“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
No matter how focused we are on memories and worries from the past or hopes and fear of the future, the fact remains that it is always now. We cannot escape the truth that we live in the present moment, neither in the past nor the future. When we allow our minds to drift away to thoughts and emotions from the past or future, we are robbing ourselves of being fully alive in the constantly unfolding beauty of the present moment.
Our minds are great storytellers that will easily keep us fixated on the past or the future if we allow it. Mindfulness is a tool that allows us to tap in to the present moment in a new way… with full awareness, acceptance, and consciousness. For many of us, the idea of being truly awake to the present moment may seem elusive and difficult to grasp. There may even be a sense of, “Of course I’m aware that it’s the present moment!” There is an important distinction to be made between cognitively making this realization versus experientially choosing to tap in to the present moment.
Harris (2009) defines contact with the present moment as “being in the here and now, fully conscious of our experience, instead of being lost in our thoughts. It involves flexibly paying attention to both the inner psychological world and the outer material world.” In order to tap into that conscious awareness of the present moment, we must be capable of perceiving accurately what is going on around us.
Mindfulness allows us to carefully pay attention to all aspects of the present moment… good, bad, and neutral. There is no discriminating between what we would “like” to pay attention to versus what we would “not like” to pay attention to. If it is happening in the present moment, it is carefully noticed, observed, and accepted.
Signs that you will benefit from making contact with the present moment:
- Frequent thoughts and feelings about the past or the future
- Preoccupation with things that have already happened or have yet to happen
- Feeling of being disconnected from the present moment or “tuned out”
- Tendency to act as if on “automatic pilot” much of the time
- Acting impulsively, mindlessly, and without thinking
- Feeling “disconnected” in important relationships
- Feeling psychologically or emotionally “numb”
How to begin to make contact with the present moment:
- Tune in to the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of this very moment
- Make the distinction between “noticing” and “thinking” (i.e., practice cognitive defusion exercises)
- Balance your mindful attention between your inner psychological world and the outer material world
- Practice mindfulness exercises on a regular basis to stay tuned in to the present moment
- Remind yourself to be present when interacting with important others – really listen and attend to what they are saying
- Practice moving your attention between your inner world and outer world to cultivate flexible attention
- Engage in a regular everyday activity with full mindfulness – be fully present and notice all aspects of this “regular” activity in a new way
Cultivating the willingness and ability to truly make contact with the present moment is at the very core of learning to be more mindful in your daily life. In order to begin to build a conscious life that is guided and driven by your true values, it is crucial that you be “tuned in” to the present moment. If you have a tendency to gravitate towards the past or the future in your mind, begin to ask yourself what you may be avoiding in this present moment of your life. Is there something in the present that you are trying to escape?
Reflect on the idea that problems generally stick around until we handle them, either through effective problem-solving or through radical acceptance. Once you begin to clear the cobwebs and sort through what you are avoiding in the present moment, it will become easier and easier to enjoy all that this moment has to offer. It is always now, so you might as well choose to be here now.
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Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Tehran Sunset by Hamed Saber / CC BY 2.0