A typical day for any of us might include worries about the future, niggles about the past, and an ever-growing list of distractions from right now.
How can we begin to live in the moment?
Life unfolds moment by moment. We can’t jump ahead to the future or step back into the past. Yet we are all skilled at filling our present with thoughts about the past ( why did I let that happen?. What could I have done differently?) or with plans for the future (It’s time to change jobs, I must plan my next holiday.)
Even when we do acknowledge the present it’s often overlayed with our own internal analysis (I’m bored, stressed, worried, tired, excited). But by bringing ourselves fully into the moment, we can make changes that will help us manage our thoughts and fears, and create a better future. Living in the present has far-reaching benefits – for our wellbeing, happiness, relationships and confidence.
The alarms have gone off, and your rushing to get ready for the day ahead, while keeping a running to-do list in your head. You’re on autopilot as you grab your keys and phone thinking about the problems that await you at work. It simply doesn’t occur to you to slow down and appreciate each fleeting moment.
Living in the moment can be a counterpoint to a frenetic life, enabling us to find calm and stillness even in the busiest moments. yet we don’t all have the inclination to stop and saviour each moment, particularly if our current reality is stressful or painful. Its easier to ignore it, to distract ourselves. The present is all around us, but we are experts at avoiding it.
“We lack a receptor in the brain designed to seize the moment: says neurobiologist Pierre Buser. this leaves us dependent on clocks, which have nothing to do with our concept of time. An hour at the dentist, for example, feels like an eternity, while a weeks holiday flies by. We can feel like the present is slipping through our hands, that by the time we tell ourselves to enjoy it, it’s already too late.
When we are children we inherently know how to live in the moment. As we get older, we start to pay more attention to time.
“Most of us work in clock time, where we want to see a result for what we do”. or “We just want to hurry up time so we can move on to the next thing”.
In moments of playfulness, we can still rediscover the spontaneous, carefree spirit of childhood. But often, we are analysing what we have done in the past, and anticipating and choosing what will happen next.
“That’s what minds our minds are built for”
They are built to use our past to navigate the present and future, and to bring anticipation of the future to bear upon current problems. Like navigating your way across a city, you need to know where you have been, where you are now and where you are going.
While practical, this mode of thinking fails catastrophically when it comes to our moods. When we are feeling unhappy or stressed, and start to compare this with a happier past or how we wish we were feeling, it can exacerbate our unhappiness. this is where living in the moment can help. It might bring us face to face with a less-than-ideal present, but if we can sit with this and not colour it with our expectations or disappointment, some of the sting is lessened.
Being in the moment when things are going wrong can be helpful because you you begin to see the way in which the mind taunts you with the past and the future.
“Rather than blaming yourself or thinking you can’t cope, you acknowledge what’s happening”
For example, you might think, “I’m thinking about the day ahead and it’s making me feel bad” so you try to acknowledge this with kindness and care to yourself. And then the question becomes, “How can I be gentle with myself when I feel this? How can I be kind when my thoughts seem to determined to focus on the negative?.
But what if we have the opposite problem – our present is so enjoyable that we fear it can’t last, and prevent ourselves from enjoying the moment to the full?. Even when we are happy, anxiety can creep in about a difficult meeting the next day, or an awkward phone call we’ve been putting off. By poisoning the pleasure of the moment, we are attempting to ease the pain of its possible disappearance.
“Complete happiness is sometimes too much to bear, and we unconsciously choose to weaken it, And so we look elsewhere. We don’t explore our feeling, we distract ourselves.
By making the connection between yesterday and tomorrow, by tracing the thread between what made us, and what we want to make our life, we can fully savour our existence today.
A little exercise to try, to understand mindfulness…
Drinking, a drink of tea or coffee::
Often when we sit with a cup of tea or coffee, it’s not the peaceful interlude we had anticipated but an opportunity to think about our to-do list or replay some slight or hurt we have received or doled out. Instead, try drinking tea (or any other drink) for no reason other than to drink.
Sit down and be with your cup of tea, Explore the tea with your senses, feeling the heat of the cup against your hands, drinking in the aroma (perhaps experiment with herbal teas) and noticing the colour.
Become aware of the movement of bringing the cup to your lips, noticing any physical response in anticipation, experiencing the taste, noticing whether there is an “ahhh” of pleasure or a shudder of distaste (you’re not trying to have a particular experience; you are just being with this experience)
Whatever your mind gets pulled away by thoughts (which it will), just notice where you have gone and then come back, kindly and gently to the body and the sensations you felt.
Really drink your drink.