Nothing to do but “be with”

Each year in late November, around Thanksgiving, I begin a cycle of reflection. As the daylight hours become shorter and dark hours grow longer, it feels like time begins to slow down. Turning inward, I reflect on how life is turning out for me: What is the quality of life that I am experiencing? What is going well? What needs attention? What is mine to bring forth? What practices will support me? What do I need to stop doing?

This past winter, in my internal hibernation den, I found myself reflecting on the question “what do I want to do this coming year? What do I want to manifest?” The assumption is that if I am clear on the answer to this question, I will be able to focus my attention and actions, in addition to being clear about what to say NO to. Feeling the weight of already having too much to do, I began to notice how “wanting” and “doing” were shaping my inquiry.

I shifted my reflection to include questions like, “what has heart and meaning to me?” and “what is mine to do?” As I walked along a quiet stretch of the Pacific coast—a place that always reminds me of the coexistence of my significance and insignificance—I began to discern that there was nothing for me to do but to be present with each unfolding moment — to be in my body, present to myself and to those I am with every day.

“Being with.” On the one hand, so obvious, and on the other, so difficult.

I notice how often I am not “with.” I am multi-tasking, vying to get just one more “to-do” checked off, send one more e-mail, rushing to the next meeting, not really listening to my child … the list goes on.  Feel familiar? You may have your own list.

I don’t want my life to slip by, the moments falling like water drops, unnoticed, into an ocean called the past. Indeed the moments will continue to pass, whether I am present, nearby, or altogether absent.  That led me to the question, “How do I cultivate my ability to accompany each moment?”

Packing it all in and living nomadic life would certainly facilitate this, but that’s not what this inquiry is about. Rather, it is a sensible investigation of how to be present in the everyday practicalities of life: nurturing our children, taking care of ourselves, tending to relationships, contributing via our professions, earning a living, supporting our communities, and on and on … ultimately leading to a more fulfilling experience for myself and those in my life.

In response to the question of how to cultivate the ability to “be with” each moment, I have taken on a practice called Belly Breathing.*  This is a practice intended to help re-pattern the breath from one that is shallow and quick to deeper, fuller inhales and exhales. I believe breathing in this way will create internal spaciousness and connection, making it difficult to remain distracted, overcommitted, or absent in my daily activities, thus supporting me in stepping off the proverbial hamster wheel and being with the fullness of my life.

What are your practices for expanding the ability to “be with”?

*Belly Breathing is a practice created by an exceptionally skillful somatic healer, Allison Post. See Unwinding the Belly by Allison Post & Stephen Cavaliere for more details.

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