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How To Be Mindful When It Feels Impossible
presence practices

How To Be Mindful When It Feels Impossible

You’ve heard about the benefits of being mindful, and you’re in! You want to be present and available to life. You want more clarity and calmness. You’re done with being dragged around by wasted moments, and now it’s time to feel more present, more grounded, more able to really take in and appreciate life.

Let’s do this! you say. But when you get to the doing, something happens to bounce you out.

Because there’s always something waiting to bounce you out, if you’ll let it.

Once we commit to being more present we are presented with a variety of challenges.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the practice of being intentionally present and aware of what you are experiencing in this moment. That includes an awareness of physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, and what is happening around you. And we try to hold all these perceptions without a sense of judgement, just allowing what is present to be here. And if it’s hard to stay present, we try not to judge that either. Self kindness really helps.

Whether you are new to mindfulness or an old hand, there are always difficulties to navigate. Problems that make it difficult to remain present may also provide opportunities to deepen your mindfulness practice as you solve them.

Here are three common problems and some ways to move beyond them.

All The Thoughts

It’s time to be mindful. You might be sitting down to meditate, or standing at the bus stop with a few minutes to spare, maybe you want a moment to get quiet before a meal.

Then all the thoughts come flooding in.

When the mind becomes a Pandora’s box of swirling thoughts, mindfulness can feel impossible.

This is such a common state to find yourself in, and it’s important to remind yourself that this is the most natural thing in the world.

The function of the mind is to think.

This problem will often sort itself out with a bit of patience. With a little time the activity of your mind will often settle all on its own. Sometimes it won’t, but there are things that you can do to make it easier on yourself.

One way you can help this settling down process is to gently guide your awareness away from the head.

Get curious about your the place where your feet meet the ground. What are you experiencing in the soles of your feet? your toes? Do you sense anything there?

Your feet are a great place to focus on as they are the furthest point from your head, but don’t feel restricted to your feet. Your whole body is your ally.

You can try a full body scan, slowly move awareness all through your body. Track the air as it fills your lungs, your belly. Feel those places where the air meets your skin.

Not only does this take the focus away from an over-active mind, it’s like entering a new world, like trying scuba diving for the first time: here everything is new and has it’s own way of being.

Too Busy

Maybe you’ve worked with mindfulness before. Maybe you’ve felt like you were making progress, but life got too busy. It’s hard to maintain a practice when you have so many demands being placed on you. That is a difficult position, and everyone finds themselves here at some point.

That sense of busy-ness, when you are scheduled to the hilt and running from crisis to crisis can feel like standing in front of an impenetrable brick wall. It seems like there’s no way through.

But like any brick wall when you get up close it’s full of cracks. Once you start looking for them you start seeing them everywhere.

Everything contains space. Even the densest, most compacted objects contain space. Your task when feeling overwhelmed like this is to find the space.

Find the gaps between activities. Then find the gaps inside the activities.

Insert small moments of mindfulness in the gaps. Choose one simple cue that reminds you to come back to being present: a mindful sip of water between meetings, taking a moment to feel your feet on the floor between phone calls, move your attention to just below the belly and feel it rise and fall with your breath.

Keep it simple and repeat your cue whenever you remember, you’ll be surprised at how quickly becoming present for small moments at a time becomes a habit for you.

Be Here Now (And In The Future)

Richard Strozzier Heckler says “You are what you practice.”

If mindfulness is your practice, eventually your natural response to even impossible situations will be mindfulness. and even if those impossible situations knock you off course, with practice your natural instinct is to return, again and again.

Practice when things are not not feeling impossible. Enjoy that feeling. Know that you’re creating fresh neural grooves that will enhance your ability to be mindful later on.

Practice when it does feel impossible. Just making the effort is a win. And that’s not just a pretend win either, I’ve sat through so many awful meditation periods where my body felt tied up in knots and my head felt on fire, only to feel a delicious sense of clarity and calmness an hour or two later.

Trust that something is happening for you. Have faith and play the long game.

Practice in short bursts. Find your own style, own it, have fun: make a game of it. Rack up flying hours and soon enough, being more present and mindful will become second nature to you.

Every moment of awareness is a victory. Every moment of awareness helps to create a habit of being more and more aware in the future.

And hey, if you need some help–I offer bite-size, half hour coaching sessions that help you get into a mindful, grounded state as preparation for working on a challenge you face right now. They’re very effective and great fun as well!


bell mindful
presence practices

Morning Bell

“We have long forgotten that activities can be simple and precise. Every act of our lives can contain simplicity and precision and can thus have tremendous beauty and dignity.”

― Chögyam Trungpa, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’


Wandering a local spiritual bookstore a few days ago, looking at beautiful and expensive Tibetan bells and their accessories–cushions, strikers, mallets–I could feel the ‘want’ rising through my body. The desire to have just the right things to supplement my mindfulness practices—to make them more ‘special’ and ‘holy’.

While Buddhist principles are still a strong guiding influence on my life, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been connected to an actual Buddhist community. My meditation practices have largely fallen into the earth, into my body, into the daily interactions of my life.

These are the places where I choose to carve out space and time for my meditation / mindfulness practices. While I still participate in more formal practices, mostly yoga nidra which has come to the forefront these days, but also sitting meditation,  and a smattering of regular yoga, my focus is on finding ways to integrate presence into my daily routine.

But I’m feeling less need to fit myself into these forms and am finding myself excited to adapt practices I know and let them find their own form in my everyday life.

I’m doing another round of Yoga Nidra training next month, and afterwards, will be offering individualized yoga-nidra meditations as part of my presence coaching. While I’ve been doing my pre-course preparations and readings I’ve been giving thought to how I want to be bringing people out of our meditations so they feel grounded and ready to re-engage with their day. I’m thinking about incorporating the use of meditation bells as a way of moving people out of Yoga Nidra and into a more everyday state of consciousness that will leave them feeling alert and aware of their surroundings while remaining grounded in their bodies.

And this is where that feeling of ‘want’ comes in–taking this simple and useful idea and complicating it with thoughts about needing some kind of ‘special’ bell with all the right accessories. Even as these ideas come up I see them as unhelpful–it’s such a reflexive response. But having that response got me thinking about ways to be more appreciative of the tools that I do have, and how to practice using them more consciously.

So my new, mini presence-practice involves taking a few minutes each day to set up my not-expensive bell and a few garden variety accessories and simply ring the bell with awareness.

It feels important to bring a spirit of play and creativity to this, so I’m moving the bell around in different settings and encouraging myself to treat it as a way of appreciating all the little details of my daily life. That will include lots of bell ringing in the garden. And also in forgotten, and not forgotten, corners of our house, favorite places in my neighborhood—I want this bell and this practice to touch as many areas of my life as possible. The goal is to find my own way into using these bells, to develop rituals and ways of working with them that honor ordinary life, and the beauty embedded within it that we can so easily miss.

When I see the bell sitting on a tuft of mossy ground-cover it seems as at home there as it would on a bell cushion. The birch stick used to strike the bell fits nicely in my hand, and there are so many things to notice as I hold it; the feel of the papery bark, the smooth fleshy section where the bark has worn away, a small patch of lichen clinging to one end. There is a slight curve to the stick in the middle which means I have to be even more attentive as I strike the bell if I want it to ring cleanly.

When the bell rings I hear it in the world of birds and breezes, the world of neighbors pottering in their garages and gardens. I hear the tone of the bell, unbounded by the walls of my house, free to ring out slowly, steadily, making its way through the world.