Imagine being stuck in a wicked traffic jam and you realize that you’re likely to miss your plane, or that you are running late for an important meeting and can’t find your keys, or (and here’s the worst for many of us) you can’t find your cell phone. We all know the familiar signs of the fight/flight response; rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, tight jaws, eyes and shoulders. Our thoughts are spinning, we are panicked, and basically we’re a mess! Our lower brainstem is now running the show and our wiser frontal cortex is temporarily out of the picture.
What if we can find calm and presence right here, right in the middle of our scatter and panic? This is my own experiment these days and I do it by focusing on sensation.
Any sensation will do and can become the focus of our attention by supporting us to come back to the present moment. By focusing on our sense perceptions we interrupt the momentum of the scatter, panic and physical tension and bring ourselves back to present time. Coming back to presence brings pleasure, clarity and calm. Try using a sense that is ever present for most of us, that of sound.
Sound as a focus of attention:
Wherever you are, begin by noticing your posture and getting as comfortable as you can. Sit and relax into your body, noticing the specific physical sensations of stress in your body, as well as your current state of mind.
Next, open to hearing the sounds around you. Listen closely and begin to name the different sounds you hear; air conditioner, buzzing from printer, rustling papers, random humming machine, voices, etc. Whenever your attention wanders, just bring it back to the immediate sounds in your environment.
Now switch by listening to sounds in the distance. Give all of your attention to those sounds. Listen closely outside your window or door. You will still hear the sounds close in, but place your focus of attention on the more distant sounds. You may hear birds outside your window, or the roar of traffic, muffled voices or even a jackhammer. Whatever you hear refrain from analysis and just listen.
Allow yourself to fluctuate between listening to the sounds close in and then switching to the more distant sounds. Interspersed in the fluctuation, become aware of the sound of your own breathing. Continue to go back and forth a few more times. Now, just focus on the sound of your breathing. After a minute come back and notice the refreshment, spaciousness and much needed calm that comes from this focus. You can now address issues at hand using your smart brain. This really only takes one minute!