find that you get more done and you'll do everything better. If you find yourself itching to do three things at once, follow the two steps above: breathe and be your experience.

Make notes.

You may want to keep a notebook chronicling you progress. At the end of the day, or whenever you have a quiet moment, jot down your observations about what you did well and what you need to work on. What experiences did you find it easy to be there for, and which ones were a real challenge? This process helps you to focus your attention, and to internalize the information you receive on all levels.

Be kind to yourself.

Remember, even the most adept yogis have to practice the art of being there. And we live in a culture that puts no great store in mindfulness. It will take time to quiet your inner self and to learn that you're safe in each moment. If you practice, though, you'll start to notice shifts quite quickly. Be sure to be there fully for these little triumphs, and to honor yourself as you walk the path of greater awareness.

About The Author
©2006 by Abby Straus.

Abby Straus is a teacher, author and consultant dedicated to helping people enhance the quality and function of their lives. She has an extensive background in consciousness studies and meditation and is a Feng Shui and energy work practitioner. She lives in Pleasantville, NY.

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