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Staying present

December 9, 2015

We live in a highly distracted culture (at least here in the U.S.). The number of things vying for our attention in any given minute is in the hundreds (truly, if you look around right now there are hundreds of items in your view asking you to notice them, and some are really powerful and beckon, demand you to act on what you see every second).  It’s a culture that places great value on thinking ahead and planning for the future, and also spends a lot of time looking at and either condemning or romanticizing the past.  

 

The whole mindfulness movement is really gaining hold more and more, thankfully (see resources below).  It asks us to be present.  That’s all.  “That’s all” is far easier said than done, however, as most people will attest who have struggled to learn how and make it a regular practice and way of living.  But it will work, if only you decide to focus on it, and return to it again and again.

 

I was talking with the father of a nine-month old, and he was recounting how he was watching a movie with his wife, when he realized he was thinking about the next day and all he had to get ready for his day, his daughter’s needs, what his wife’s schedule meant to his schedule, and he wasn’t even watching the movie or aware of his wife next to him.  He said, “I realized what was happening and said, ‘what the heck am I doing?  I’m not even enjoying what’s happening right now or aware of anything, I’m so far down the rabbit hole of planning and worrying.’”  He had attended a lecture earlier that day on concepts in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy  (which I highly recommend and use in my coaching practice), and a major point of it was that we have to stop and be present if we’re going to manage anything in our lives well and to actually enjoy the moments that make up our lives (there's a lot more to it than that, of course).  When he thought about the lecture, he said he pulled his mind back to the movie, noticed his wife’s hand in his, and made himself focus only on the present for ten minutes.  He spoke of how instantly relaxed he became, and how much he then enjoyed his evening, and that he knows he has to stop living in the planning stage and the future so constantly.  I suggested he put planning into his calendar to help with this, give it a designated time routinely so his busy planner brain knows it will get to play without interruption at a specific time.  He liked that idea.

 

I am often guilty of frequently spinning stories in my mind about both the past and the future. Some of it is healthy, I think, as we certainly can learn from the past, come to peace with the past by reframing the story, and get ideas for what we want for the future, as what’s important to us reveals itself to us in our imagining.  It’s a problem when we spend most of our time in our minds this way, though, forgetting we have a world, a body, people in our lives, our values to focus on and enjoy right now.  

 

That’s where mindfulness and reminders to be in the present moment are so critical for us today.  When we attend to this moment, right now, with all our senses, time drops away, our bodies can relax, and we realize how okay we are, despite all the protestations of our busy minds and fearful inner lizards who try to tell us all is gloom and doom.  I write "stay present" in my planner and on sticky-notes to remind me to stop and take breaks, take it all in, breathe deeply.  It is becoming more automatic, but I still need the prompts.

 

Take a moment right now.  Stop what you’re doing.  Close your eyes and tune into your breath, your body, the temperature, the sounds around you, the smells, the feel of your clothes, the chair you’re sitting on. Open your eyes, and notice what’s around you.  Colors, patterns, textures, items, people, the room.  Take a break from doing and just be.  It’s not a waste of time.  It gives you a break that ends up energizing you. If you’ve been sitting for a while, stand up and notice what your body tells you.  Are you stiff, do you feel like stretching, going for a walk?  Notice and if you can, continue your awareness by walking, and repeating the inventory of your senses.  Notice things you had walked by a hundred times as if for the first time.  If you want to take it further, feel gratitude for all you have in your life, in all these sensations and things and surroundings that are too easy to take for granted.

 

All of this can be done in a matter of minutes, or you can make it be a longer experience if you want to experiment further with staying completely present and not returning to planning, problem solving, living in the past or imagining the future.  Your subconscious will continue to work on these things for you, please know, and frequently, if not almost always, you will come back to what your mind was focusing on with better clarity and insights.  

 

http://www.freemindfulness.org/download

 

http://www.mindfullivingprograms.com/whatMBSR.php

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201302/6-mindfulness-exercises-each-take-less-1-minute



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