Where do you live?
I don’t mean your location. What I’m talking about is time.
Before discovering the positive benefits of living in the present and mindfulness, I spent a lot of time living in the past. Sometimes I thought about wonderful memories that brought a lot of joy, but more often I spent time uselessly rearranging negative past events that would never change but that did spin up anger within myself.
Then there are other times when I invented possible future events. I would imagine wonderful grandiose scenarios about what I might do if I won the lottery or found that perfect soulmate. When those events didn’t turn out as planned, I was left with disappointment. Worst than that, however, I spent too much time fearful and anxious about how badly things could turn out.
While the past no longer exists and the future can’t be predicted or controlled, our brains don’t know this. In fact, for our brains, the only time that really exists is now, and anything that is thought about becomes now including the feelings that coincide with the memories or predictions in our thoughts.
Take a minute to see what I am talking about by trying this little experiment. Think about a positive event from the past. Close your eyes and put yourself in that experience. Visualize the environment, hear the sounds, and feel the sensations of that moment. Then examine how it makes you feel. Did your shoulders lift or a smile creep on your face?
Next, think about a negative (sad, frustrating, or angry) experience. Again, examine how that memory made you feel. Your body language may have shifted so that your shoulders dropped. That smile you had a moment ago is probably gone. In fact, you may even feel anger or the urge to cry.
You can also do this with future events. In fact, if you’ve ever cried thinking about a loved one’s impending death or felt excitement over an upcoming event then you’ve experienced the illusion that the brain creates by thinking the imagined experience is in the now.
There is comfort in living in the past. It’s familiar—something we know. And there is excitement and sometimes fear in the future—something we don’t know. Anything can happen—good or bad. We need both the familiar and unfamiliar.
Alternatively, there are great benefits to living in the present. We also need the gift of peace that the present offers. That peace is, in fact, a result of a culmination of several other benefits that living in the moment brings. These benefits include,
- Greater concentration as you learn to focus on the now.
- More productivity as a result of improved focus.
- Less stress as you release regret of the past and worry from the future.
Unfortunately, living in the present can be difficult. In fact, if you think about it, it might even be impossible. According to Depok Chopra, “the experience of now as a subjective event is ungraspable by the mind. A thought is gone the instant you think it, and there’s an argument from neuroscience that says the words you perceive as a thought are after-effects of the brain activity that created them, since the electrical impulses and chemical reactions inside neurons take fractions of a second, while the words in your head take much longer.” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/advantages-living-present-moment-deepak-chopra-md-official-/)
In other words, the future statement, “I am going to live in the present” becomes that past before you’ve even finished saying it. The present is that split second between past and future.
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Living in the present is also a bit scary for many people. For instance, with both past and future, you can create or recreate (and most of the time we do) experiences that have a more desirable outcome. After all, when recreating the past or planning a better future, you have control. At the same time, while you may know the truth, your brain does not. It experiences the feelings that come with this better play on events as if it were occurring right now.
Whereas, the present is completely out of your control. It’s like driving down the road and getting hit by another car. It’s happening. You can’t stop it, and at the moment when it happens, there’s no way to reimagine it. You just have to experience it.
In fact, living in the moment often provides triggers that we experience and simply react to. For example, instead of getting into an accident, you are cut off. That triggers anger and without thinking, you gesture to the other person with one of your fingers and an angry face. Then you continue the day in an angry mood.
For most people, there is no control in this. For the present and mindful person living in the present, on the other hand, there is a great deal of control. This person has the tools and experience to pause and think about what might have really happened. Instead of flipping the other person off, the mindful person might experience the anger trigger but react by pausing and reminding him or herself that no one was hurt. Their day will continue without concern.
7 and a Half Things You Can Do to Receive Benefits of Living in the Present
So how do you start living in the moment? There are techniques that you can practice in order to be more present and mindful.
- Savor the moment: Take a few moments each day to pause and breath at the moment. Address each of your five senses one by one, taking note of what you can see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. Then end your pause by labeling your feeling. For example, at this moment I can see the trees in my backyard waving to a slight breeze. I smell the scent of oncoming rain. I taste a hint of the coffee I am drinking. The weather is a bit warm and humid. I hear my fingers tapping on the keyboard, a bird chirping in the background, and the pounding of a hammer on wood. I am peaceful.
- Practice being in Flow: “Flow” is an amazing state that occurs when you’re so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of your surroundings. Ironically, when in “flow” you receive benefits of living in the present without being conscious of the present. This happens because “flow” is so engaging that time is irrelevant to you. Unfortunately, you can’t force flow. You can, however, create the conditions that encourage it. First, select an activity that you enjoy and can easily become fully engaged in. Next, set a goal for that activity—something that is achievable but at the same time challenging. Finally, take action. Perform the activity. For example, a swimmer might challenge him or herself to increase the number of laps they swim within a certain length of time.
- Embrace your moment: Regardless of what is going on in your moment, take time to accept and embrace it. Instead of resisting sad feelings, let yourself move towards them realizing that it’s perfectly natural to feel that way.
- Take a Yoga class: Those awkward poses combined with intentional breathing encourage you to focus on your body and the way it transitions from one move to the next.
- Affirmations: Create positive affirmations that keep you in the present and mindful. For example, you can say to yourself, “I am here and here is now. I have a wonderful present filled with joy and peace. I am living in the moment.” Take time to repeat these affirmations throughout the day.
- Focused body relaxation: Start by laying down and tightening all the muscles in your body from your head to your toes. Hold this while you count to ten. Then take a deep breath and beginning at your toes and moving up your body, release the tension and allow each body part to melt into the floor one at a time.
- Practice gratefulness in a journal: Keeping a gratitude journal not only gives you benefits of living in the present, but it also helps you focus on life’s blessings over its hardships. Take a few minutes each day to write down five things you are grateful for.
And here’s the half. Get connected. There’s a scene in the movie Phenomenon with John Travolta in which he is digging frantically in his garden. Then he just stops and connects with the trees swaying in the breeze. Now that’s being present and mindful.
We live in a world that promotes separate thinking beginning with “I am” right down to “my cell phone.” Taking a moment to connect with the world around us reminds us that we are only part of something much bigger—something in which we have very little control.
We have two choices. We can fear the lack of control, or we can embrace it. Fearing it brings anxiety. Embracing it brings peace. Which would you prefer?
Living in the moment requires mindful action. It requires paying attention to what is happening in the now. The benefits of living in the present and finding peace even in the most stressful moments, however, make the effort well worth it.
Spiritualslife is all about finding peace in everything we do. If you are looking for ways to be present and mindful, you’re in the right place. To learn more, download our free e-book.