Confession: I wasn't present with my son the other day.
We had an entire morning at home, a rare event. Usually on adventures [or errands that become adventures]- we're rarely just home together. And the entire morning, instead of chilling and enjoying, I was completely distracted. He kept trying to get my attention; I kept trying to "play" while really doing laundry and emails, forfeiting precious time with my child.
[Parenthetically, this is not a complaint; in recounting my observations of the machinations of my mind as I'm learning, I'm hopeful that it might be useful in your own work on yourself.]
The main observation [and what makes this the Art of Attention]: when my mind was working so fast, the pace of my 3-year-old's process was too "slow" for my overactive brain, so I felt compelled to multi-task. At a certain point it escalated; he was so frustrated with my inattention that he threw a bin of markers. In reaction, I yelled. Loudly and inappropriately, exactly like I swore I'd never do.
This is happening every day to all of us. Our brain takes over and our heart gets lost. The reality of the moment becomes skewed and we over-react, then regret our actions, then try to justify or rationalize them, erecting walls, blocking those we love.
To transform those moments of over-reaction, instead of punishing our children [or other people in our lives] with our silence or distance after we've over-reacted, offering an authentic, artful apology-- is the answer. Whenever I over-react, true clearing comes when I openly express remorse for my reactivity. It's a big leap but once it's said, it is such an expansion internally. As parents we must offer our children this acknowledgment; it teaches them that fallibility is actually greater availability to the higher understanding of the moment.
When we apologize, we teach them to be more agile in their minds and their hearts. We give them tools to be communicative people, we turn negativity into an opportunity for connection, and we make more art with our expression than we ever imagined possible.
I realized all of this when I went for a run a short while after that morning with my son. When I raised my heart rate, I was able to observe my mind from another perspective. Once I got my heart moving, the whole picture was clear, and I made a commitment to cease multi-tasking [unless absolutely necessary] in future time spent with him. I know that sometimes issues must be addressed, but I see now that engaging my heart's activity slows my mind down enough so I address only what is important right this second. And when I do that regularly, I'm less likely to be reactive in the first place, and more likely to listen and act from my heart.
The take-home here; a concept I've been studying for almost ten years. We have 3 centers in our bodies. 1- Our physical or moving center is our body, our movements. 2- Our intellectual center is our brain, our mental capacity. 3- Our emotional center is located in our belly; our feelings, emotions. When the activity of these 3 centers is balanced, we are living in our hearts.
Example: you're on vacation in your favorite place. You're taking a beach walk every morning (active physical), you're reading a book you've always wanted to read (active intellectual), and you're with someone you love (active emotional). All 3 centers are balanced and your experience is easeful; you're living in your heart.
Real-life example of asymmetry amongst the centers: you're heading to work. You've just read the paper or seen the news (overactive intellectual) and you're feeling nervous about an upcoming meeting later that day (overactive emotional); you haven't worked out in days (lack of physical), and as a result, you have a headache some nausea. Perhaps you can't go for a run, but you can have a stretch at your desk or do some deep breathing discreetly to get your body moving. As soon as do, your body cleanses and opens a bit, so your nervousness can dissipate, leading your brain to quiet down. You've balanced the activity of the 3 centers within you and you're back to your heart, with more balance and ease, less reactive.
Make this more personal. Consider a situation currently vexing to you. Rather than avoiding it, engage yourself with that situation more in the coming days, and practice balancing your centers whenever you're in that context. This will help you see that your thoughts and emotions are sheer forces moving through you. If your brain and/or emotions are overtaking you, more consistent yoga [even a short breathing practice] and/or more cardiovascular activity are in order. And when your emotions are presiding, bring your brain in to employ your rational reasoning to bring some steadiness to your belly. And use your breathing to the work whenever you have no idea what is needed. Just a good full breath will help you find perspective in any circumstance.
This is a huge concept and worth our time and consideration. In almost any context, you can pinpoint with great accuracy which center is in charge, and find a way to engage the other centers in order to balance. And when you forget, your authentic apology is your way of making art of that moment.
May your practice of yoga grant you pause enough to inquire about these aspects of your experience - and consistently operate with your heart rather than your reactions.