As Josh did the dishes, his mind wandered to a memory of lost love. He was happier back then. Regrets washed over him.
Frank checked his cellphone the very instant he was left alone. He welcomed the distraction.
Charlie barely noticed the people around him on the bus. He was busy thinking about the mistakes he made that day.
Francis didn’t take her mind off the clock and looked forward to a drink at her favorite bar. She could practically see and taste the dirty Martini that awaited her.
We spend most of our time preoccupied with the future and mired in the past.
I am not making a judgment about that. It’s just an observation–something about the natural inclination of the brain. Our minds float away, forgetting to notice we are alive and ok-enough to live in the present moment.
The present moment is a reality check. When we land solidly in the here and now, we learn about what is actually happening, without the memories of past experiences shaping our next thought. The present moment is a rest stop, a refuge from the unknowable future and the fears and worries of what fate will befall us.
What does it mean to be in the present moment?
It means I can feel my feet on the ground right now. Can you feel the ground with the soles of your feet right now?
It means I notice each breath I take: In and out…In and out. Can you just notice that you are breathing right now?
It means I see each and every object or person in the room with me right now. I see my husband reading the paper. I see my books. I see my wallpapered walls. I see a scuffmark on my floor. Do you see the room around you? Can you name 3 things you see right now?
It means I hear the sounds in my environment: My neighbor’s voice through the front door of my apartment. The sound of the electric guitar blaring from the den. The street traffic. What do you hear now? Can you name three sounds?
Being in the present moment also means I can sense each part of my body and describe what I feel there. My stomach wants food. My shoulder is sore. I notice I am both happy and sad right now. Are you willing to check in to your body and see what feelings you notice right now?
There are a slew of advantages to bringing your mind into the present moment. It is only when we are in the here and now that we can:
Read the mood, emotion, and intention of others with maximum accuracy.
Know what emotions we are feeling, what thoughts we are having, and have awareness of our actions.
Change our brain with purpose and precision. And change our future from the inside out.
There are some challenges to being in the present moment. We immediately become aware of our emotions and the other things going on inside our mind and body — things that we consciously or unconsciously want to avoid. Most of us struggle with our thoughts and feelings. They feel strange and scary. The thoughts in our head clamor, often telling us bad or scary things or beating us up for our perceived limits and flaws. Consequently, it’s hard to sit with it.
Remember the folks from the beginning of this post? They were not in the present moment. Here’s why and the reasons might surprise you:
If Josh, who got pulled into past regrets, came into the present moment, he’d feel his pride and excitement over his excellent annual work review. He’d also feel the anxiety that arises when Josh feels good about himself. Josh was not even aware that he was blocking these good feelings using past regret as a defense.
If Frank stayed in the present moment instead of turning into his cellphone, he’d get in touch with his terror about being alone. Ironically, his job as a successful and high-powered litigator fools everyone into thinking Frank is fearless.
If Charlie could be in the present moment, he’d have the challenge of managing the shame he felt about being a “loser.” Even in the present moment, he wouldn’t be in touch with the anger underneath his shame and low self-esteem. He was bullied in elementary school for getting good grades.
If Francis, who was obsessed with her martini, was in the present moment, she would feel her fear, sadness, anger, guilt, and shame for too many things to name.
With all the activity inside us pushing us away and causing us to want to avoid how we feel, how do we learn to increase our ability to stay in the present?
The same way a pianist gets to Carnegie Hall. No not by taxi! But by practice.
Learning to be in the present moment takes us on a journey into our truth. We don’t have to go on that journey. We can live in the past. We can live in the future. But to feel alive, we must live in the present moment at least some of the time.
You might ask, “Are there any tools, maps or guidelines to help me to stay in the present moment?”
The answer is Yes!
Meditation is the practice of staying in the here and now of the moment. There are plenty of free, guided meditations as well as apps like Head Space to help. Pema Chodron’s audios are so helpful for this practice as well. In addition, one of the reasons I love teaching The Change Triangle is that it prepares us for and guides us through whatever arises as we try to sit with our internal experience. And of course, an experiential therapist would be a live guide through the process. Suffice it to say, there is no shortage of help. The rest, however, is up to you.
Are you here now?