We learn from the past, we prepare for the future, but we live in the present. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes, we get so caught up in what was or what will be that we don’t look at what is. When you think about it, we are most calm and at peace when we are truly in the now. It is where mindfulness comes in, what meditation helps us achieve, and while this feels like one of the buzziest things to advocate for these days, focusing on where you are right in this moment is truly a gift.
The right now you are living in is usually not fraught with problems and concerns. If it is, then you are able to deal with it at that moment. We’re not saying the present is never cause for concern, heartache or stress. There are funerals just as there are weddings, arguments just as there is laughter, break-ups just as there are connections made. The past is not only something we relive with remorse but reminisce about with joy and fondness. The experiences of yesterday teach us, and our mistakes help us grow just as our past triumphs boost our confidence. Tomorrow is a mystery we can look forward to with excitement and delight, and one that helps us prepare and plan effectively. It’s not just a future we lament or lose sleep over in anxious anticipation, or one we fear because it is unknown.
Take a step back, however, and you’ll see that for the most part, where you are right now has no agenda but being where you are. You literally cannot occupy any other time and space than the one you are in at this moment and there is beauty in that. Yet, living in the now — really living in it — is not all that easy when you have found yourself caught up in what was and constantly focused on what will be, but the way to get there is worth every moment of effort put into it. And that brings us to mindfulness.
What is this ‘mindfulness’ of which you speak?
“Be mindful of your surroundings.” It’s an old saying, for sure, and what does it mean? To “be mindful” is to “be aware,” and to be aware literally means “having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge.”
Mindfulness is simply the act of being in the present moment with your total self. This is ancient in theory and practice. It’s a natural response to managing worry and dissipating fear. When we are faced with those things that cause us stress, anxiety, or overwhelm, we stop, take deep breaths, count to ten, or whatever works for us to not stay lost in the “was” or the “not yet,” and bring us back to the now. Whenever we do that — whether we’re 9 or 90 — we take ourselves out of whatever swirl we are in and experience a sense of calm.
Why being present matters
We have a tendency to multi-task — or attempt it, because humans really aren’t capable of true multi-tasking, but that’s for another time — and a propensity for taking care of one thing while thinking about the next or the last, therefore causing us not to be fully engaged in any of them, really. This can weigh on us, stress us out. Being present helps us savor what we have, embrace where we are without judgment. It is a benefit to not only our emotional and mental well-being, but our physical health.
This is not as simple as saying to yourself, “Here I am. I’m in the moment. And… go!” As gifted as we may be at slowing our breath and taking a beat when we are overwhelmed, we can’t count on it to do the trick in our day-to-day life. Learning to consciously and mindfully control our breath gives us the power to focus our attention fully in the present, calming our thoughts and allowing ourselves to release all else but simply acknowledging and accepting the moment.
How to be in the now
Meditation helps, of course. That wonderful way of inhaling and exhaling, and clearing your mind in order to keep completely in the moment. Achieving mindfulness and staying in the here and now goes beyond that, however. There is the simplicity of noticing and acknowledging your emotions when they come at you without attaching any judgment to them. It helps you manage them better and fully embrace rather than deny them.
You can take stock of the sensations in your body or focus on the sights and sounds around you to stay grounded. Taking inventory of the feelings you are experiencing can even help you sleep. Think of it as the same as counting sheep — “I hear the wind, I feel the sheet against my skin, I smell the rain,” and so on.
There’s even the belief that doing something called “urge surfing” helps you curb cravings and mitigate addiction. This works by sitting in the urges that come at you in the moment and paying attention to how it makes your body feel. Instead of giving into the craving and the wish for whatever it is you are jonesing over, you recognize that it will subside, the need will end, and sit in that belief until it does.
Another suggestion is that instead of taking pictures of your food, or an event, or a landmark, or even yourself, experience it. Savor the taste of the dish brought to your table, enjoy the event as it is happening, marvel at the landmark with your own eyes, and simply be at peace with yourself. We tend to lose the actual connection to being in the moment when we are in the moment by constantly trying to capture it to share later, but once it’s gone, it is gone. We will never experience it as it happened again, we will only reminisce and relive, rather than live, which is why we’re here in the first place, isn’t it?
The gift of this moment
No one can “be present” all the time. It is a journey rather than a destination but it is worth pursuing because it is possible to attain from time to time. In doing so, we experience a peace and serenity that keeps us centered and in sync with ourselves, making it easier for us to face whatever comes our way.
The past and the future are a part of us no matter what, but the present is where we live and who we are, not “were” or “will be”. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it ‘The Present.’”
It is yours for the asking. Embrace it.