The Art Of Existing: How (And Why) To Be Present With Your Surroundings

Do you run from task to task, eating smoothies on-the-go and answering emails during your commute? Are you constantly ticking things off your to-do list and multitasking a mile a minute? Whoaaa, Nelly. Give yourself a break! Get your head out of the stress cloud and your feet back to the ground by allowing yourself to just exist in the area around you. Slow it down. Breathe. Sit back down in your office chair, and feel your feet in your shoes, on the wood floor, or in your rainbow toe socks. Close your eyes. Hear the sounds of the office, the commuter train, or the birds. Feel the breeze. Feel the sun. Feel your stomach grumble or your creaky knees ache. Listen and feel inside your mind and around your body.

It’s harder than it sounds to turn off the endless stream of thoughts in your head and just exist. But this is how it starts. It is called many different things, and it’s a technique endorsed by many religions, psychologists, and doctors. The simplest form is called mindfulness meditation. The benefits of regular meditation are many: it decreases anxiety, stress, and depression, and strengthens your brain in the areas of introspection, attention, memory, positive emotions and self-control.

When life becomes overwhelming, and you don’t think you have time to meditate, you really should try mindfulness meditation. You don’t even need to be seated, or close your eyes, but it helps.

Think of it as running a check-in with all your senses. Start with your breath, paying attention to every moment of your inhale and exhale. Let it flow naturally; don’t change or force your breathing pattern. Use this moment to tune into your body and become aware of what’s going on inside. Is it stress? Hunger? Excitement? Nervousness? Whatever it is, take note of it without judging yourself, and keep breathing.

Begin to notice what you feel: the warmth of the sun, the jostle of the bus, the soft air coming from the air conditioner. Work your way down to the place you’re sitting, and then where your feet are resting, bringing awareness to the  parts of you that are connected with the earth.

Then check in with the sounds around you. Not reacting or responding to them, just noticing. Move through what you smell, and if your eyes are softly open, what you see near you.

After tuning in to what’s going on inside and around you, come back to your breath. Notice its rhythm and flow, and feel how effortless and steady it is.

Through this practice, you derail your constantly ruminating and list-making train-of-thought by simply being present with your surroundings. It gives your brain small things to focus on that takes your mind out of its usual patterns, without becoming frustrating or boring. So the next time you’re stuck in traffic or overwhelmed by your boss, come back to your surroundings using this technique. Let yourself just exist. And see what you find. Then get back to that to-do list.