The present moment: Seneca used a rule of thumb, learned from Hecato of Rhodes:
Hecato says, ‘cease to hope and you will cease to fear.’ . . . The primary cause of both these ills is that instead of adapting ourselves to present circumstances we send out thoughts too far ahead. – Seneca, Moral Letters, 5.7b–8
How often have you eaten a meal and not tasted it. Or drove to work without thinking about it? Our days often pass us by while our minds are elsewhere.
One of my favorite methods of finding happiness is living in the moment. This is sometimes known as mindfulness. It’s not meditation rather it’s more being aware of your actions and thoughts. Noticing what your senses bring in during your everyday routine. Learning to stay in the present moment, not projecting our desires and fears into the future demands practice.
In this post, I explore ideas that help with this.
Focus on The Present Moment
There are three things we can think about:
- The past. Reliving things we messed up about. Being embarrassed about something we did. Wishing we could have something back that is gone. Living in memories of good times past. Being angry about things done to us. You get the idea.
- The future. Worrying about things we need to do later. Worrying about what might happen, or a big event coming up. Being anxious that things might go wrong, or that we might mess up. Hoping for something wonderful. Dreaming of great things to come.
- The present. What is happening right now, at this moment. What we are doing now.
But why should we do that? What’s wrong with focusing on the past or future? Nothing’s wrong with it. It isn’t wrong to think about past or future. There’s nothing we can do about things that have already happened. Worrying or agonizing about them doesn’t usually do us much good. I’d suggest analyzing what happened, learning from it, and moving on. It’s much healthier.
We also can’t control the future. It’s impossible. We can do things that will change the future, but they might change the future in ways we cannot predict. Or they might not change things at all. And the only thing we can do about the future is do something … now. In the present. So focusing on what we do now is the best way to improve the future. Not thinking about the future. Plans change and we must prepare for that change not by over planning, but by being in the moment and rolling with the punches.
There’s also the problem of missing the present. If we spend most of our time thinking about the past or future, we are missing life itself. It’s passing us by while we’re elsewhere. You can’t get the most out of life unless you learn to focus on being present, while things are happening. Thinking about your childhood, or your kid’s future, is useless if your kids’ childhood is passing by without you being there.
Of course, no one actually lives in the moment all the time — I don’t think it’s possible. Some, with practice, can learn to live in the moment for longer than most of us. But there will always be times when you’re worried about the future or thinking about the past, and forget to be in the moment.
It’s actually pretty hard, if you give it a try. Test it out right now. Close your eyes (after reading these instructions first), and concentrate on your breathing. The sensation of the air as it enters your nose or mouth and fills your lungs, and as it goes out again. If other thoughts come up, acknowledge and be aware of them, let them go and then return your focus to your breathing.
It’s hard, isn’t it? Being in the moment isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes practice. This is how to achieve it.
Relax Into the Moment
We often put up resistance to events and thoughts in life, more than we would think.
If you assess your body right now, I bet you can find some kind of tension or tightness. For me, it’s often in my chest, but sometimes it’s in my jaw, face, neck or shoulders.
Where does this tightness come from? We’re struggling against something. Has someone irritated you, or something frustrated or stressed you? This causes a resistance, a hardening or tightening. Everyone does it, most of the day.
It’s normal, but it causes unhappiness, an aversion to the present moment. What I’ve found useful is the idea of relaxing into the moment.
Most practitioners recommend tensing and relaxing the muscle groups one at a time in a specific order. This begins with the lower extremities and ending with the face, abdomen, and chest. Start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes. Then work your way up to your neck and head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.
What this does is helps us to face the day with less tension and greater contentment. We can face a task with less resistance, and instead do it with a smile. We can notice the physical space around us and start to appreciate it for the unique gift that it is. And in the end, we’re changing our mode of being from one of struggle and resistance to one of peace and gratitude.
This Moment is Enough
Decide that this moment is enough. You don’t need to share it on social media, photograph it, improve it or comment on it. It’s enough as it is. Some may feel that the moment isn’t enough unless we talk about it, share it, somehow solidify it. The moment is ephemeral, and we want solidity and permanence.
What can we do to develop this better relationship with the present moment? Treat it with respect, and give it the attention it deserves. Learn to be present no matter how out-of-control your day is, no matter how stressful your job or life becomes, the act of being present can become an oasis. It can change your life, and it’s simple as most of the problems are in the mind. Sure, there are external forces at work. For example, an uncontrollable job, the stress of kids and chores and interruptions and digital distractions. But it’s how our mind handles those external forces that is the problem.
If you are completely present, the external forces are no longer a problem. This is because there is only you and that external force, in this moment, and other things you need to worry about.
If your job demands that you focus on an urgent task, you can stress out because you have a million other things to do and not enough time to do them. Or you can be present, and focus completely on that task, and now there is only that one task and you. When you’re done, you can move on to the next task.
Social media and other digital distractions don’t interrupt us if we close them. If we need to do email, Twitter, or read blogs, we can set aside everything else and be present with that one digital task.
Being present becomes, then, a way to handle any problem, any distraction, any stressor. It allows everything else to fade away, leaving only you and whatever you’re dealing with right now.
How to Practice Being Present
The method for being present is simple, but it’s the practice that matters most. Most people don’t learn to be present because they don’t practice, not because it’s so hard to do.
When you practice something regularly, you become good at it. It becomes more a mode of being rather than a task on your to-do or someday list.
Practice, practice, and being present will become natural.
Here’s how to do it: whatever you’re doing, right now, learn to focus completely on doing that one thing. Pay attention: to every aspect of what you’re doing, to your body, to the sensations, to your thoughts.
You will notice your thoughts, if you’re paying attention, jump to other things. That’s OK — you are not trying to force all other thoughts from your mind. But by becoming aware of that jumping around in your thoughts. You have found the tool for bringing yourself back to your present task. Notice the jumping thoughts, and come back. Do this once, then do it again. Don’t worry about how many times you must do it, just do it now.
It can become tiring at first, if you’re not used to it. Don’t worry about that. Let yourself rest if you grow tired. Come back and practice again in a little while. It’s not meant to be exhausting. Instead you should notice how your worries melt away and you enjoy your present task much more.
Be joyful in whatever you’re doing, grateful that you’re able to do that task. Appreciate every little movement and tactile sensation of the task. You’ll learn that anything can be an amazing experience, anything can be a miracle.
Practice throughout your day, every day. Meditation is a fantastic way to practice, only because it removes much of the complexity of the world. It allows you to learn to be aware of your mind, and to bring yourself back to the present moment. It’s not complicated, you can ‘do’ meditation anywhere and at anytime. A meditation teacher is useful if you can find one.
Practice, repeatedly, in small easy beautiful steps. Each step is a wonder in itself, and each practice helps you to find that calm in the middle of the traffic of your life.
How do you live in the present moment? Have I missed an important idea? Why not leave a comment below: