Life unfolds in the present. But most of us don’t notice it. We let the present slip away as we worry about the future and ruminate about what’s past. When we’re at work, we dream about being on vacation; on vacation, we worry about the work piling up on our desks. We dwell on intrusive thoughts of the past or fret about what may or may not happen in the future. We don’t appreciate the here and now. Once these moments are past they are gone forever.
We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment—also called mindfulness—is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. I like this definition of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different. Enjoying the pleasant without holding on to it when it changes (which it will). Being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be that way (which it won’t)”.James Baraz, mindfulness meditation teacher.
Research shows that people who are mindful are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses and mistakes. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that can contribute to feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety.
Learning to be mindful involves a paradox. You must not be focused on achieving the benefits because that idea keeps you focused on the future rather than the present. This way of approaching mindfulness defeats the purpose! There are a variety of techniques to help you move toward living more mindfully. The paradox for all is that letting go of expectation is the only way to get there! Here are a few techniques to get you started on your journey.
1.Savoring the present moment.
I recently took a trip to Key West during one of our worst winters ever! Talk about gratitude! One of my pet peeves was to hear many conversations such as , “ I won’t want to go home”, or” I wish I could stay longer” , “ I am only here for one week”, etc. Instead of savoring the beautiful surroundings, warm weather and sun, these folks were wasting their present by worrying about the future. Instead, relish or luxuriate in whatever you’re doing at the present moment.
2.To improve your performance, stop thinking about it.
I’ve struggled to learn the sport of dog agility. I never felt comfortable executing the movements and cues you need to perform. My movements felt awkward. I used to feel like people were judging me. I never knew what to do with my arms or my feet! I wanted to let go, but couldn’t, because I knew I looked ridiculous and so uncoordinated!
“Don’t worry, no one’s watching you,” people always say. “Everyone’s too busy worrying about themselves.” Telling myself that did not help me move better as I was still focused on the mechanics.
I finally had an epiphany a couple of months ago. I need to stop over thinking and just do it. I needed to turn to present moment awareness. Be here right now, just me and my dog. To let go and be myself in the moment. My agility instructor laughs at me when I say I have stopped thinking, but it’s true.
3.Know that you don’t know everything.
Resist being on autopilot! You’ve probably had the experience of pulling into the parking lot at work and realize you have no idea how you got there! You have been driving the same route over and over and you have become lost in your thoughts. This process happens in all areas of our lives. We become mindless because once we think we know something, we stop paying attention to it. As a result, life passes us by without registering. The best way to avoid such mindlessness is to develop the habit of always noticing new things in whatever situation you’re in. This process of “beginner’s mind” creates engagement with the present moment.
Having my iPhone camera always at hand has really helped me notice things even more than I used to. I see everything as a potential “photo op”! I pay close attention to everything when I am out and about. It is amazing what you see and experience once you are really paying attention!
So give these ideas a try. You can become mindful right now just by paying attention to your immediate experience. Notice what is happening right now!