When was the last time you stood still in silence, in a state of simply being, without reaching for your smartphone or some other distraction? Recent research on burnout in Millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) found that they have grown used to almost constant stimulation. It seems that behind this, is an inability to relax, together with underlying anxiety and agitation. On top of this, there is the cost of living, climate crises, and background geopolitical conflicts. So, it’s not surprising that many people, not only Millennials, are feeling a bit restless and disoriented.
In our contemporary lifestyles, we are often time-poor with too much to do and not enough time. It was not always like this. The earliest evidence of Homo sapiens goes back two hundred thousand years and we started farming around ten thousand years ago, so in the big scheme of things, this is a relatively recent change in human behaviour. In comparison, our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors, who represent 95% of the time humans have existed, lived relatively peaceful lives and worked only a few days a week.
We go through years of education and are never taught some of the fundamental things about being human. What thoughts, feelings, and emotions are, or about appreciating our amazing body and senses. The dominant narrative seems to be about constantly striving to achieve success and happiness, but then we discover that they are often framed in biased and unattainable ways by our consumer-led culture. We can’t all be rock stars, celebrities, or part of the privileged elite. As David Byrne sings in the 1980s Talking Heads song, “Once in a lifetime”, where is this “beautiful house”, with “a beautiful wife” and “a large automobile”?
With all this striving, busyness, anxiety, and noise, we seem to have forgotten the value of peace and calm. Finding the time to stop and take a few breaths and allow ourselves to become still, open, and aware: shifting from a state of doing to a state of simply being.
Like the powerful currents and waves of the ocean, life does not always go the way we want it to. We get pulled and pushed around in our thoughts and emotions, without noticing that we’ve drifted far from the shore.
Similar to how a ship drops an anchor to the seafloor to remain in a stable position, we can send our attention and awareness to an anchor that brings us back to the peace, calm, and stability of present-moment awareness. Turning our attention and awareness to an anchor is not to escape difficult or unwanted feelings or thoughts. It’s about acknowledging whatever we are experiencing and then expanding out to a broader state of being that includes these difficult and unwanted emotions and mental content but is not defined and limited by them.
As the body, breath, and senses are only ever in the present moment, they make useful anchor points:
- Body: We can either connect with the whole, or parts of the body. For instance, we can anchor our attention and awareness in our hand; feeling the physical sensations, energy, and aliveness of the hand to ground ourselves back to the present moment.
- Breath: We can use the breath in a particular part of the body as an anchor to find stability. This could be where the breath moves in and out of the nostrils, the rise and fall of the chest, or the movement of the abdomen. Focusing on the natural breath is great for allowing any agitation or restlessness to settle.
- Senses: As hearing is always on, we can easily connect with our sense of hearing, which is a great way of entering a more spacious and expanded awareness if we’re feeling a bit contracted and limited within ourselves.
It’s useful to settle on a particular anchor, to build up the habit and experience of using it. We can also explore using different anchors in different emotional states. For instance, bringing attention and curiosity to the sensations around the belly may be a useful anchor if we are experiencing anxiety.
We can also bring them all together. For example, taking a moment to step outside and look up at the trees and sky, aware of our body, breath, sights, and sounds, as we allow the peace and calm of simply being, for a few joyful moments of expanded awareness.
However turbulent our lives become and whatever we’re thinking and feeling, the still and spacious awareness of being is always there in the background of our present-moment experience. Using an anchor helps us return us to this state that has more freedom and flexibility, which allows us to live with greater ease, well-being, and joy.
Suggested weekly practice
- Explore which anchor works best for you – your breath, your hand, connecting with your hearing, or somewhere different.
- Remember to turn your attention and awareness to your anchor if you feel caught up in negative emotions, limitation, agitation, or disconnection with the present.
- Next time you find yourself waiting, for instance in a queue, use it as an opportunity to connect with your body and senses to rediscover the open awareness, peace, and calm of simply being
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore finding your anchor.