I leave my house and walk to the train station, get on the train, get off at my stop in Central London and walk to work.
That is my commute to work. I’ve done it countless of times yet the details in between are all a blur. This is because I am on auto pilot; I’m thinking about work, what I’m doing after work or day dreaming. I walk the same route, catch the same train it’s all ingrained in me, and I don’t need to think about it, I automatically know what to do to get to my office.
Thoughts and Daydreaming
On my next commute, while waiting on the train platform I decided to observe what was around me, and not succumbing to the temptation to entertain myself by looking at the news on my phone. I turned my head to the left and saw my fellow commuters, most of them had their head angled at 90 degrees facing downwards — they were on their phones, the remainder were listening to music or just standing around, most likely in thought. My observation lasted for about 10 seconds… Suddenly one of my own thoughts came to life, taking a front and centre seat on my attention. It was about a meeting I had upcoming in the morning; before you know it I was absorbed in thought again.. I no longer paid attention to what I could see, I was playing out the meeting in my head.
I sat on the train and thought to myself, my thoughts really consume a lot of my time. During my commute if I’m not on my phone or reading a book, I’m day dreaming or thinking. Even when I’m on my phone or reading a book sometimes I zone out and drift into thinking! What if I got outside my head, paused, soaked in the moment and literally see what is out there.
Getting Out of My Head
I set myself a low target to achieve. I aimed to spend 30 seconds thought free, I felt this was short enough that it was achievable, I should be able to do it anywhere at anytime. Also it was long enough to test detaching from thoughts.
The next day, I was on the train platform and started my 30 seconds, spending 100% of my attention looking around and appreciating my surroundings. Noticing my fellow commuters, the blue sky, the soft breeze. A few seconds in thoughts slowly started to creep in, as soon as I was aware of them I pulled my attention back to my surroundings.
I discovered a few things with this experience. It was difficult to maintain the 30 seconds without thought. Thoughts would drift in and out of my consciousness. I had to be extra present and focus my attention through my senses to not be captured by my thoughts. Focusing on looking at the details of the clouds in the sky, the different shapes they all were. Focusing on listening to the birds chirping, the sensation of the light breeze on my cheeks.
I found the practice itself quite useful as I was building the habit of giving my mind a break from mental activity and just enjoying the moment — even if it was for a few seconds. It made me much more aware of my thought patterns, and aware of how much I think and don’t even realise I’m thinking.
Once I continued this practice over the next few days and weeks, I started to notice my environment a lot more. I would do it during my walk to the station and I took notice of the trees which I never paid any attention to before. Paying attention to the form of the trees, the colours of the flowers and leaves. I thought to myself wow there is so much I have been missing that is right on my doorstep. I started to appreciate the simple things.
30 seconds on an escalator, listening to the noise of the motors working hard to take me and my fellow passengers up to the next level. I’ve never ever paid attention to escalator motors before, I am grateful to whoever invented the escalator :)
Whenever thoughts came in, once I noticed them I concentrated on my listening, seeing, physical feeling to evade being trapped by them.
One of the biggest benefits I have taken from 30 seconds is when I am angry, stressed or anxious. I do my 30 seconds and it helps me to get out of that state. Sometimes I need to do it a few times to get out of the negative emotion. Why is this different than the usual advice of ‘taking a breather’? Because usually when you’re ‘taking a breather’ your mind is still running on overdrive, you are still captured by the thoughts and emotions. Taking 30 seconds in that moment you are consciously removing yourself from the mind madness.
Of course actually breathing helps too. I have incorporated that in my 30 seconds. While I am observing my environment I take deep breathes in and out, this helps to relax my body and mind. If you are going to take deep breaths, I highly recommend learning how to properly breathe, you can find tutorials online.
It will take practice and you will get better the more you do it. It’s like a muscle you need to regularly exercise. In the beginning it might feel strange or uncomfortable, that is OK, it is because you are so used to being in your head that being out of it feels weird. Thoughts will still come through, become aware of them and when you do, focus on your environment through your senses.
30 Seconds Anywhere, Anytime
I started to expand my 30 seconds to all areas of my life:
30 seconds while showering — I realised I am totally daydreaming and in auto pilot when I shower, so I started to give showering my attention. Feeling the texture of the water drops and the temperature as the hit and glide down my skin, listening attentively to racket the water makes when it comes out of the shower head.
30 seconds while eating — I’m a fast eater so during these 30 seconds I slow down and really taste the food. Look at the food on my plate and admire the colours and smell, when I put the food in my mouth my palette is given 100% of my attention to fully taste the different flavours and ingredients.
30 seconds entering my home — Normally when I get home and close my front door, I go into the routine of taking of my shoes and coat then getting changed. Now when I close the door, I stop and pause to admire my home, absorbing the presence of my home through my senses. Listening to the clock ticking, see the motionless walls and feeling the warmth of my home.
Give it a try, give yourself 30 seconds of rest from thoughts. It’s simple, can be done anywhere, at anytime. Those 30 seconds will give you clarity, presence and peace. 30 seconds is not long in the 24 hours we have each day, try it next time you are going from A to B.
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Love and light x