We gain a sense of purpose and meaning by being more present in your life. Our experiences become enriching and vibrant when we’re in the now. We’re all capable of cultivating this deep, real-time awareness, but we get stuck in thoughts about the past or the future. Learn five mindfulness principles that can shift your focus to the here and now. (Estimated reading time: 6 minutes)
“Wherever you are be all there.”— Jim Elliot
The clock ticks away – a reality that can’t be changed, no matter who you are, or what you do.
To most of us, this doesn’t matter much. We simply continue through the motions of our daily routines, trying to get as much done as possible. We mistakenly believe that we have endless vistas of time ahead of us, and so, we tend to take it for granted.
I used to feel this way, but then, life happened – like many others, I witnessed the passing of loved ones, global tragedies, and senseless crime that took victims away in an instant. I said goodbyes to friends, family, and places as I moved through the various stages of my life.
The temporary nature of life became increasingly apparent to me. I could sense that I was merely a traveler, transiting Earth for a limited stint. No matter what I’m going through, every single moment is precious, because each one is a piece of the mosaic of my journey.
Knowing that life has an expiration date awakens us to the fact that we should take in everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Instead of zoning out and being numb to the vibrancy of our present, we can become more purposeful and alive in everything that we do.
People who are in close proximity of death, like those on death row or suffering from a terminal illness, often speak of how different the world appears in their last days. Senses heighten, emotions deepen, and experiences have a marked intensity. Colors are brighter, smells are stronger, sounds are more resonant, tastes are sweeter, and touches more tender.
Knowing that the end is near instantly alters the quality of their awareness. They are no longer burdened by distractions and petty concerns, or the need to constantly be on the go. They have consciously chosen to slow down and just be, so that they can fully immerse themselves to the depths of their experiences.
We’re all capable of cultivating this deep, real-time awareness, but we find it a challenge to do so because of our tendency to live in different mental time zones. We get stuck in thoughts about the past or the future, and this prevents us from living in the present.
Our ‘monkey mind’ (a Buddhist principle that refers to the unsettled, confused and restless aspect of our thoughts patterns), can cause us to feel scattered, and obsess over the loose ends of the past, and the unknowns of the future. Our job is to tame our ‘monkey mind’ by calming it so that we can ground ourselves in the here and now.
Although reflection and preparation serve an important purpose in processing our life experiences, we need to do them in moderation. When we’re able to find a balance, we can soak in the goodness of our present and offer our undivided attention to the activities and the people we care about.
Once we get off the speeding train of life and live in the now, we’ll cruise through with greater clarity, serenity, and positivity. We’ll benefit from nourishing and meaningful connections, a healthy acceptance of our circumstances, and a feeling of ease. Letting go of control and flowing with time fortifies us with the maturity and resilience to face life’s hardships head on.
But how do we slow down and focus on living in the present moment, given the craziness of life? One of the most popular methods is meditation. While this practice is certainly relaxing, and an effective way to get centered, it requires time and dedication. It can be intimidating for those who are not accustomed to it but still want to live a more present life.
The good news is that being in the now does not require a huge commitment. All it takes is a shift in your mindset and what you pay attention to, and mindfulness rituals that will keep you on track.
I’ve put together a list of five steps that you can take to make mindfulness a little easier.
1. Quieten the mental chatter: All of us have an incessant inner dialogue that tends to consume all our attention. This mental chatter can distract us from focusing on what’s going on in our surroundings. We get so caught up in the narratives of this voice that we miss out on what’s happening in real-time. It’s possible to break this pattern by becoming conscious of when this happens and immediately redirecting your attention to the here and now.
2. Engage all your senses: Our lives become a full-on sensory experience when we take in all the sights, sounds, smells and textures that we come into contact with. By doing this, everything around us instantly becomes vivid, vibrant, and bursting with life. We can engage our senses during both the extraordinary moments and the ordinary ones.
Something as simple as walking, eating, driving, or just waking up can become transformative. For example, when you drink a cup coffee, breathe in the aroma, feel the warmth of the cup, taste the bitterness of caffeine, and admire the fluid’s dark hues.
3. Breath and connect with your body: When we overthink, there’s a tendency to be too much in our heads. If this occurs, you can ground yourself by connecting to your body and breathing. This will bring you back to the here and now. Cultivate more presence in your life by focusing on your breath and how your body feels. Engaging in physical activities such as sports, running, yoga, and weight training are excellent ways to build a bridge to the present moment.
4. Work on making an emotional and spiritual connection: We can develop deeper present moment awareness by connecting with our emotions. If you find yourself over-analyzing your feelings and restricting them, try letting go of control and just observe them instead. Let yourself feel, without judging your state. When you’re connecting with another person, be fully engaged in the exchange by listening and responding to them thoughtfully. When you’re out in the world, you can bring your attention back to the present by finding the sacred in what surrounds you. All you have to do is open your eyes to the wonders of nature – the trees, lakes, oceans, and animals.
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh captures this truth in his book Your True Home. He writes:
“Around us, life bursts forth with miracles — a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere.”
5. Have mindfulness rituals: There several simple tasks that we can perform to feel more present. By adding these rituals into your daily life, you’ll increase your moment-to-moment awareness. You’ll also conserve your mental power by letting go of any resistance and flowing with how things actually are. You can try meditation, yoga, journaling, gardening, creative projects, nature walks – any activity that induces feelings of serenity and peace.
During these times, try to stay away from technological devices, because when you’re constantly checking your inbox and social media, your mind will be flooded with information which will interrupt your rested state. It’s hard to stay present when you’re plugged in and consuming data in a frenzy.
Spiritual leader Deepak Chopra says that life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment. The more you’re steeped in present moment consciousness, the more you’ll appreciate life. You’ll enjoy even the little things, such as the crimson hues of a rose bloom, the gurgle of a baby, or the gentle caress of a breeze. You can find magic in everything if you live in the now.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: What are the challenges and distractions you face in your life that prevent you from living in the present moment?
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