When I was in 7th grade, I played softball and I remember a game where my coach yelled for the millionth time, “watch the ball hit the bat!” Something happened to me as the ball was released from the pitcher’s hand and I was able to see it move towards me in slow motion, as if it was moving one photographic frame at a time. I have since learned that many exceptional baseball players are able to do the same thing routinely. To the average observer, the ball is traveling at 100 mph but to the batter, it is moving in slow motion. I know it is possible even if it only happened to me once. So how can we slow down time on a regular basis? This question seems especially important since I am hearing more and more, “time is the most precious resource,” and concepts like “time famine” or “time shortage”. Where has our time gone and how do we get that feeling of spaciousness back?
In my exploration of these questions, I have come up with only one answer. To slow down time I must become fully present in the current moment. For most of us, our bodies are in the present moment but our minds are focused on a million things. Many of them either already happened and are in the past or might happen in the future. Some even argue that chronic stress plagues us because our brains are constantly rehashing something that already happened or worrying about something that has yet to happen. With all those thoughts and emotions from the past/future nagging at us, no wonder we feel as if we don’t have enough time. No surprise that we seemingly cannot accomplish what we need to. So, what can we do?
Let’s explore: Take a moment and write down all the things that are on your mind right now. What’s pulling at you and note if it is something from the past or something that has yet to happen. Consider how much energy you have been expending keeping your attention on those things. This could be mental, emotional, or physical energy (e.g. repeatedly rehashing a week-old conversation with a co-worker that didn’t go well and reliving the disappointment that causes your stomach to churn). Now, decide what you can tend to, make a plan, and let go of the rest.
Below is a list of 7 things you can do to bring yourself into the present moment. They are simple but require regular attention even if it is only minutes at a time.
1. Breathe: Breathing is something we do automatically and we may never have to focus on, but 2 minutes of intentional breathing where you notice every in-breath and every out-breath is an amazing way to get present, lower your blood pressure and de-stress.
2. Connect to your senses: Look intently around you. What do you see, hear, feel, smell or taste in your present environment? When was the last time that you really listened to the sounds around you or savored the first ripe summer raspberry?
3. Move/stretch your body: This could be going for a short walk outside where you focus on your senses or it could be standing up and really feeling a big long stretch
4. Create: Draw a doodle. Compose haiku. Fold that memo into an origami crane. Give your complete attention to the something you are making out of nothing.
5. Deeply listen: So often, our distracted minds only half listen to what others are saying while we construct our replies. Instead, decide to really listen to another to understand what they are saying, what is important, and how they are feeling.
6. Play and laugh: Some of the longest, most wondrous moments of my adult life revolve around playing with my son. Laughter is such a physical experience, you have to be present to do it.
7. Observe yourself: Catch your mind as it begins to wander towards a past event or a future possibility. All of a sudden you will notice that you are worrying about the important meeting you have next week. It is a gentle discipline to notice it and redirect. (“Ahhh…there I go worrying about that meeting. Have I done everything I can to prepare for it? I will deal with whatever happens when I get there and worrying now accomplishes nothing”)
Slowing down time is a discipline, but well worth the effort. I can still remember the feeling of the bat connecting with that softball…the solid thunk…and the speeding arc over outfield, over the fence and over the trees on the other side of the fence! I hope you will share your homeruns — what has worked for you in your pursuit of being present and slowing down time?