How to Live in the Present
Okay, so you’re convinced that being present moment to moment is a good thing. Now what? 🙂
There are many ways you can train yourself to release the past and stop chasing the future so you can live in the present. This will require a bit of effort in the beginning, but the results will be well worth it.
- Try meditation. There are many forms of meditation, but the most popular one in the West, which is ideal for living in the present, is mindfulness meditation. Start with a simple breathing meditation, focusing on your breathing and not following any thoughts that arise, until you can count 60 breaths without getting distracted.
- Practice mindfulness. As you go about your day, try being more aware of details–the smell of your coffee, birds chirping, the breeze in your hair. Try to push all other thoughts aside that don’t relate to the thing you are focusing on.
- Don’t follow your thoughts. One of the most important lessons that meditation teaches you is how to distance yourself from your thoughts and simply observe them rather than get caught up in them. You may suddenly recall something that upset you last week, or a scary experience from 20 years ago. What you do with these thoughts is up to you. Either observe them and think about what lesson you learned from the event at the time, or simply allow the idea to go back into the vast ocean of your thoughts just like a wave falling back into the sea.
- Give up the myth of multitasking. Multitasking is really a misnomer. The truth is that the brain can’t work on 2 things at once. All it can do is switch back and forth between the 2 or more tasks really rapidly. What this means, then, is that at the end of an hour, if you’re working on two things, you will have gotten 30 minutes of work done on 2 tasks. And they are likely to be half finished. It’s really more efficient to work on one thing at a time and complete it, before turning your full attention to the next chore on your list. More importantly, however, multi-tasking tends to lessen the quality of your work.
- Don’t follow your fantasies. This tip is not meant to say never daydream 🙂 Daydreaming has value. But, when you’re at work, spending your time thinking about what you are going to do with friends and family at the weekend, takes you out of the momentary task. Daydreaming and envisioning good times and goals is its own task.
- Stop thinking the grass is greener on the other side. Many people fail to live in the now because they are constantly chasing after the future life they want and not making the most of the present life they have. It can be easy to envy others, or to try to keep up with the neighbors. But more yis not always better. The more you have, the more cluttered your life can become. It can get focused on things rather than people, or your own self-development. For example, maybe you admire your neighbors lovely lawn. So you work on yours, but it requires effort and ongoing expense. Which can be okay if you enjoy the work, but not if you’re only doing it for the external “achievement.” Maybe you match the beauty of their yard, maybe you don’t. In the end, it’s all just grass. 🙂 Make the most of the life you have, and love the life you live. It’s unique to you, because you are unique.
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. If discontented thoughts start to creep in, think of 5 things you are grateful for in your life. You can even find things to be grateful for related to ostensibly negative circumstances! For example, you could be happy that your mother is such a difficult person because she helps you practice patience, or thankful to your boss for showing you how NOT to run a company. You can also focus on positive things in your life, of course, such as your wonderful spouse or the joys of chocolate.
- Just do it (and pay attention while you do it). Whenever possible, don’t put off until tomorrow what you really want to do today. Carpe diem, as the Ancient Romans said. Seize the day. This is not completely practical–which is why I said “whenever possible” 🙂 But it still applies as good advice, as something to implement as much as possible.
- Set your intention for the day and for each action. This may sound like goal setting or living in the future, but it is actually a way of focusing the mind to keep it going in the direction you want it to. Whether your intention for the day is to get through it without strangling your boss, ( it’s a start) or to benefit your community by heading off to the nearest soup kitchen to help cook the daily meal, setting the intention gives you a bit of momentum.
- Stop judging. Humans tend to slap labels on things, good, bad, black, white, up, down. This is one of those things, in my own opinion, that cannot be completely abandoned. It’s only human to like or dislike situations and people and events. The key is to not be too attached to the judgement. For example, if someone is rude to me, I am likely to notice and judge the treatment as unpleasant. But if I can just notice and then let it go, it’s a lot easier to be happy than if I ruminate over the rudeness and spend a lot of mental effort and time on that judgement.
- Always begin where you are. The path of self-improvement can be a long and winding one. If you are lacking in self-confidence, you may feel like a complete mess that needs a great deal of work. Start by choosing just one area of your life (maybe two) to focus on being more present and mindful. If you struggle with overeating, for example, studies have shown that eating without the TV on ensures you focus more on the food you are eating, and eating slowly, chewing and really tasting every mouthful, will make each meal more satisfying and leave you less likely to overeat.
- Your best is good enough. You don’t have to be perfect. No one is 😛 Learn to enjoy the journey, appreciate your effort, and accept the occasional slip up.
- Stop watching the clock all the time. Of course we have to stick to certain time constraints–like when to show up for work or an appointment, but habitual time checking is not conducive to enjoying the moment. If you need to keep track of time to get somewhere but want to enjoy some mindfulness, set a quiet timer to free your mind to be present.
- Go with the flow. This is hard for many people. Most of us try to re-direct the river. We might have some success, but the effort is exhausting and the stress of trying to hold everything together so it doesn’t all just wash away can be overwhelming. Learning when to let go is an important lesson. As the famous quote by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Divorce yourself from media. Have you ever forgotten your cellphones when you left the house. Felt weird, didn’t it? Cellphones are very useful and helpful. But, as with most things, too much is not the best thing studies have shown that they eat up a lot of time with talking and texting, checking emails and so on. Cut the calls and cable and try to have a technology-free weekend in which you get away from the computer, mobile, DVDs, video games and so on, and get back to basics.
- Make regular time for loved ones. One of the greatest things you can ever give to a loved one is the gift of yourself through the quality time you spend with them. If you’re all acting more like roommates than a married couple or a family, schedule family time regularly and enjoy it moment by moment. Dinner is a great time to connect, catching up on each other’s day and discussing a range of interesting topics, which fosters open communication and enjoyment of the present moment. Studies have shown that families who eat dinner together regularly are a lot closer than those who do not. They have also shown that the children in those families tend to be a lot less likely to experiment with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and sex. There’s really no greater gift we can give a loved one that to be present for them, listening supportively and relaxing together, even if it just for a few moments each day. As American cartoonist Bil Keane said, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”
The Gift of Being Present
Being present is a gift that will keep on giving, to your family, and above all, yourself, as you discover the power of living in the here and now.
So, what’s the best way of practicing living in the now? Glad you asked 😉
Mindfulness Meditation for Living in the Moment
Mindfulness meditation is the most common form of meditation in the West because it is easy to do and gets rapid results. It can also be done at any time, anywhere, as often as you like. It can best be defined as a state of active, focused attention on what you are feeling or doing in the present.
To begin practicing mindfulness, start small. Check your body to see if there is any pain or tension. Notice the feel of clothes against your skin. As you go through your day, don’t just wolf down your food, stop to savor the flavor. Don’t just gulp down your coffee. Notice the aroma, the warmth, the feel of the mug in your hand etc…
When you become mindful, you switch from doer to observer and can watch yourself from a distance, as it were. You can stop following your thoughts as they jump around in your head, but simply enjoy the experience in the here and now. Whether stopping to listen to birds singing in the trees or giving your complete attention to the mundane chores of washing the dishes rather than zoning out, mindfulness helps make the world come more alive, moment by moment.
All forms of meditation have many health benefits, such as:
- Reducing stress
- Boosting the immune system
- Easing chronic pain
- Lowering high blood pressure
- Improving the quality of life in people who have chronic illnesses, even cancer
- Improving mood
- Reducing anxiety
Even a few minutes of mindfulness can make a big difference. Those who practice mindfulness have been shown to be happier and more empathetic, while also being more secure within themselves. They tend to have higher self-esteem and are more tolerant of their own ‘weaknesses’ and a better judge of their true strengths.
Focusing awareness on the here and now rather than past or future cuts down on the ‘automatic’ reactions many people engage in as so-called coping mechanisms. Things like overeating, smoking tobacco, or indulging in other forms of impulsive or risky behavior. The power of now helps people be less defensive and feel less like a victim and more in control of their own lives. They also manage their emotions better, being less argumentative, which helps them to form a wider circle of happy, supportive relationships.
Living in the moment can be paradoxical, however, because you will be starting the practice under the assumption that you will gain those kinds of benefits from it in the future. So rather than push for a better future, learn to enjoy the moment and you will soon notice how much smoother your life is flowing. It’s like learning to let go in order to keep what you want most. It’s learning to control your mind in order to gain freedom from the negative thoughts that have been holding you back.
If this sounds like just the opportunity you’ve been looking for to get out of a rut, try it now. Scan your immediate area to look at something beautiful. Don’t look around the room and think. “Oh darn, better get up to dust it.” Instead, look at the dust, the way it dances in the sunlight streaming from the window, the patterns it forms. Next, enjoy the sunlight. How does it look? How does it feel on your face?
Mindfulness meditation helps you feel at one with the universe. If you feel at one, there is no separation between self and other, which means more harmonious relationships and a sense of connectedness. This connectedness can be deep… can make you feel supported and as if you are never alone– even if you are by yourself in the middle of a wilderness. I had a poster in high school that said, “I’m never lonely because I’m never alone.” Yeah. It’s a great feeling. 🙂
Focusing on the present moment is like a mini-vacation from all the thinking and overthinking most of us tend to do. Mindfulness draws our attention back in from all the distractions that surround us every day. It keeps us in the moment so we don’t dwell on the past, however terrible or great it was. There’s no need for nostalgia when the present is embraced and enjoyed. And the main requirement for that is simple mindfulness.
Mindfulness also cuts back on worry because it builds confidence that you can cope with anything that comes your way. Problems that used to seem like obstacles are now just challenges to be overcome. You’re more in control of your mind, and therefore more likely to make smart decisions, not impulsive ones.
If you feel your emotions trying to take over, breathe and examine at them. Where are they coming from? Is it a reaction to the moment, or something triggering a feeling from the past? Breathing will focus your attention on the present moment and long deep breaths will calm you so you can deal with the issue skillfully.
Finally, being mindful builds your confidence because your focus on what you are doing will give you a sense of skill and mastery. If you’re washing the dishes, try to wash each one with your full attention, and admire how you do it. Think how rewarding it is to have clean dishes, and how fun and effortless it can be. Blow bubbles, splash, have fun with it. If you stop treating it like a chore, it can be an enjoyable task.
Life is all about choices. A calm, peaceful mind is a mind that is open to available choices and is able to choose with wisdom versus emotions– such as anger. You can act through careful consideration, not fury or panic. Practice mindfulness several times a day every day, and see how enjoyable each moment can be. Cut the bad habits that don’t serve your higher self, and cultivate new ones that will help you live your best life as you discover the power of living in the now.