The Sensation of Living in the Now | Mindfulness Rewrites

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Sensation of Living in the Now

     by Dr. Linda Miles

The Sensation of Living in the NowDo you frequently stress about yesterday and worry about tomorrow?

Are you afraid that you’ll run out of time or that you’re somehow missing out on life?

Have you ever stopped to register how your entire body is feeling?

When was the last time you were consciously grateful to be alive?



In their inspirational book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, writer Philip Yancy and surgeon Dr. Paul Brand explore the fascinating world of the human body and spirit, examining “the miracle of skin, the strength and structure of the bones, [and] the dynamic balance of muscles.” Dr. Brand reflects on his time spent with people suffering from leprosy, revealing how that experience altered his life by making him appreciate the function of the human skin and its ability to feel sensations. Leprosy is a condition that causes granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, eyes, and skin; it results in a person’s inability to feel. Apart from the skin lesions and damage due to the disease itself, lepers are typically covered with sores that are caused when they sit on something hard or when they lean on sharp objects. Wounds and infections can result in tissue loss and deformation, numbed and diseased skin, and permanent damage to the nerves, limbs, and eyes.

We often take the gift of our five senses for granted. Yet just stop a moment and imagine having no feeling in your skin to warn you of extreme heat, sharp objects, or dangerous situations. Dr. Brand imagined this frequently. Although leprosy can be treated, it is contagious via nasal droplets; the doctor often wondered if he would wake up with the numbing symptoms. It changed his outlook and made him intensely grateful for his life and for the world around him.

I have had the privilege of working with a group of terminally ill cancer patients. What floored me was their vibrancy, their joie de vivre; they took such delight in every moment because they knew that their lives would soon end. If we thought that we were going to wake up tomorrow and not be able to see, feel, smell, or hear, then we would cherish everything that our senses could drink in.

So try that. Live the day like it’s your last. Take a moment and just look around you, see what draws your attention and what pleases your eyes. Allow your attention to focus on that someone or something for 30 seconds. Of course other thoughts will enter your mind meanwhile. Notice them, acknowledge them, but don’t let them distract you from your object. You may notice a greater sense of relaxation and calm as you immerse yourself in the experience of the present moment.

If you’ve never tried this before — or if you’re looking for a different method to practice mindfulness more effectively — the “body scan” is an excellent technique to get in touch with your senses on a daily basis and monitor how you’re doing and feeling.

The Body Scan Technique

  1. Sit or lie down, and take three deep breaths. Mentally count each inhalation/exhalation.

  2. Focus on your body for a few moments. Notice where you feel tension, pressure, or tightness. Simply allow your attention to scan through your body, as if you’re taking an X-ray. Become aware of all the sensations.

  3. Remind yourself that the intention of this practice is to focus on bodily sensations and to notice what happens. Watch without judgment. Observe the sensations of the present moment.

  4. Let yourself be curious about the sensations in your body and the places where you’ve been unconsciously tense and pressured all this time. How strong are the sensations? How tight is the pressure? Is there throbbing? What parts of your body are in need of attention and healing? Remember—it is essential to be kind and objective during your self-diagnosis.

  5. Re-scan your body more selectively and thoroughly. Begin with your head. Notice any pressure or tension. Drop your awareness to your neck and shoulders. Then your chest—often a place where a lot of tension brews. Next let your focus shift to your abdomen, your belly, and your back. Shift your attention down to your legs, moving further down till you reach the soles of your feet and the tips of your toes.

  6. Meanwhile, stretch each muscle as you go — and, as you visualize the knots loosening, imagine that this is due to the healing energy you are sending through your body. Repeat the mantra of loving kindness mentally or out loud: May you be healed. May you be at peace. May you be filled with loving kindness.

  7. Repeat as needed throughout the day. Cherish your body and send oxygen, intention healing, and loving compassion to all the areas that need to relax.

Remember that there is no one right way to do this. You’ll do what feels right for you. The purpose of this exercise is simply to divert your attention into your body and to observe inner sensations with curiosity, openness, and gratitude. Just remember to stay centered and focused on the feelings and sensations. You can do body scans many times throughout the day, reminding your body that you don’t need to hold onto negative thoughts or toxic emotions. You can mindfully and gently release tension and start afresh.

Pema Chodron is among those who take mindfulness one step further. She is an American-born Tibetan Buddhist, ordained nun, and author. She strongly advocates the Buddhist meditation practice called Tonglen, which is Tibetan for “sending and receiving.” This technique is about visualizing taking in suffering — one’s personal suffering and/or the suffering of others—with each inhaling breath, and giving out acknowledgment, compassion, solidarity, and aid during each exhaling breath.

This technique has been shown to cultivate mind patterns which promote an attitude of love and self-sacrifice, where you can exchange pain for love and happiness. In practice, it can increase your own peace of mind, and thereby spread more harmony and happiness to your surroundings.


“There is only one time that is important: now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”
                                                                           –Leo Tolstoy




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