We spend so much of our lives planning for the future or replaying the past that we miss the only moment we ever have, the present moment. It’s never the past or the future, those are just thoughts in our head; it’s only ever right now. The present moment is the only moment we can ever truly experience real joy or connect deeply with others.
Some of us tend to spend a lot of time going over events that happened in the past. We may replay difficult conversations or interactions that happened in our personal or professional relationships. Or we may ruminate on our perceived failures, whether they be large or small, at home or at school or work. We can also become preoccupied by how we feel others have failed us or on other hardships we have endured such as divorces, illnesses, and deaths. We begin to feel defined by our pasts and we carry the weight of them with us.
Many of us also worry about problems that never happen and plan for futures that end up very different from how we had originally planned. The difficult things that do happen in our lives we usually don’t anticipate. When we spend so much of our time worrying and planning our futures, we miss out on what is happening right now. We develop strong habits of compulsively inhabiting hypothetical futures and so when that future comes, we automatically start living for the next future and so on and so forth until our lives pass us by.
Practicing mindfulness brings us back to the present moment where our true power lies.
One of my favorite sayings is that our mind is a wonderful servant but a poor master. Our minds produce thoughts like our mouths produce saliva. It’s nothing personal or necessarily wrong with us, it’s just what minds do. Practicing mindfulness strengthens our ability to see our thinking for what it is: a powerful tool that we employ when it is helpful and let go of when it is not. Mindfulness also helps us manage strong emotions as well as physical pain.
The practice of mindfulness is returning, time and time again, to the present moment. We do this in a relaxed, kind, and gentle way, releasing any judgments or analyses of how we are doing or what is happening in the present moment. If there is pain, suffering, shame, anxiety, depression, stress, overwhelm, conflict, or trauma, we simply show up in a kind and loving way.
We can practice mindfulness informally throughout our day or through formal meditation, which is often sitting meditation but can also be walking or other movement meditations. The informal practice of mindfulness consists of building awareness around when our attention has left the present moment (often to the past or the future) and once we become aware, returning back to now.
There are numerous anchors to the present moment that we can always return to. One is the sensation of our breath in our bodies, typically where our breath feels the most pleasant. We are not thinking about breathing, we are feeling our breath in our abdomen as it rises and falls, or in our chest as it expands and contracts, or even as the air moves in and out of our nostrils. Other anchors include our other senses perceptions, which only happen in the present moment. You can feel the surfaces you are sitting, standing or lying upon, listen to the sounds around you or feel the wind on your face.
The formal practice of meditation is often done sitting. Many people like to begin meditating with guided meditations but you don’t need to. Starting a meditation practice can be as simple as setting a timer for five minutes, bringing your attention to the feeling of your breath in your body, noticing when your attention wanders, and returning to your breath. Even though we are sitting, our mind is often in other places and mindful meditation brings our mind back into union with our body. Every time you return to the present moment you strengthen your ability to do so in the future.
Fully inhabiting the present moment takes practice but ultimately allows us to release what doesn’t serve us and show up for ourselves and others in an honest, powerful, and loving way.