ART OF JUST BEING (15 mins read)

EVERYDAY TRICKS TO CONNECT YOU TO A PRESENT MOMENT

Image credits: John Blanding

ARE YOU REALLY HERE
The above photo was taken during Black Mass premiere in Brooklyn and it quickly went viral. Why? What does it make you feel? I remember siting in the café and scrolling my Instagram feed when it popped up on my screen and I got very emotional. We hear it all the time: Get off your phone, look up. Leave your phone in the pocket when you are having dinner with friends. When something amazing happens: look, feel, smell, touch, experience it. If it’s truly spectacular, the memory of it will live. If you always try to take a good photo of it instead, you will simply miss it. It’s for sharing online with friends, you say. Sometimes it’s also ok to share the most significant moments ONLY with people who are actually with us at the time. What if they are strangers? Even better. Smile at the closest person who, like you, is not on their phone, and say: It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s a magical experience and we don’t get enough of those. And if you really, really worry about not being able to share the majesty of the Grand Mosque with your mom, guess what? There are a few pictures of it already on google images. Nobody needs you to be in every photo.

NOW I KNOW WHAT WAS MISSING
What is happiness? Leaving home, I thought it meant making all my dreams come true. 5 year plans, traveling plans, bucket lists and lists with goals to achieve-I was always focused on the next big thing that would finally make me happy. I didn’t know that this obsessive dream hopping would take the most precious thing away from me- the present moment. Living home at the age of 19, my head was full of the wildest plans. My parents taught me that I could have anything if I work for it. Books and motivational speakers taught me how to set up goals, organize myself and achieve whatever I wanted. Dreams kept me awake at night. Big, exciting dreams for the future. So I left home and I went through my twenties like a storm. Anytime I achieved something, I went for a new thing. The chase exhausted me. The chase to be skinnier, smarter, funnier, richer, well-travelled, more beautiful and always moving forward so I didn’t have to stop and feel like my life is average or boring. Little that I knew that all that I actually desired was to allow myself to be exactly who I was and to actually STOP running. I got to live an amazing life but in a way, I’ve missed a lot of it.  And it was depression that actually saved me. It sat me down and gave me time to breathe and ask What do I really want? The answer surprised me. All I wanted was simply to be. So I had to put all the self-improvement books away and search for happiness somewhere else.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION IF YOU WANT THE RIGHT ANSWER
We already have everything we need to be happy. This big dream you work so hard on is fantastic. But there is a big chance it won’t make you feel as you expect it to. If you’re unhappy now, a great accomplishment or a new job, or a new body or a new location might not change that. I achieved so much and it still was never enough. So what was the problem? I was asking all the wrong questions and that’s why I kept coming up with the wrong answers. The question was not How to be happy but What is happiness for me?  And once I asked myself that, suddenly the answer was clear and simple. Life is funny like that, once you look for something, it appears right in front of you. Happiness for me has always been hidden in the journey. It was never about achieving or getting somewhere, it has always been in simple, little moments of feeling alive, joyful and connected to nature and people around me. And it was always available exactly where I was for whom I was.

From taken in Bangkok in front of a SPA

YOU DON’T NEED TO GO TO INDIA
If living life to the fullest and making mistakes is a recipe for finding yourself then mindfulness is a secret ingredient that you need to add on top of it, like a delicious whipped cream. This is not a post about Buddhism or meditation techniques-you have plenty of that online. This is to share with you some of the tools I discovered that are easy and available to us right now. I remember when I started meditating in Dubai and my friend told me that she also wanted to start but first she signed for this fancy, expensive course on breathing. And that is exactly what is wrong with creating a business out of people’s search for happiness. No, you don’t need to learn how to breathe to be able to meditate. You don’t need to go to Bali or India neither. You don’t need to buy a meditation kit on Amazon with a pillow to sit on with Buddha face on it. But how else you fill 200 pages of your new book if you just admit that it’s simple. You can do it whenever you are, whoever you are with what you already have. My Greek friend told me once he meditates when he cooks, and I loved that. You can do it on your own terms. You can close your eyes or you can keep them wide open. Just be present and aware, let the emotions and thoughts come and go. I always say meditating is the exact opposite of being drunk. It’s the opposite of escaping whatever you’re running from- pain, loss, anxiety, stress and welcoming it all. Living consciously. Not doing anything out of sick intentions. It’s taking time everyday in silence, or in nature without any distraction and just letting yourself be. It’s a cure for everything and it requires nothing more but your willingness to be vulnerable in front of yourself. Full honesty. No bullshit. Your intuition finally gets to be heard. You know what to do and you know why to do it. And suddenly, magical things happen. Not only things become clear and uncomplicated, you feel more happy and less anxious, but also you start realising… you are already happy. How to get there without shaving your head, buying expensive yoga pants, meditation kits and trying to switch off all of your thoughts completely for 1 hour a day? These are a few of my favourite tricks and they can be yours, too! (And my husband says that I don’t like sharing…) These simple habits will not only make you a less anxious and more present human but also a whole lot more grateful one. And people like to be around people who are grateful, because if you are grateful, you are happy. And if you are happy, you are more giving and kind. Let’s get this party started.

DAILY TRICK #1 GRATITUDE LISTS
Let’s get to it. Free of charge, available on spot. No wifi required. No equipment. Lay comfortably on bed or sofa or simply sit down in your favourite chair. Close your eyes, watch your breath for a little while and think of 5 things you are grateful for during quarantine. Or 5 things that happened today. Don’t force it. This list is your intimate secret and it’s not for others to see how grateful you are. Don’t write anything that you SHOULD be grateful for. List only things that you are honestly, profoundly grateful for. They can be tiny, like drinking delicious coffee in the morning or playing with your dog. Try to get a good vivid picture of it. If you feel that closing eyes is not for you, just make a list next to your to do list. Every day, just 5 things. 

DAILY TRICK #2 CONNECT WITH NATURE

No matter the personality, it’s our basic need and therefore an instinct to seek connection with nature. And that will never change. I remember on very bad days in Qatar or Dubai (so literally on the desert) I would still seek out tiny moments with nature. And when there was no greenery around (which was the case a lot of times), I started… looking up. I would just try to spot a bird, or a cloud, put my face towards the sun, take a few deep breathes and I was better. Most of you do not live on a desert, therefore, the trick is easier. Stand barefoot on the sand or grass as much as possible. Listen. If there are no birds around, stare at a tree outside your office. Look how the wind moves its leaves. Something so profound happens in those moments. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s Mother Nature or maybe it’s just… our nature. I don’t think you need convincing that connecting with nature works for our mental and physical health, you’ve witnessed it yourself many times, we just need a little reminder. And it’s impossible to also notice how it grounds us and quickly bring to present moment. If you want to dive deeper, there is an exciting article about health benefits of what is called Earthing (grounding)- it’s pretty insane. 

TRICK #3 I GET TO BE
Next time you are tempted to say I have to, replace it with I get to. Do yourself this favour and witness nearly instant change of perception and mood. Don’t get me wrong, I still forget to do it 70% of the time. But we’ll get there. I have to go and see my friends, I promised… ( In future, every time you think about that one, just remember the lock down times when you couldn’t). YOU GET TO see your friends. Switch off Netflix, put those sexy, dancing shoes on and go to spend time with your favorite people. How lucky are you? I have to work at home. Uffff. Do I have to list the people who don’t GET TO stay home now? If you are scared of the virus with your ass siting comfortable and binge eating your quarantine snacks, imagine how scary it is to be a nurse right now, to be out there. You will be fine. You get to stay home. Imagine loosing your job. Losing whole event season as a freelancer relying on summer for the rest of the year. That sucks. You GET TO work from home. I have to go to the gym. That’s a different case. I say, don’t go;) Gyms suck, go for a run. Trust me, EVERY situation in life has something positive for you. It’s only natural that you can’t see WHILE it’s happening. You don’t have to believe that everything happens for a reason to know that the harder your experience, the more you learn. The more painful the fall, the more glorious the come back. The biggest the failure, the bigger the lesson. I can go on and on and on, but I know you already know it. It’s simple, just not easy.  So practice every day, every moment. Whenever you HAVE TO do something, replace it with I GET TO do it. Or simply don’t do it if it’s such a drag.

DAILY TRICK #4 CAN YOU IMAGINE IT’S GONE?
This is one of my favourite entries in Aurelius’s Meditations. How simple, yet powerful, isn’t it? Our brain is actually designed this way: it’s called habituation–we stop noticing things we see or hear many times. It is a biggest enemy of gratitude.  Because it makes everything exciting only for a moment we get it and then we stop seeing the value anymore, we take it for granted. It’s so sad. But if you make it a habit to look around you and imagine the things/ people you love one day will be gone- it brings you back to where you have to be- in the state of gratitude. And you will never say I have to see my friends ever again. And maybe you will even see the abundance available for you and stop constantly wanting more. If you are curious to read more on how living on auto pilot effects us, I recommend this article from Psychology today. 

TRICK #5 GET OFF YOUR PHONE
This one is my favourite. Day without phone, a week without social media, space at home without any electronics. You choose. Spending our commute to work looking up, with only music in our ears. You know, things are not as they appear on the screen. Women’s bodies are not all the same shape as shown on Instagram. And there are so many wonderful stories to witness while simply looking up and paying attention. Next time you are at the airport, while waiting for the delayed arrival of your friend, don’t twit: Stuck waiting at the airport #killme. Observe people saying hello to their loves ones. Everyday human stories are breathtaking. Spot that one old man with flowers, nervous. Who is he waiting for? Indulge in life and you will never feel alone again. Connect with a stranger over a little funny moment, fall in love on a train, ask for directions when traveling, get lost if you have to. These are the moments that make us truly happy and we are missing them all, trying to find a good angle for that selfie or complaining online while bored. There is nothing that will connect you more with the moment than just… paying attention to it.

DAILY TRICK #6 JOURNALING 
In Polish, we have one word for a journal and it is ‘pamiętnik’ and it ruined the whole thing for me as it is reserved for teenage girls to write down their feelings in. So it took me some time to wrap my head around keeping one now. I just had to replace contemplating kissing a cute boy with existential questions. Writing things down (I recommend pen and paper over going digital) helps you think clearly, helps you with the decision process, with understanding yourself better. It can also be a place, where you keep your gratitude lists and come back to them on bad days. Current situation is a perfect moment to start. It’s an easy, fun and effective way to watch your thoughts and see things as they are.

DAILY TRICK #7  HOW IS MY BREATH?
And we finally arrive at the last trick, the most powerful, the most common and that works every time. Finding our way back to our breath. What changes in your body when your emotions shift? When you get angry? Your breath. When you get scared? Your breath. When the Amazon Prime arrives at your door? Your breath. If you master controlling it, you can get out any anxiety attack yourself. Start small. Start by just getting familiar with it, just observing it. You can do full on meditation, or throughout a day you can simply become more aware of it… What I like to do is before I sleep, I just watch my breath. I try to do my gratitude lists then, too but I usually fall asleep before I even get to that part;) Lay down on the grass, watch the clouds and just be… you and your breath reminding you the best thing of it all: You are alive and that enough, my darling, is a reason to be grateful.

IT’S SIMPLE BUT NOT EASY.
If we learn how to ask the right questions, we’re  golden because we already have all the answers within us. And it’s good news. The bad news is that the answers come to us only when we really listen and for that, we need to learn how to  quiet our busy minds and the outside world. We need to learn the art of just being with our thoughts, uninterrupted. We need to quiet the outside voices and tap into the inner ones, to our intuition.
If there is one trick on how to live a fulfilled life it is to really start living. Be present in every moment. Be grateful for whatever comes our way, the good and especially the bad. Fall in love with the process of getting somewhere. Come back to your breath whenever you are anxious. Look for beauty in everyday scenarios, connect with strangers, look up and… really see. That’s why the photograph of a grandma without a smartphone is so moving. Because we all want to be like that grandma, we just forgot how to. 


Let me know if you have your own methods for staying present and grateful!