This is a condensed version of the October 2020 “Go With the Flow” column in Today’s Veterinary Business co-written with my friend and colleague Trey Cutler, JD.
Flow is a time of full awareness and aliveness when our inner critic goes silent and we are left with a deep sense of being connected to our bodies and senses. We are fully “in the moment” in pursuit of an important goal. Think of flow as mindfulness in action which involves non-judgmental acceptance of “what is,” including our thoughts, perceptions, feelings and body sensations.
We know that becoming more mindful and present is a proven strategy for developing resilience and for counteracting stress, distraction and busyness. The problem, though, is that as the evidence supporting the case for mindfulness grows more overwhelming, so does the prospect of trying to fit mindfulness practice into our already busy schedules and lives as veterinary professionals.
Traditional “monk-style” approaches to meditation can be a challenge for many of us to regularly practice. So, a more integrated approach might be an appealing alternative. This involves finding opportunities throughout your day to shift your attention from ordinary states of stress, distraction and mind wandering to what’s happening right here, right now in the present moment.
Miles are My Meditation
Since 2016, I have increasingly become an avid cyclist and unsuccessful monk-style meditator, so it made perfect sense to me to explore alternate approaches to mindfulness practice. Earlier this year I begin to wonder, “What if cycling could be a legitimate way to practice mindfulness and, therefore, have more access to experiencing its benefits and more consistently accessing flow?”
For me, cycling is about awareness. The bike gives me so many different things to focus on. Things like my emotional states and physical sensations, the beauty of my surroundings, the direction and velocity of the wind, the volume of traffic on the road, and the operating condition of my bicycle. All of these bring me back to the immediate moment. And this is what mindfulness practice is all about!
When I find myself outside of the present moment, such as ruminating about past events, worrying about the future or being emotionally triggered by immediate reactions to my current circumstances, I’ve found Dr. Elisha Goldstein’s “breathe and expand” technique (it’s explained in the TVB column) to be most useful.
I’m learning that the awareness I develop on my bike can help me detach from entrenched thought patterns, relax and view things more objectively. No value judgment, no good-bad, no right-wrong. “I’m riding into a strong headwind. This hill is steep. It’s hot outside today.” All are accepted. These might not sound much like traditional approaches to meditation, but a good ride is one of the best ways I’ve found to focus, clear my head and reconnect with myself and the world.
Discover Your Own Path
So, if you, too, have struggled with integrating monk-style meditation into your daily routine, there’s hope. If cycling isn’t your thing, though, no worries. There are other options unique to your preferences and lifestyle.
Ask yourself, “In what enjoyable activity could I intentionally and mindfully practice redirecting my attention back to the present?” Perhaps the “breathe and expand” technique is something you could experiment with? Cooking? Running? Gardening? Do-it-yourself projects? Listening to live music? Hiking? Being in nature? These are just a few possibilities to consider.
So, what’s your unique path to practicing and expanding your capacity for mindfulness and the experience of flow?
Personally, I have been able to find mindfulness through intense workouts/hiking. Being able to work through the stress that I’m feeling allows me to then feel settled in the present moment, and I absorb less stress associated with particular situations. Thank you for the perspective that any activity that grants one the ability to obtain a sense of presence is amazingly beneficial for our health and well being.
I have two areas where I can practice mindfullness. Kayaking on a serene lake enjoying the sights and sounds of nature and quilting. Being able to create something fun or beautiful allows me to be in the moment and I worry less about mistakes as when it is all done, the mistakes don’t matter and the quilt is still functional.
It is difficult for me to practice mindfulness on a regular basis. That being said, I have found mindfulness in working out and mountain biking. I find that those two activities completely take my mind off any worries I have from our clinics, as well as, in my own personal life. Thank you for reiterating how important it is to take the time to focus on personal mindfulness, even if it feels we don’t have the time to workout or take the time that day. I will definitely start prioritizing daily mindfulness.