Carpe Momentum: A Mindful Message
Jim Massey, ND, HANP
We’re all familiar with the adage “Carpe diem,” meaning “Seize the day.” I remember first hearing “Carpe annum” as we approached the New Year’s Day holiday, reminding us to seize the year ahead. These words of wisdom offer worthy advice.
With the passage of time, things change, people are born, friends die, they move to the other side, and those of us who remain are left to ponder it all. The simple reality that none of us are getting out of this life alive is understood implicitly by anyone paying attention. Jim Sensenig’s recent passing hit me hard. It felt like a significant friend, colleague, and mentor had finished his time on this physical plane and moved on, long before I was prepared for his passing. Ram Dass, the creator of Be Here Now, recently passed on, and that left a significant feeling of emptiness in me as well.
These losses made me realize that both my time and that of my fellow baby boomers is becoming significantly limited in duration. The importance of what we do with the time we have left grows more apparent with each passing day. The great Bonnie Raitt reminds us in her classic song “Nick of Time” that “life becomes mighty precious when there is less of it to waste.” I’ve become increasingly aware that my current mission is to focus on this moment in time, right now, and to avoid getting overwhelmed by all the distractions that surround me. To help remind myself to be in the present moment, I came up with a new phrase: “Carpe momentum.”
Every Moment is a Choice
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations; it’s used increasingly as a therapeutic technique. The practice of being present in the moment is a core foundation of every meditation practice. Throughout my life and education, I’ve heard proverbs mentioning how important it is to practice mindfulness. The present IS the present (the gift) or the reminder to “not let the future steal your present.” The Persian philosopher Rumi reminds us to “look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of this moment.”
The more one practices mindfulness, the more this ability to be in the moment becomes a natural, ongoing lifestyle. It encourages more happiness, appreciation, gratitude, and inner peace – all qualities that feed the soul and promote our spiritual evolution.
Mindfulness also conjures the idea of time. One way we are all created equal is that we are all given 24 hours each day to spend as we so choose. I‘ve learned that time is not just hands on the clock and that time is not linear. If we practice being in the present moment (mindfulness) and pay close attention to each passing minute, the hours will take care of themselves and our quality of life will be measurably enhanced. Living in the moment creates more calmness, clarity, and peace of mind, and allows for reflection and the processing of our emotions and thoughts. The real issue here is what we do with the time we’re given.
Some suggest that the very concept of time might be an illusion, designed to keep us controlled through the measurement of it. The only real and true reference point of our existence is this current moment in “time.” Living in our bodies, witnessing our planet through the eyes we see it with, and feeling the sensibilities that only we ourselves feel is all that exists right now. Becoming mired in the past, or always anticipating what the future holds, is a waste of this moment; we have far better things to focus on right now. By staying in the moment, we allow ourselves to truly appreciate the grace we can all choose to feel in our hearts, minds, and souls.
Unfortunately, the tendency of most people is to focus on their outer/external conditions rather than cultivate their inner condition, which is possible to form and nurture into a sense of greater awareness. It may sound trite, but genuine happiness comes from within. Yet reaching that place seems difficult for far too many of us. Many distractions can serve as roadblocks that keep us from finding such peace by taking us away from being centered and in the moment. These distractions require a response from us. We can choose to react to them by allowing them to gain power and to control our present moment. Or, we can choose not to react to such distractions and to remain present in the moment by focusing on what is truly important to us.
Toward a Positive Mindset
Openness and acceptance of both ourselves and others makes us more compassionate, altruistic, and joyful. It is widely accepted that our state of mind determines our level of happiness and wellness. As the Buddha professed, “Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” The positive state of mind created by being in the moment can certainly lead to greater happiness. We can choose the state of mind we hold for ourselves. By changing our state of mind, we also change how we personally experience life. We have the free will to create the life we want, and by living in this present moment we are better prepared to achieve just that.
When we adjust our mindset towards the positive, we change our world as we begin to look at our lives with a new perspective. This simple behavioral transformation has richly empowered those who integrate this practice into their daily routine. Here is a simple and effective practice that I have used personally and shared with many of my patients and friends to use when they are experiencing stress, anger, or the sense that they’re about to lose their cool:
Stop whatever you’re doing. Sit down, relax, and release muscular tension. Begin by taking in a deep, 3-5-second breath through your nose, and follow this with a 3-5-second exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise for as long as it takes for you to gather yourself back into the present moment.
Some folks can return to their center within as few as 3-5 breaths, while others are more comfortable with 10 or more. Remember, even modern technology often works better when you unplug it for a moment in time… and this works for humans too. People and their own particular levels of stress will vary in terms of how long they need to be “unplugged” in order to decompress and regain the ability to process information (including emotions) more effectively. The more you practice this centering technique, the less time it takes to get back to your best self!
In this age of multi-tasking, cell phones, and computers, we are bombarded with an abundance of demands on our available time. This sense of feeling overwhelmed and having to deal with everything on our plate creates a constant chatter in an unsettled and restless mind. Psychologists, Buddhists, and meditators alike refer to this sensation as the “monkey mind” phenomenon. This “monkey mind” distracts us from slowing down, listening, and being more centered. Some will argue (to their limitation) that this monkey mind is a natural byproduct of life in the 21st century and can’t be avoided. In reality, calming the monkey mind requires focused mindfulness. This is simply another opportunity to practice mindful consciousness and do the breathing exercises.
Loving kindness and mindfulness are simply paths that help guide us on our spiritual journey. There are many paths that can lead us to greater peace of mind, love, and joy. One of the best ways to become more in the moment is to establish a meditation practice on a regular basis. Also beneficial are Qi gong, yoga, and other practices that allow one to reside in the present. It’s crucial to begin where one is at. Beginning a practice to be more in the moment can start simply by taking walks alone, with friends, or with your favorite critter. Gardening, knitting, reading, or bike rides around the neighborhood are delightful starting points. Any pleasure that can bring you into experiencing the present moment is a healthy genesis.
The following are just a small sampling of books that offer positive insights into how to better achieve celebrating the moment: Tara Brach offers to us Radical Compassion and Radical Acceptance, Jack Kornfield offers No Time Like the Present, and Ram Das offers great advice on how to be here now. I especially enjoy beginning my day reading daily messages from Anne Wilson Schaef’s Meditations for Living in Balance, because it gets each day started on a positive and soulful note.
The goal of mindfulness and being in the moment is all about waking up and paying attention to the inner processes of our mental, emotional, and physical workings. Benedict Lust, the father of Naturopathy, exhorted the belief that our constitutional health was dependent on establishing one’s mental capacity to tap into our spirit/soul. This is a vital component of naturopathic medicine and can be a fundamental ingredient of being your best self. The spirit/soul only exists in the moment at hand. Seize it and change your whole experience. Carpe momentum!
Jim Massey, ND, HANP, is a naturopathic physician licensed in Oregon. He graduated from NCNM in 1985. Dr Massey co-founded the North Carolina Association of Naturopathic Physicians in 1986. He was a board member of the AANP from 1994-1996, chairing the Public Affairs department. Dr Massey has taught and lectured on clinical nutrition, homeopathy, and mind-body medicine. He and his wife, Karen, founded Mountain Peak Nutritionals in 1996, which specializes in “condition specific formulas®” for healthcare professionals. He co-founded the Naturopathic Psychological Collaborative in 2014 and continues to explore the contributions of spirit, consciousness, and awareness to vital health. He and Karen live in Portland, OR.