On Mindfulness, Movement and Being Present

These days my mind is a machine, running constantly.  Like so many of you, I am making the decisions of the day and trying to make decisions for the future while balancing and navigating the incoming information that both changes daily and affects my day to day.  It is overwhelming and creates a tangle of emotions and thoughts up there in my brain.

If you know me, you know that I start every day with a 5 mile run around the river.  In the early morning hours it is just me and a few other early birds contemplating the day.  The rhythmic pounding of my feet against the concrete paired with the beautiful view of the sun rising and moon falling over the Ohio helps me ground for the day.

I have and do still try guided meditation too.  But for me, I need the action, the movement, the focus that physical activity requires to become completely focused on breath and body.  When I began reading a new book, Making Time for Making Music, I found that I am not by any means the only one who needs movement combined with cognitive work.  In the book the author, Amy Nathan, surveys over 300 amateur musicians from around the country to find out how and why they choose to fit music into their lives. 

One musician, Sarah Muffly, says:  “Singing is one of the only things I do where I’m fully present.  I’m not thinking about anything else.  I don’t want to check my cell phone.  It’s refreshing to engage in an activity with that level of concentration.”  Another, Stephen Whitner, states:  “When I’m singing, whether it’s going well or badly, there’s no space left for anything else.  It’s a very present-time, captivating activity.”

In these frantic times, we need ways to ground ourselves.  To center our thoughts.  When we are focused on playing a musical instrument or singing, our whole being is centered in the present.  As Nathan reminds us in her text, we are reading symbols, planning our very next move, remembering the skills needed, moving fingers, hands, arms, mouth, listening carefully to self-monitor, communicating and coordinating with others, all while expressing emotion.  There is time for nothing else but the simple flow of music and the presence it requires.  When we are finished, the visceral memory of the flow, the connections, can be called upon to remind us of our ability to be present.  With ourselves.  With others.