” Living in the moment, and seeing everything afresh without judgement and worry lets us experience life rather than
simply get through it.”
Dr Patrizia Collard
Being present is the very essence of mindfulness. Learning to be more mindful is about focusing on the here and now not what has been or what will be. In my last blog (The Science of Mindfulness) I discussed what happens to our body when you practice mindfulness. Reducing your stress levels isn’t just good for your mood and temper, it has a very significant biological impact.
Why do you need to be present though?
Well, there are many benefits to trying to live more in the present. So often in modern life we are dashing from one event or job to another. We are constantly planning what we have to do next, what we have to remember and where we need to be, who we need to call…
We are always busy.
Even when you sit down to relax you are watching tv and checking Facebook. Once upon a time you did one thing at a time. If you were baking you were baking. You weren’t baking and talking to someone on the phone or planning what you needed to do for that big presentation at work. You were thinking about how the mixture looked, what ingredient you needed to add in next and how much your family was going to enjoy the cake when it was finished.
Being busy has become a badge of honour. If you ask someone how they are how often do you hear the reply “busy”.
We are all busy. We are all juggling. But it is important to balance that with time to untangle your mind and de-stress.
Stress and anxiety are formed around things that will happen or that have already happened. You worry about something that happened, something you said, or did, or someone else said or did. You worry about something that might or might not happen.
What if they don’t like me? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I embarrass myself? What if I’m not good enough?
None of these are things you know will happen. They are your brain trying to second guess what might or might not occur given a particular set of conditions.
Many, many things can happen between the point you are at now and that possible outcome. Despite this you still worry yourself into a state of anxiety or worse.
Equally, you cannot change what has already happened.
There may be times when you realise that you need to approach a situation differently next time. You may need to apologise to someone. You cannot take back words once they are spoken or actions once they are taken though. If you can’t change it is there any point in worrying about it? Of course there isn’t.
Our rational, intelligent brain knows all this. But as we learned in my last blog, this doesn’t work too well when we’re feeling anxious. The more anxious we become, the less rational and able to work out problems.
It is because of this basic biological response that you lie awake at night. Something pops into your head, you obsess about it because there are no distractions and you are still carrying the stress from the previous day. Instead of being able to rationally work through the issue as you might in daylight you go round and round in circles getting more and more worked up.
How will being in the present help us with these moments of stress and anxiety?
Well, the more you learn to focus on what is happening now the more you can control your body’s response to these thoughts and feelings. When you sit and just accept where you are, you immediately relax, your breathing slows down, your heart rate slows and your rational brain function slowly returns.
That’s all great, but how do I live in the moment?
There are many ways to learn to focus on what is happening now. The simplest and most effective is to focus on your breathing. I have discussed many times the fact that by altering your breathing you can change your physical state incredibly quickly. When you start to feel worried or feel yourself slipping into that middle of the night spiral try this technique:
- Place your hands on your stomach on begin to focus on your breathing.
- You will notice that as soon as you make your brain aware of your breathing, it will automatically begin to regulate your breath and it will slow slightly.
- Focus on every sensation in your body, notice where there is tension, if there is any pain or discomfort.
- Allow your thoughts to focus on that area of your body and send calm and love to it. Imagine your body is healing itself. (There is a wealth of scientific evidence now that just by focusing on an area of your body in a calm state allows your body to heal itself).
- Keep returning to your breathing.
- If you struggle to focus on your breathing try focusing on a sound in the room, a ticking clock, the hum of the radiator, whatever it may be.
- Allow your mind to rest and every time something pops into your thoughts, and they will, often, just observe the thought and go back to focusing on either your breathing or the sound you have chosen.
Congratulations! You just meditated.
Of course being in the present isn’t just about meditation and breath work. It could be as simple as doing the washing up, the gardening, washing the car, going for a run or brushing your teeth, and not thinking about anything except what you are doing.
It sounds easy doesn’t it?
Well, it is. When you have given yourself time to get used to it. When you first try it might be the most difficult thing you have ever tried to do. I often have people say to me; “I just can’t turn off my inner monologue”. That’s ok. It takes practice. Just acknowledge what your inner monologue is telling you and return to your breathing or listening to the sound.
Don’t start out trying to be present, or meditate, for hours or even half an hour. Start with trying for 2 or 3 minutes and build up. You will be amazed how quickly your brain and body get used to the idea. Whether you are sitting and meditating or being present while your cook or paint the shed, try to find a small pocket of time every day to practice being present. The more your practice, as with anything, the more instinctive it becomes.
The more present you become, the calmer and more contented you will become. Your health with then improve, you get a better quality of sleep and your patience will be increased. What more could you want?
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