Do you often find yourself wishing things were different than they are? Worrying about the future, reminiscing about the past, or imagining you are living someone elses life? What if the secret to happiness is not something you get, some place you might arrive at someday, but rather allowing, accepting, and embracing what you are experiencing right now? If you feel like you are missing out on life because you are always thinking about the past or future, here are a few ways to be in the present moment.
1. Give Thanks
The mystic Meister Eckhart summed it up with his famous quote If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life isthank you, it will be enough. Expressing gratitude plants us squarely in the present moment. Rather than regretting or fantasizing, we are in awareness and appreciation of the gifts of the now.
The simplest way to connect to the present moment is to become aware of your breath. Not as some concept or physiological process, but as the rhythm of your life. We are born with an inhalation and die with an exhalation. Breath is our most constant companion, and our most immediate doorway to acceptance of the moment.
Breathing deeply opens us to experience our true feelings in the moment, whether they involve laughter or tears. It opens us to vulnerability and the ability to feel our true feelings. We need a deep connection to the breath to be spontaneous and responsive. If you can breath deeply and keep your attention immersed in your breath, you will be much more aware and accepting of this present moment.
3. Pay Attention to the Little Things
We think presence is some big concept, some destination we might arrive at in the future. But presence is found in the small moments of life.
Direct your attention to what is actually happening in the present moment. This is usually easier to do if you start with external sense perception. Notice what you can hear, smell, and feel in this moment. Release any story or value judgment about what you perceive, simply notice. Paying attention to little things like the quality of sunlight coming in through a window or the texture of your clothing on your skin can help you come more fully into this present moment.
4. Move Your Body
Sometimes it is impossible to stop the mind spinning without moving the body. Moving the body through dance, Yoga, martial arts, or exercise releases physical and mental tension. It can calm the nervous system and interrupt the mental thought loops that tend to keep us stuck in the regret or fear. Moving the body connects us more fully with our breath and all the physical sensations of the moment.
5. Appreciate Nature
If you want to learn how to be completely present, watch a squirrel gathering nuts. Their combination of agility, speed, and responsiveness is only possible because of their focused attention. Let the trees teach you how to receive and surrender, while still standing tall and strong. Experience how each bird sings freely and fearlessly, even if it just flew away from your approach a few moments ago. Listen to the streams song to discover what it means to go with the flow.
When we are stuck in the past or future, we miss the beauty of this moment. How many times have you gotten to the end of a meal and realized you did not actually taste any of your food? Or made it all the way home from work and been unable to recall a single detail of your commute?
Life is lived in the little moments. Bring mindful attention to activities you might usually gloss over, and you will begin to enjoy all of life more. Savor each bite you take. Notice the people, sights, and sounds of your daily journey to work. Enjoy and appreciate every task and routine of life with fresh curiosity and presence.
7. Talk to Your Loved Ones
When people at the ends of their lives are asked what matters most, they usually say it is the people that they loved. Our families and friends will all be gone before we know it, lost to travel or time. Make it a priority to connect with your loved ones regularly. Do this without agenda or expectations, simply to enjoy hearing their stories and sharing yours. Savor each moment you can share with someone you care about, and let it be an opportunity to practice mindful awareness.
Living in the moment is one of the major keys to happiness. It reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, increases our capacity for pleasure, and supports our overall well-being. The paradox is that we cannot practice presence for the benefits that just makes it another future-oriented goal. All we can do is remember our breath, and bring our attention back to savoring this present moment again and again.