I was away for a busy week at the American Group Psychotherapy Conference in New Orleans. It was a busy week with not enough sleep, and early morning events. Yet each morning at least once during the 8 minute walk to the conference hotel, I would remember to attend to my breath. Not formal meditating, just noticing, being still in the pause between breaths, while still walking. I found in those moments I was able to let go of things–irritation at my lack of sleep, the mediocre food, and worrying about unknowns–and more able to be present with what happened all week. Grumpiness did come up; I just chose not to run with it.
A lot comes down to making such conscious choices rather than simply reacting to events and emotions. It seem to be the practice I am working with these days. The more I do it, the better goes my life. Intellectually I get it, but practicing it still takes effort. Regular meditation practice helps me be more present for my life and more conscious in my choices. So why does it seem to take so much effort at times? Some days are harder than others. At least part of this seems to be about two other choices: where I rest, and where I play.
When I am feeling tired at night, rather than engage in something demanding, I want to relax and wind down. Too often I play a simple computer game. Lost in a daze of trying to connect similar symbols, it becomes the opposite of being present. Eventually either my aching body or our restless dog breaks me out of the trance. Time gets used up, but it doesn’t relax or satisfy me. I need to develop and choose things more consistent with being present and winding down.
Playing can be a fun way of being present. Have you ever been stuck in a line at a busy airport, with tired and irritated adults? Meanwhile there are usually some children playing tag running through the lines. They find ways to enjoy playfully relating despite the tension in the room. True, the kids do not have the responsibilities of the adults. Yet the adults are also playing games, trying to get the next best flight, or a discount or a better seat. They are just not having as much fun as the kids. Us adult kids need more games that allow us to consciously enjoy being in the here and now, especially in stressful situations.
So I come back to choices, conscious and less than conscious. The more I can be present for life, the more alive I feel, good, bad or indifferent. The more I am simply trying to get things or time over, the deader living feels. It is easy to be present when what I am doing is fun and/ or meaningful. Remembering that being present when things feel bad can also be fulfilling is especially hard when I am tired.