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April 2016

in the world

What Does It Mean To Be Present?

How present are you in your own life?

Are you present to the world around you? How about the people around you? How present are you to your acquaintances, to your loved ones, to yourself?

We’re all capable of being present, at least some of the time.

Even before I started working at this stuff in a serious way, I was often able to be present when I needed to. But sometimes, even these days, I find myself drifting off or forgetting that I’m here.

Presence oscillates. Sometimes it’s here, sometimes it fades a little. I don’t even think we’re built to be present 100% of the time.

But to be present just a little more? We all have room for that. Actually, once you get into the habit of trying to be more present you’ll find your capacity is pretty great. To notice you’ve been absent and gently welcome yourself back is a nice start.

For me, being present means feeling grounded in your body. It means being receptive to the person, or people, in front of you. A big part of being present means being aware of what’s going on in your heart: do you feel tender right now? a little closed off? what are you noticing in there?

We all want to feel more whole, more sane. We all want to feel that we belong. In moments of presence and quiet I start to believe we are all more whole, more sane than we think we are. I certainly believe we all belong.

A Matter Of Kindness

I used to think being present was a matter of trying hard, and wrestling with countless, urgent thoughts. And if you’re thinking that too, I want you to know–it’s not about that.

I used to think no matter how much I meditated, or tried to be mindful, that I was never doing enough. That I wasn’t devoted enough, or smart enough to ever get it. These days I’m so much kinder towards myself because I know that’s all untrue. It’s not true about me, and it’s not true about you either.

Sometimes it’s simply enough to hear birdsong outside your window and remember, “Oh, it’s Spring.”

What does being present mean to you?

create your ritual
presence practices

Create Everyday Rituals That Will Lift Your Day

Your morning schedule for getting the kids off to school, lunch-breaks at your regular spot, an afternoon walk, journaling at night.

Activities like these are the bread and butter of being alive. We all have routines and schedules that help us move through our days, they give us a sense of grounded-ness and provide a rhythm that helps us keep track of where we are.

As helpful as these routines are to us, there is a way we can make them even more powerful and supportive. That way is to create rituals out of routines.

Rituals are one of the oldest and most powerful tools we have for creating meaning. There are two defining components of a ritual: there is an action that is being ‘ritualized’ and there is a sense of presence, or awareness, built into that activity.

For example, if you have a cup of coffee each morning, making a ritual of that routine would serve to direct your awareness more fully into that act. (More on how to do that later).

How Rituals Can Help You

Rituals can help you feel more connected to yourself, and others.

Because there is usually some sort of action involved, rituals encourage you to be physically present and aware, which helps you to be even more receptive to the meaning behind our ritual.

Rituals inspire you to appreciate what’s important in your life.

Rituals induce a sense of wonder, even through the smallest, most ordinary acts.

Before We Start

A few things:

Rituals don’t have to make sense to anybody but you

They can be playful, celebratory, small, bouncy, silent, wild, simple, flamboyant.

It’s your ritual, so it’s up to you how you run it.

Rituals are alive

They shift and develop, just like you, and over time your relationship to them will change. If you find that your ritual has become stale and less meaningful over time, it’s a sign that you need to re-enliven it and make it relevant to your daily life again.

Repetition, Repetition, Repeatedly

It can be useful to perform your ritual at regular intervals. Repetition creates rhythm. Rhythm creates a sense of comfort and safety. Once that rhythm is built up, your ritual can become a vibrant container for power and meaning.

Did you Get That Down?

As you go, record what happens to you as a result of doing your rituals. Over time you will notice some amazing things. It can be the small things that really make a big difference.

How To Create A Ritual

Set out below are a few simple ideas to help you to come up with your own rituals. You can think about them and get a feel for how they might work for you when you are designing your own rituals.

When you are ready to put together your own customized ritual, pick the ones that resonate for you and use them as building blocks.

Setting An Intention:

Rituals can help you to focus on a particular qualities you would like to bring into your life, or changes you would like to make.

What is something that you would like to focus on right now?

It could be a habit that you would like to begin, a quality (like courage or kindness) that you would like to bring into your life, maybe something you’d like to celebrate or remember. Once you have that thing you want to focus on, the next step is to write your intention.

What you would like to see change in your relation to that aspect of your life.

Once you have the thing you would like to focus on, the next step is to choose the change that you intend to bring about.

For example, if you picked kindness as something you would like to develop in yourself, the change could be broad: I want to become kinder. Or more specific: I want to be kinder to myself.

Setting an intention like this infuses it into our ritual and helps us to remember the bigger picture. It also encourages us to be more present and aware as we do the activity.


We’ve looked at the importance of rhythm, and choosing an appropriate time for your ritual is one way you can build that sense of rhythm in.

It’s useful to think about how often you want to do this ritual. Is it a daily thing? More than daily? Maybe it’s a ritual that wants to take place on a weekly basis, like a Sunday meal. Weekly, daily, hourly, however you space your rituals out, it’s going to build that sense of rhythm and repetition, like a pulse moving through your days.

It’s important that the timing of a ritual is suited to your own needs, and to your own mood or energy as well.

For example, early morning is a wonderful time to set up a meditation practice, but I’ve always had trouble maintaining that as a practice. I do my meditation in the evenings, and I find I’m more alert and dropped in then I am when I meditate in the mornings.


Paying attention to the space you will be performing your ritual in can make them even more powerful.

A useful first step is to select a quiet and private space to conduct your ritual in peace.

You can include and honor your physical self by selecting beautiful and meaningful objects that wake your senses up, like: candles, scented oils, flower arrangements, foods, water, tea, inspirational photos/figures, tactile objects stones/beads sounds-music, nature space with sounds.

You could think of this space as an altar, or simply a private sanctuary just for your use.

Having a dedicated space to return to can add a sense of power to your ritual.

Dedicating a space is a form of intention setting in itself, it’s a declaration that you’ll perform your rituals over time and that you’ll honor our rituals by giving them a home.

Having a place to regularly perform your rituals means the space will eventually start to change: churches, meditation halls, yoga studios all absorb the energy of the rituals and practices that take place in them, and you can often feel a power in these places that helps you  settle in and prepare.

Embodying An Action

A key element in most rituals is that they incorporate some sort of physical action.

The action of a ritual often serves as a metaphor and provides some sort of support as you move towards your intention. Performing the ritual helps to anchor the meaning as you act out the process of being transformed through the ritual. You get to include your whole self through this process.

What actions can you include in your ritual to ground it in your body, in your own life?

A nice place to start is by choosing actions you already do each day: making a cup of coffee in the morning; bathing; regular tasks; unwinding activities.

I love this post by Dana at Alchemist Eating (it inspired me to work on this post) where she talks about a brief ritual she and her partner share at their evening meal. It’s beautiful, simple, and tailored to them and their relationship. It’s a great example of using an everyday action as the starting point for a meaningful ritual.


It’s important to have a sense of closing the ritual. You’ve created a space where you get in touch with the intuitive and soulful aspects of your being, and it’s important to build a sense of completion before you return to your everyday activities.

Some ways you could do this:

Perform a simple, closing activity while noting that the ritual is over and you are moving onto the next thing.

Being attentive as you extinguish the candle, leave the room, stand up, close your journal–whatever your closing activity is, be in a mindful state and note to yourself:

“This ritual is complete, I am now heading into the next part of my day.”

Over To You

Do you have any important rituals in your life? Something that you’ve put together yourself, or rituals from a group you’re a part of? What makes them special and meaningful for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Working with Guided Meditation is a deep and powerful practice. Let's look at some ways you can get the most out of doing guided meditations.
presence practices

Guided Meditation Made Easy

My introduction to meditation came through doing a recorded guided meditation. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in meditation at all. I was interested in controlling the thick, sticky webs of anxiety that were hemming me in.

I was in my mid twenties and in early recovery from alcohol / drug addiction. The guided meditation helped. I soon started collecting recordings that had ‘stress relief’ in the title and listened to them almost daily for a few years, until I walked into a meditation group and began a more formal sitting meditation practice.

After a long break I’ve rediscovered guided meditations over the last four years or so. Last year I began training as an I-Rest Yoga Nidra teacher. Guided meditations are again a daily part of my life, and they work beautifully as a component of my meditation practice.

Guided meditations can provide a deep and powerful practice. This means it’s worth taking the time to set up your experience so you get the most possible benefit. So let’s look at some ways you can get the most out of doing guided meditations.

What is a guided meditation?

A guided meditation is a meditation you do with the help of a guide. The guide may be in the room with you giving verbal directions, or you might listen to instructions through an audio recording.

In this post we’ll be focusing on how to get the most out of a guided meditation recording.

The role of the guide is to support you in moving through a meditation process from start to finish in a safe and helpful way. Even in a regular meditation practice there is usually some form of guidance going on—meetings with a teacher, classes and discussions, readings.

The main difference is that on a guided meditation, the guidance is an in-the-moment affair. The guide is right there with you, in a sense, as you go through the experience.

Having a practice that combines guided and non-guided meditation sessions is like a form of spiritual cross-training. Both sides of the equation are enhanced.

Set an intention for your practice

As you are getting ready to do your guided meditation take some time to reflect on what you are hoping to get from your practice. Imagine that you have been using guided meditations for a while, what are some of the changes you imagine might happening for you as a result? Go over your answers and choose any that appeal to you. These can serve as seeds your starting intention.

Briefly imagine what it would be like if these desired results come through. What would it feel like? What subtle changes would you notice? Is there something different the people closest to you might notice if you these things started happening for you?

Once you know what you would like to get from your guided meditations, then your intention becomes clearer. Perhaps your intention is to create some kind of lasting change, to ‘feel calmer’ or ‘have more energy’. You might simply want an enjoyable experience.

Having an intention for your guided meditation practice can be helpful when it comes to choosing your meditation, and can help you keep motivated to do the guided meditation regularly.

If you journal, write your intention down. A line or two is plenty. What you are wanting is to bring that intention into the world and affirm it.

Writing down your intention is also useful as you can come back later and reflect on how it’s going. You can determine if anything has changed, or been clarified, about your intention. This allows you to refine your practice as you go.

Find a guided meditation recording that suits you.

I learned the importance of this the hard way after purchasing a few ‘unlistenable’ guided meditations.

Listening to a guided meditation is an act of trust. You are relaxing some of your defenses and agreeing to be led through a process,. To do this it’s important that you feel comfortable with both the process and the person leading it.

Always try to access a preview of any meditation you are interested in buying or downloading. That way you can listen to a few minutes of the audio and decide if it’s suitable for you.

What to listen for:

Is the guide’s voice soothing or comfortable? Is it annoying in some way? Is there any background music / background sounds? How do you feel when you hear them? Soothed? Inspired? Annoyed?

This is important, because you don’t want to be lying there rolling your eyes and arguing with the guide as you meditate. You want to be able to let go and be fully with the meditation. If a preview annoys you then it’s going to be difficult to give all your attention to the meditation.

Also check for periods of silence between the instructions. A skillful guide allows you some space to feel the meditation process. There should be a nice rhythm between verbal guidance and silent spaces for you to experience, and get the fruits of, that guidance.
What imagery or themes are covered? Imagery is often a key part of guided meditations. You can usually get a sense of what imagery might be in the meditation by reading the description, or from the cover art.

And finally, does it fit with the intention you set in the first step?

If you are wanting to feel less anxious, does this seem like the kind of meditation that will help you with that? If you wanted an enjoyable experience, does it seem like a meditation that will give you this experience?

Create A Safe and Nurturing Container For Yourself

You’ve thought about what you want from your guided meditation, you’ve chosen your recording, now it’s time to create a container for your experience.

Can you find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. You might think of it as your own personal oasis tucked away in the middle of your day.

You want to dive into this experience fully.

Make your meditation space beautiful and nourishing for you. Eventually you will develop associations with the place you do your guided meditations. Over time, as you lie or sit down to do the meditation you are rewiring your neural networks and soon enough just the act of preparing for your session will shift you into a relaxed and receptive state.

Make yourself Comfortable

Now that you have your space set up, it’s time to get your body taken care of and ready to go.

Make yourself comfortable. Not too comfortable though, unless you want to go to sleep. Find a middle balance between too squishy and too hard. I like to lie on the floor in a darkened room with a yoga mat and a blanket over me.

Some other options might include: a comfortable chair,  eye pillow, bolsters, cushions, a folded up towel or thin pillow under head.

During The Meditation

The most important thing you can do during the meditation is to relax and enjoy the meditation as much as you can. This is not meant to be hard work, and you can’t really get it wrong.

Occasionally you will drift off during a meditation, that’s perfectly okay. It’s also okay to make it easier for you to stay focused and aware during the meditation process.

A Simple Trick To Avoid Drifting Off

Remember earlier, when I suggested you listen to a preview to see if the guide’s voice is a fit for you? If you did that then this tip will be much easier to follow.

As you listen to the voice, imagine it is an internal voice in your head. This helps to minimise thinking and distractions as you follow the meditation. It requires trust in the person doing the meditation, and that you are comfortable with the person’s voice/mannerisms etc.

Adopting the guide’s voice like this takes a layer of thinking out of the process. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, then definitely don’t. But if you do, it can really deepen your experience.

Ease Back Into Your Day

We’ve looked at the preparation process before the meditation and how that helps. Just as important is the process of transitioning back into your day after the meditation.

Allow yourself some time to come out of the meditation. Guided mediations can be very powerful, you need to integrate the practice and feel fully prepared to move back into your day.

What helps:

Specific actions like having a few moments to stretch your body, or wash your face, maybe have a sip of water. Even packing away your things can serve as a useful transition ritual. Any kind of movement works.

I like to walk around a little, to ground myself by putting my awareness down into the feet and walking a little. Physical actions are great because they ground you back into the physical world.

I also find it helpful to say something out loud like: “I am now stepping back into my day.” Or “This meditation is now complete.”

It doesn’t take much to get you ready, but it is important to take one or two clear actions that say “I am moving onto the next thing.”

A Final Guided Meditation Tip

Just a final point if you are thinking of doing guided meditations as a regular thing.

It’s good to try a few different options and develop a feel for what you like, but once you have a couple of guided meditations that really work for you stick with them for a while.

A good guided meditation can be useful over a period of time, I like to spend a t least a month or so regularly doing a guided meditation before moving onto a new one.

If you jump around too much you miss out on this deepening aspect of the practice.  And remember, if you’re interested in meditation you probably have a desire to settle, to ground deeply, and investigate. Bring that sense of grounded-ness to your guided meditation practice and you will see the benefits over time.

I hope this is helpful to you. Do you do guided meditations? If so, maybe you could share some things that have helped you get the most out of your practice. Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!