My toes, pulling away from the cold tile floor, reject the winter’s chill.
This reminds me that I am here.
I am here, standing in front of my sink that is begging me to free it of its clutter—again. As I turn on the hot water tap, I hear the sound of the water heater in the laundry room around the corner. The low hum it makes tricks me into thinking the water is warmer than it is. It’s not hot yet.
As I wait for the water to warm, I look around and wonder why I didn’t clean the kitchen last night. I guess I just didn’t feel like it. Washing dishes is one of the most boring necessary things in life, yet we have to do it every day. Does anybody actually like it? Maybe some of us do, but it is just not my favorite. It makes my hands too dry, sometimes my back hurts from leaning over, and I often end up with puddles near my feet—just like my mother used to.
I drench my orange sponge with the warm water now running from the tap. Squeezing multiple times and watching as the sponge fills with water and then releases it in the next breath, I am reminded that I am here. I am reminded that even these moments—these boring moments—are life. This is what I learned from reading Peace Is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh. From this book, we can all learn what it means to be present in every moment.
But what does it actually mean to be present?
This is a question that I never knew I needed to ask before Thich Nhat Hanh came into my life. To be present is to actually be where we are when we are there. It is so easy to let our minds wander into a “never-never land” far away. This can obviously be fun sometimes and even serves a purpose in the right circumstance, so don’t get to thinking you’re never allowed to let your mind wander if you want to be present in your life.
Where mind wandering (or daydreaming) becomes an issue is when we allow it to take over too often. It is then that we will find that we are missing our life. Haven’t we all experienced that embarrassing moment when the friend we are talking to asks our thoughts on whatever they just said—and we have no clue how to respond? Sure, we were physically present with them in that conversation, but our mind was riding unicorns on Jupiter. Therefore, we were not present with that friend, and that takes away from the depth of the relationship.
Of course, being present is about more than having depth in our relationships with others. It will deepen our relationship with ourselves as well.
But what does being present when doing boring chores, like washing dishes, do for my relationship with myself?
It does so much. Being present brings us to ourselves. When we quiet the wandering and chattering of our beautiful minds and just be in the moment, we can hear ourselves. We can hear our bodies telling us what they are feeling, we can hear our hearts tell us what they desire, and we can hear our minds tell us what to question. We may or may not have magical epiphanies when we wash our dishes, but we will be reminded that we are alive—and that we are here.
So where do we start? We start with ourselves. Maybe pick up a copy of Peace Is Every Step, or do a quick internet search for some videos on being present.
My favorite quick exercise that brings me back to myself every time is breathing. I know that sounds too simple, but the simplicity is actually the beauty! You can do this anywhere for any amount of time you wish.
Here’s how it works:
Step One. Sit, stand, or lie down wherever you already are. Close your eyes if you want to. No need to get into any special kind of position for this one. That’s the whole point!
Step Two. Breathe. Breathe with normal, relaxed breaths. Don’t force anything; just let your breath be relaxed and natural.
Step Three. Notice everything about your breathing. What does the air feel like on your nostrils as it enters and exits? Where do you feel the air inside of your body (chest, belly, or both)? Do you notice any sensations anywhere else in your body? You are just noticing here, no judging or questioning, just noticing.
There it is. It is as simple as that. When I first started this exploration of being present, it took several breaths for me to come back to myself. Now, after practice, it takes just one inhale and exhale and I am here—washing my dishes.