I spent “a week in paradise” over the winter holidays… you might think, as I did, that this would be a week full of relaxation and Peace and a general feeling of “everything is great”.  Well it was… some of the time… other times it was a tug of war in my mind and the question for me was who will win, Discontentment or Peace?

Day One: The warm air is like medicine, I am intoxicated and everything feels great!

Day Two: The game of tug of war begins and as I walk down the beach it feels like negative thoughts are pulling at my happiness, trying to yank this happy carpet out from underneath me (…Maybe I should be staying at this hotel instead of the one I am staying in;  Oh god look at all this beauty I have been missing, I can’t believe it has been so many years since I have come; Hey that is a nice sun dress, I would like one of those…)  As I watch the sun set over the ocean I am catching onto this mental game. I am able to remind myself of what I know to be true about the mind:

Science shows that evolutionarily our brains are programmed to scan for danger or problems. Think of yourself living on the plains, and you need to be constantly vigilant to look out for a lion in the distance coming to eat you.  Our brains (thousands of years ago) had to get very good at looking out for trouble. And here we are today with a lean mean trouble seeking machine in our heads.

As I walk down the beach I see what is happening in my mind. I recognize this mental habit and see it for what it is, an evolutionary habit. Once I am aware, it loses its power over my mind and I am able to once again settle into the truth of the moment, which is, there is no lion approaching, nor a modern day problem either (hotels, frequency of visits, dresses to be had…).  Everything is really fine. Better than fine. Everything is great and ahhh… now I feel in touch with that truth again.

Day Two: Yay. 1 point for Peace

Day Three: Cruising along in “my happy place” taking in the sights and sounds, feeling very alive and aware of my experience. I notice each juicy bite as I have my lunch from “taco trucks” on the street. I feel the glorious, warm ocean on my skin as I jump and splash with my ecstatic children. I enjoy the slowness of the day’s events and wandering along the boardwalk listening to live music and appreciating enormous sand sculptures. As the day ends I think I have won the game of tug of war.

Day Three: Peace 2 – Discontentment 0

Day Four: I’m really aware of my thinking. Thinking about how much I am enjoying myself, enjoying my children, husband, the people we are meeting. Lots of happiness and lots of thinking about it.

Day Four: No points tallied – referee is thinking about my thinking

Day Five: Lots of thinking has remained, but not lots of happiness. The day drags on, with so much thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking about my children (why I am not enjoying them as I did yesterday and why are they asking for so many special treats), my husband (why I am not enjoying him as much as I did yesterday and why is he taking so long getting the sun screen), the people we are meeting (you know… more thinking)… thinking, dragging, thinking dragging.

Day Five: Discontentment wins today. 2 – 1.

Day Six: Oh yeah, I’m NOT JUST A BRAIN floating around the world for the purpose of thinking.  I have a body! Oh yeah, I forgot (all that thinking caused temporary amnesia).  And oh yeah, I’m on the beach, there is sand beneath my feet and it is soft and warm and lovely to walk on, lay in, build a mermaid tale out of for my 5 year old!  And an ocean to gaze at that is turquoise blue and waves that sooth my soul as they crash on the beach and so FUN to swim in, surf in, splash and laugh in! I begin to see the world around me without thinking about it, just seeing it, color, shape, texture.

I’m back, I have returned to myself.  Not just my mind but a fuller experience of me and of being.

Day Six: I’ve confiscated the rope, the tug of war is over… Now it’s just me and my family in paradise.

Try this for yourself:

1. NOTICE YOUR THINKING: So much thinking! Whether your thinking is positive “happy” thinking or negative “discontent” thinking, if it is constant, it is still keeping you from being present in your life. Noticing this habit of thinking is a VERY important first step and central to this practice. It all starts with NOTICING.

2. DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: When your evolutionary brain is habitually scanning for trouble, catch this 25,000 year old habit. Recognize that lean mean trouble-scanning machine for what it is and don’t believe it.

3. REMEMBER YOUR BODY: Constant thinking and scanning for trouble make us live as if we are just a brain floating around our life. When you feel stuck in your head, pause for a moment and take in the sensations of your body. How do your feet feel right now? Scan your legs and arms.  Now look around you and see what is here. What colors and shapes do you see? This simple tool can be an amazing way to experience a more full version of you and your world!

Take it slow. These practices are just that…. practices. You can begin to experience and enjoy your life more…one mindful moment at a time!

Good luck!

Rebekkah LaDyne is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she teaches Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga. She teaches group class, individual sessions and retreats.She has published 2 Instructional Yoga and Mindfulness CDs for home practice.