Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and un-seized. When we are at work, we fantasize about being on vacation; on vacation, we worry about work. We dwell on intrusive memories of the past or worry about what may or may not happen in the future.
We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment or in the now—also called mindfulness—is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. Often, we are so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what is happening right now.
According to current research having a nonjudgmental awareness of the present produces a lot of benefits, including: reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer. Mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses, less impulsivity and reactivity. Mindful people fight less and are more accommodating and less defensive and have more satisfying relationships.
Living in the moment sounds easy, but it will take some effort until you get into the habit. After all, with so much going on around us, it’s easy to get distracted by fears, worries, frustrations, and stress. Is it possible that the simple act of being is not actually that simple? That to really be here now requires practice, like any other skill worth learning? But once you get used to it, though, you’ll wonder how you could have lived any other way!
Developing your attention skill is key: a quality of relaxed alertness that you can progressively sharpen and sustain. In so doing, you overcome the judgments and limitations of your mind-made sense of self from its endless stream of thoughts about past and future, and find an expanse of peace and renewed purpose in each and every moment.
Here is the most fundamental paradox of all: Mindfulness is not a goal, because goals are about the future, but you do have to set the intention of paying attention to what’s happening at the present moment.
What can you do to make “living in the moment” your way of life? Try these steps in order to gain present-moment thinking:
You are not your thoughts. Most of us do not undertake our thoughts in awareness. Rather, our thoughts control us. When you become mindful, you realize that you are not your thoughts; you become an observer of your thoughts from moment to moment without judging them. Living in the now involves being with your thoughts as they are, neither grasping at them nor pushing them away. Instead of letting your life go by without living it, you awaken to experience.
Breathe. When you live in the now your self-control increases. Inhabiting your own mind more fully has a powerful effect on your interactions with others. Here is a simple exercise you can do anywhere, anytime to induce mindfulness: Breathe. There is no better way to bring yourself into the present moment than to focus on your breathing, which lifts you powerfully into the present moment. For many, focusing on the breath is the preferred method of orienting themselves to the now—not because the breath has some magical property, but because it’s always there with you.
Meditation. The very point of meditation is to live in the present moment and accept things just as they are. It’s a practice that you’ll get better at the more you do it. “We’re always doing something, and we allow little time to practice stillness and calm.”, states Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine. In order to feel more in control of our minds and our lives, to find the sense of balance that eludes us, we need to step out of this current, to pause, and rest in stillness—to stop doing and focus on just being.
Go with the flow. Here is a good way to experience the living in the moment feeling—do something you love that makes you loose track of time. Do something where you feel as if your awareness merges with the action you are performing. You will feel a sense of personal mastery over the situation, and the activity is so intrinsically rewarding that it feels effortless.
Enjoy the most mundane tasks. Do them with joy. There are many activities throughout the day that we may call a “waste” of time. Brushing your teeth. Standing in line at the grocery store. Doing the dishes… again. Time is what it is and we are not “wasting” time; we are forgetting to experience it. The next time you are in a “time-wasting” activity, bring your attention to your breath. Settle into whatever it is that you are doing. Notice your feet supported by the earth beneath you. Notice your posture, relax the shoulders, open your heart.
Discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. In every seemingly ordinary moment, a profound depth and beauty awaits your discovery.