“Time is going by so quickly!” I hear that comment nearly every day from relatives, friends, patients, and even strangers I chat with at the grocery store. Life seems to be whizzing past at lightning speed. We all say we’d like to slow it down, but, in the midst of our super busy, modern lives, how can we do that?
One way to “slow time” is a simple technique called mindfulness. It is basically the attempt to concentrate on the current moment—not the last one or the next one, only this one. From a medical perspective, mindfulness can reduce stress, increase immunity, and improve sleep and mood. From a spiritual perspective, it’s a way to increase gratitude and connect more consistently with God.
We can begin to experience the spiritual and physical benefits of mindfulness through simple five-minute exercises and through our regular routines. We can also incorporate the relatively modern practice of mindfulness into an ancient prayer practice of the Church called the Liturgy of the Hours, deepening our connection to God and others in the process.
Ways to Live in the Moment
Mindfulness can be cultivated, but it takes practice. We have all had the experience of arriving at a destination we visit every day and having no recollection of the drive we took to get there. Anything that distracts us from the sameness of our routine can help. Here are five other simple ideas you can consider incorporating into your daily routine. Try one for a few weeks and see how it works for you.
1. Do something differently every day. For example, take an alternate route home from work. This forces your brain to pay attention, and this, in turn, will help keep your focus in the moment. Other ideas include using a different bathroom than usual, or walking your typical route but in the opposite direction.
2. Take a single photograph every day. Not only does this encourage you to concentrate on your day to find the perfect picture, but it also keeps a concrete record of those days.
3. Smile at everyone. This simple gesture increases happiness hormones in your bloodstream and obliges you to actually look at the people you pass. This can make you feel more compassionate and connected to the world around you.
4. Make something. This can be anything from a sewing or woodworking project to using a coloring book. Turning on the creative side of your brain even for a few minutes helps quiet the noisy chatter of your other thoughts.
5. Stop hurrying. If your day is so packed that you are constantly hurrying from one thing to the next, you will always be looking ahead instead of focusing on now.
Connect to God
There are lots of other ways to use prayer to mark the times of the day. Grace before meals is a good opportunity to pause before digging in to whatever is on your plate. Many schools and churches ring bells at noontime and pray the Angelus, a prayer to Mary. Some people say a Divine Mercy prayer or the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. Whichever way you choose, praying throughout the day connects you with God and brings your consciousness into the moment.
Sometimes in our crazy, busy world, we get so caught up in the doing that we forget about the being, and we forget about the One who brought us into being. Mindfulness means consciously stopping throughout the day instead of allowing ourselves to be swept along by our to-do lists. Time still passes, but as we pay closer attention, it feels slower and calmer, and we are aware of its passage instead of being surprised by it. Living this way opens us up to God’s presence in our lives and cultivates gratitude for all our blessings.