We all experience not being present — spacing out during a conversation, not remembering the drive home, thinking about work problems during dinner, eating mindlessly, worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, bashing ourselves over some mistake.
To be present is to be aware of the present moment, to be here now, in Ram Dass’ words. This is where life really happens. The past is over, and the future never arrives. The present is all we really have.
Unclouded by the baggage of the past and clear of worry about the future, the present moment has sparkle to it, life. You have more fun. You feel more grateful. You listen more deeply, and your conversations are better. By doing one thing at a time and doing it well, you get more satisfaction from your work. You enjoy life more.
Being present is a skill that most anyone can learn, practice, and master. I’ve definitely gotten better at it, and as with any skill, there’s room for refinement.
I’ve practiced yoga, NLP, the 12 states of attention, peripheral walking, and meditation over the last few years. All of these practices have helped bring me more into the present moment, and over time, I’ve gotten better at it. Not coincidentally, I have more joy in my life.
Here are some of my favorite ways to live in the present moment. For many of these ways, it doesn’t matter where you are. You could be on hold, in line, at a red light, in an elevator, sitting at your desk, or exercising.
- When you wake up in the morning, really check in with your body. How does it feel? Stretch, wiggle, move, and get centered.
- Notice your breath. Which parts of your body move when you breathe? How does inhaling feel different from exhaling?
- Close your eyes and reopen them. What do you see? Close your eyes and reopen them again. What do you notice now that you didn’t notice before?
- Notice how many sounds you can hear. Include the sounds you usually filter out.
- Feel a part of your body. Could be the soles of your feet, the palms of your hands, the top of your head. Just give it your full attention for 30 seconds.
- Eat slowly and mindfully. Don’t do anything else. Just eat and pay attention to the chewing, the tastes and textures, the swallowing.
- Notice whether you have an internal dialogue going on. Listen in! What are they/you saying?
- When you walk, notice your walking. Do your right and left legs feel the same? What about your feet? Are you holding yourself stiffly anywhere? Just notice.
- If an emotion arises, notice it. Where in your body do you feel it? Does it move around or change? How long does it last? What’s the name of this emotion?
- Notice when your attention has moved to the past or the future. Does the past or future feel different from the present? Is it useful at this moment to be in the past or future? When you’re ready, kindly and gently bring yourself back to the present moment.
Notice that these exercises are based on simple curiosity about what your actual experience is.
When you’ve done each one of these several times, you can begin to create new habits to help you be more present.
- When you hear a phone ring, bring your attention to your breath.
- When you walk through a doorway, notice you’re walking into a new space.
- When you see a flower, really see it. (Smell it too.)
Try being more present for a day, week, month, a season, or a year. What might that do for your life?
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