I took up yoga in the early 70s, when many people were talking of “dropping out”, of leaving their job and starting an alternative lifestyle. Tony, my yoga teacher, was fond of saying to those who asked his advice on whether they should “drop out”, would you not consider “dropping in”? What he meant was that most people were not actually in their job or even in their own life, but were spending most of their time in their head.
The concept of doing things for their own sake is of course a central concept in mindfulness and yoga. In yoga they call it “being one pointed” where you are whole heartedly engaged in what you are doing, rather than being divided, with one half of us doing the job, and the other half either looking on critically or off day-dreaming or worrying about something else. Yoga exercises were designed as a form of mental training, to keep your mind with what you were doing.
We all have times when we are naturally absorbed in what we do : it could be doing the garden, sport or other physical activity, listening to or playing music, climbing a mountain, solving a complicated situation, making sense of seeming unrelated data, etc. The psychologist Mihaly Csziksentmihalyi named this state of total absorbtion ‘flow’ and noted that it tended to occur in activities that were well matched to our strengths: too much challenge, and we get frustrated, too little and we get bored. He had buzzers that interrupted people several times a day to find out what they were doing at that time, and how they were feeling, and found that people were at their happiest when they were in flow, which for most people, surprisingly, tended to occur more when they were at ‘work,’ rather than at leisure. (I am putting “work” in inverted commas, because I firmly believe work can be play )
But what about if you’re there saying, well dancing or skiing does it for me, but you only dance once a week or ski once a year?
That’s where the real art of ‘dropping in ‘comes in. What about ‘dropping in’ on some of the mundane tasks that we do on a daily basis? How about in the middle of a busy day, when we are doing one task while mentally counting up what else we have to do, and getting annoyed because this present task is taking too long, just stopping the mental stuff, and totally focus on what we are doing at this instant? Maybe listening to that child who is “interrupting “ you?
Only last week, a friend of mine, a fellow yoga teacher, was telling me how in the middle of a very hectic week, he used doing the washing up as a way of switching in and recharging. He really focused on looking at the dishes as they came glistening from the water, listened to the light clinking as he placed them in the rack, felt the warmth and texture of the sudsy water and the circular movements of his own hands, the smell of the washing up liquid etc. When he finished the rather large wash up after the family dinner each evening, he felt calmed and recharged.
The surprising thing is that anytime we ‘drop in’, anytime we are 100% present, mind and body in the same place, we connect with our own natural energy, which has a re-vitalising effect. The activity itself doesn’t matter, it’s the actually doing what you are doing that is the key.
Over, the years, I have recommended to people to drop in, in all sorts of situations.
For instance, in dealing with people who had a lot of social anxiety, often to the point of social phobia, I discovered that most of them were so worried about what other people would think of them that it took up about 90% of their mental energy, with only a tiny proportion of them actually free to engage with the other person. Along with mindfulness training in neutral, non-emotional techniques, I also got them to practice “being there “ in the very situations that provoked the anxiety. Instead of focusing on the endless rumination going on in their head, I asked them to “drop in” , to pay attention to the other person and focus on making them feel more comfortable. Many turned around their social anxiety very quickly, and in fact found that they were rather enjoying social situations.
I often find it helpful to start with one or two things you do every day. For instance, last year a mother in one of my courses, who found that putting her child’s bedtime was one of the most fraught times of the day. She came in from a busy working day, rushed through getting a meal on the table, and the last straw was the evenings she had to put her little girl to bed. She decided instead of putting her energy into how this was all too much at the end of a busy day, to actually focus on really reading the bedtime story. After a few weeks of doing this, she found that bedtimes became one of her favourite times, and she really developed a new closeness with her daughter-not surprising really, as you can only connect with another person when you are actually there!
So what opportunities to drop in are you going to grasp today?