How to root into the present moment and cultivate a mindful life.
A reader and fellow farmer recently emailed me and asked:
How do you practice being really “present” throughout the growing season, while juggling the farm and family, and all the creative endeavors in between?
It’s such a good question. We’ve all heard the advice to live in the moment. To be here now. To simply be present, and everything will flow better, be easier.
Being present leads to more happiness and a greater ability to deal with challenges, but even though it’s simple, it’s not always easy to be present.
“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”-Mary Oliver
When I find myself overwhelmed, worried, or anxious (make that “or” an “and” — those three often show up together), the first thing I do is take a deep breath.
Overwhelm and anxiety have a way of keeping our breath shallow, and deep breathing has a way of both calming me and pulling me back into my body. This reminds me to come back to the present moment; to focus on what I can do right now, rather than what feels out of control.
No matter how many times I’ve told myself to “be present,” thoughts and worries inevitably slink back into my mind and pull me away from the moment.
There’s one thing that actually helps me be present: daily meditation.
Being present doesn’t come from simply telling ourselves to do so. It comes from consistent cultivation. Just as a seed needs water to grow, a mindful life needs attention.
When I skip a few days of meditation, I forget to take deep breaths, too. A daily practice, like watering seeds, reinforces mindfulness throughout the day.
While my daily practice changes throughout the season, it’s both the seed and foundation of my days.
It helps me root into what matters, clear space in my body where anxiety likes to show up, and focus on what I’m creating.
It helps me be a better mom, because when I meditate regularly, I’m more patient.
It helps me be a better partner for the same reason.
It helps me move forward on my creative and farm goals, because it allows me to clear away the clutter, pay attention, and show up consistently.
And yes, meditation teaches me to be present.
What matters most isn’t the exact kind of meditation you do, but that you find a practice that works for you and do it consistently.
It doesn’t have to take long — I meditate for anywhere between 7 and 19 minutes a day — but those minutes carry me through the ups and downs of farming, parenting, and simply existing as a human trying to do good in a chaotic world.
I started meditating in college, first doing simple breathing meditations taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, then discovering Tonglen meditation through Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are.
Some of the most powerful meditations I’ve done come from the Kundalini yoga practice.
A few years ago I met Sally Hope, a Kundalini yoga instructor, and signed up for one of her 40-day meditation challenges. There was something about setting an intention for 40 days and having a teacher to support me that brought a level of awareness to my practice that I’d never experienced.
Now I do 40-day meditations a few times a year and have done a few 90-day meditations, too.
Whether I’m doing them on my own or in a group, showing up consistently for 40 days with the same meditation and intention has helped me cultivate an awareness, calm, and the ability to create that not only moves me forward but strengthens my present moment ability.
To learn more about Kundalini meditation, listen to my interview with Sally on meditation, business, and finding success through uncertainty.
Through it all, I’ve learned to be gentle.
Meditation isn’t a practice in perfection, it’s a practice in awareness.
As Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “Wild Geese”: you don’t have to be good.
Just plant a seed, water it, love what you love, breathe deep, and show up to experience it.