A Key to Happiness
The practice of present moment awareness
“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.”
That was what Ralph Waldo Emerson practiced. Sounds good, living in the now. But how can we keep our focus on the here and now when it’s the mind’s habit to wander?
Have you ever looked forward to an event, a meal or a party perhaps, and then, as the actual event is going on, your focus drifts off into another time or place, and though you are at the event, you almost miss the experience?
Like watching a beautiful sunset, you could “see” the sunset, but your mind doesn’t attend to the experience. Maybe you fiddle for your phone for a camera, or think about another time you saw a similar sunset. Or your thoughts take you on a trip – time traveling to what you need to do at work tomorrow, or what happened in a meeting earlier today. What if you simply received the moment as it is, enjoying what is happening while it is happening?
Have you ever been enjoying a great meal, but you look down at your plate and wonder what happened to all the food? You don’t even remember eating it because you somehow got distracted. These are symptoms of being anywhere but here. Its the opposite of mindfulness, it’s mindlessness.
Each one of us has a wandering mind, and the mind’s habit seems to be to focus on the future or dwell on the past. It is a habit that snuck up on us, but we can change it with a little practice.
As a meditation teacher I advocate meditation as a way to enhance your ability to pay attention. It helps to train your attention to dwell more frequently in the present moment and to live more mindfully.
Also, I advise those who find it hard to be here now to practice mindfulness as often as they can to bring their attention back to what is actually happening in their life in the present moment.
Mindfulness means to be completely mindful and engaged with what you are doing while you are doing it, with a non-judgmental attitude.
One of the best ways to do that is to bring your attention back to your breath, as often as possible. This is a practice informal practice for training your attention. The breath is always in the present moment so by bringing your focus back to the sensations of your breath, you are bring your focus back to the present moment. You can do this any time.
It’s good to be here now. In this moment. This is when and where our life takes place, right now. Right now. This moment, you are alive, you are reading these words.
You can practice breath awareness now:
Become aware of your breathing. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body. You don’t have to change a thing, simply become aware. Becoming present in this moment is a practice. It takes time to keep your awareness in this moment. It has to become a habit, just like focusing on the future is a habit.
Your body is always in the present moment too. Some people prefer to bring their attention to the way the body feels, rather than paying attention to the breath. If this is the case for you, then a good practice is to simply scan your body a few times a day with your awareness, relaxing each area as you scan it. Include your face, eyes, tongue, belly, hips, fingers and toes.
If you say, “Well that sounds good but I have so many problems to deal with.” Ask yourself what “problem” you have right now, not next year, tomorrow, or five minutes from now. What is wrong in this moment, really? You might come to find out some of the problems you face are not here, not now, but in your idea of the past or the future somewhere.
Being in the present moment doesn’t have anything to do with complacency, “giving up,” or pretending nothing matters. But it does help to realize that we can’t and don’t take action in the past or in the future, so thoughts about a time other than now can begin to make us feel powerless, and out of touch. The present is almost forgotten, ignored, or simply reduced to the time that passes so you can get to the future.
All that you ever have to deal with, cope with, in real life – as opposed to your mind’s projections – is this moment. In this moment is when you make decisions for your future. It is always in the present moment that you access your creativity, make choices, take action, or set intentions, and make plans. Enjoy yourself, enjoy this moment. This is it your life. Right now.
Practicing being in the present moment doesn’t mean to stop planning or abandon all plans for your future, but instead, set aside a time for planning so it doesn’t take over your whole life. Remember that sometimes life happens when we are busy making plans. So set a time when you can completely get involved with planning, but don’t have that take up your whole day.
In Deepak Chopra’s book, Power, Freedom & Grace, he reminds us to practice present moment awareness. “Accept this moment. You can want the future to be different, but even the act of setting an intention is in this moment. Take action in the present, detach from worry in this moment. Let the intelligent universe handle the details.”
Another way to practice being more present to this moment is to turn a routine activity that normally is only a means to an end, and give it your full attention, becoming completely present and mindful of your activity. Here are four examples.
1. If you have to walk up and down a flight of stairs at home or at work you could try this exercise: As you take the stairs, pay attention to every step, how the body moves, and how your breath feels as you move. Listen to the sounds your body makes inside and out. Be totally present. It will be a different exercise every time.
2. When you wash your hands, give your attention to all of your senses. Listen to the sound of the water, really feel the water on your hands, and notice the way your hands move. Feel the way you stand or bend over, smell the scent of the soap, feel the texture of the soap on your hands, and notice the temperature as your hands go from dry to wet to dry again.
3. When you get into your car and close the door, before you turn the car on, give yourself a minute in silence. Simply sit there. You can close your eyes; this tends to make your other senses more alert. Feel your body, feel the flow of your breath. Feel the temperature of the seat, the air. Become aware of yourself, the one sitting there, your presence, the one who is having the experience. Transitions like this are a good time to stop and become more present with yourself.
4. A perfect time to practice present moment awareness is when you find yourself waiting for an appointment or a friend or in line at the grocery store. You can then focus on your breath, or the way your body feels, or enjoy the scenery rather than worrying about the time. Eckhart Tolle, author of the best-selling books, Power of Now and A New Earth, suggests that we give up waiting as a state of mind.
“Waiting creates a sense that the moment we are in isn’t good enough. When you catch yourself simply waiting – waiting for another time, or something else to happen – snap out of it. Come into the present moment. You can use your breath. Simply be, and enjoy being. If you are present, there is never any need for you to wait for anything.”