We’re always told how important it is to be engaged with the world. Sometimes we mistake obsession for engagement, though. People try too hard to assert themselves on the world, to leave a mark, to develop something that will outlive them. These types of behaviors are a sort-of over-engagement with the world that presupposes humans exist ‘here’ and everything else exists ‘there’. It makes us seem more important than we are. It gives us the illusion that we can live forever.
When we’re stressed, it usually comes down to feeling like reality is skirting our expectations. And it usually is, because our expectations are often remarkably unrealistic. They make the same fatal presupposition: that you are a self and everything else is an other. In reality, there’s no real distinction between subject and object. We’re all just one big entity floating around.
This helps me keep perspective. Maybe it will help you. When we return to a place of humility and stop trying to stomp around with our egos, we can take a step back. We can pause, view ourselves from a zoomed-out lens, and reflect. Imagine if you went through life never once looking in a mirror. This is what most of us do mentally without even realizing it.
Take a step back, observe, and acknowledge. Don’t resist anything. Let all thoughts, ideals, and aspirations pass, and instead of obsessing over the outside world and your position within it, simply engage yourself fully with the moment.
Focus on the breath.
Engaging yourself fully in the moment is certainly easier in theory than in practice. How do we anchor ourselves in the moment? The answer has existed throughout human history, so simple yet so difficult for many modern people to ascertain: the breath.
Our breathing is deeply linked to our experience— so much so that if we stop breathing for long enough, our experience stops entirely. A lack of breath is death. If we can learn to breathe mindfully and consistently, our lives develop in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined. When the breath is stifled and restricted, we’re no better than if we were walking around in handcuffs.
If you want to remain mindful throughout your days, work on developing a basic awareness of the breath. This can begin in meditative practice, but it’s something you can do at any time. When you’re doing chores, notice your breathing. It may be chaotic and unreliable. Try to anchor it. Don’t panic. Let it return to a state of consistency and then return to your activities. After a while, you’ll be able to mindfully regulate your breath and this practice will simply become second nature.
Mental chatter keeps us bound to language, which always leads us in the wrong direction. The modern world loves symbolic systems, but they lead us down cul-de-sacs when it comes to matters of the spirit. Once we’re quiet, we can really hear true things— things that can’t be expressed using language or any sort of symbolism. The strongest truths are those we can’t express; we can only feel and experience them. It’s ok to keep these to yourself. Quiet yourself, and quiet your mind, and you’ll be amazed what you’ll be able to hear.
In the same way that it can be difficult for a thoroughly conditioned mind to turn off constant mental chatter, we might find ourselves having trouble slowing down. Thankfully this is a relatively easy process; it just requires us making the mindful choice to take a step back.
If you find yourself in overdrive and suddenly recognize that yes, you are indeed in overdrive, you’ve given yourself the perfect opportunity to go slowly. Once this moment of realization hits, take a step back. Withdraw. Focus on your breath, and try to silence your mind. Don’t resist the thoughts that inevitably come about, just let them pass. When we slow down, we realize how fragile our thoughts and emotions are. We see them for what we are rather than what we think they are. And then they subside, and they lose power over us. Over time, this completely changes how we think, act, and react. It can revolutionize your life.
Be kind to yourself.
This is a process. For most of us, it’s a difficult process. The modern person moves in hyperspeed and thinks entirely in language, images, and symbols. We don’t approach the real world as real, but as a projection of our ego fantasies, delusions, and dreams. We wonder why life feels like a dream or a game when we’ve spent our whole lives approaching it as such! Deconditioning yourself takes time. Cultivating mindfulness takes time. Learning to steady your breath takes take. And you know what? That’s perfectly OK. Take small steps each day and remember the points in this short guide. Eventually, you won’t even need a guide. Your intuition and perception of the mindful world will guide you.