Being present, or what some call mindfulness, is a skill that, when developed and practised, leads to a more fulfilling and more meaningful life. It is a skill that anyone can develop and use.
And yet most people do not use this one simple skill that produces more happiness, greater understanding of self and world, greater power to live a purposeful and successful life.
Most folks do not spend a lot of time in each present moment being aware of their surroundings and their own presence within these surroundings; or, are even aware of their own thoughts and feelings in each present moment. They are caught up in the endless stream of mental chatter about the past or the future. And because they are not paying attention to this now moment, life ends up passing them by.
We all know, intrinsically, that this present moment is all we have. It is the only thing that is real. The past is gone. The future has yet to unfold. We are always only physically here now, in this place at this time. Yet, many of us spend most of our mental time reliving the past and/or imagining the future.
Consequently this present moment eludes us simply because we have not paid attention. As each moment slips by unnoticed and unappreciated, the fullness of life escapes us. In order to capture each now moment, we must pay attention, be mindful of the now.
Many folks get nostalgic and continually try to relive the past because they missed life as it actually happened. They were not truly present as their life unfolded moment-by-moment. Other folks are so busy anticipating how wonderful life will be when all their plans come to fruition that they miss the wonder, the beauty and the fullness of their life as it unfolds now moment-by-moment.
And, worst of all these days, more and more people have become completely distracted from self and from the world by electronic noise, by the virtual (not real) world of television programming, computer game fantasies or smartphone unsocial media.
These electronic addictions are insidious. They take us away from the present. They are not just distractions… they are detractions – that is to say they detract from who we are; or who we could be, if we but paid attention to this present moment.
Yes, there are valuable lessons to be gained from examining the past and meaningful pleasures to be garnered from remembering past moments where we were fully present for what was experienced. Retrospection is useful at times; but if we are forever reliving the past, we have no present.
Yes, there is tremendous value in imagining and planning for, even consciously creating, a desirable future. But, if we are unable to fully appreciate what we are experiencing right now, we shall surely be unable to fully appreciate whatever unfolds in our future moments as well.
Yes, there is education, connection and methods of creativity and contribution to be gained from our electronic toolsets. But, if we allow them to become habits of distraction from the now, then they simply become a false reality that obscures the real world and prevents us from being fully alive.
So, yes, we can visit the past, the future and the virtual from time to time to gain what is to be garnered there. However, we should always remember that we do not actually live in the past or the future or the virtual. We live here and now in this real wondrous and beautiful world of the present moment.
And we should constantly remind ourselves that if we do not actually and purposefully focus our attention on the here and now, during some portion of the present moments we experience each day, then we will miss the meaningfulness of today and each of the moments and days that follow. Each precious present moment and each day will slip away unnoticed, unappreciated and unremembered. The days of our lives become the SSDD syndrome.
On the other hand, being fully present has its rewards. The musician who is in the groove becomes the music. The athlete who is in the zone becomes the activity. The artist who is in the flow becomes the canvas. And in being fully present, they not only create those peak performance moments, they experience their best selves. They experience the fullness of life. They feel fulfilled. They have a sense of meaning. They may even experience joy or transcendence.
In those moments when you are fully present, you and your environment merge. Your fear-based ego diminishes, even dissolves, and you feel your connectivity to your world. You simply are. Regret and worry dissipate. You become more fully alive.
And who does not want to feel more alive, more vibrant, more appreciative, more at peace and more capable of understanding one’s self and one’s place within the universe?
So… how do you develop this skill to be present and thus become a happier, more powerful version of yourself?
First, learn to simply stop. Stop doing anything. Be still. Then start paying attention to where you are. Open up your senses. What do you see? Notice as much detail as you can. Colors. Movement. Connectivity. Flow. Shadow. Light. What do you hear? Distant. Near. Faint. Loud. Pattern. What do you feel? Warmth? Coolness? A breeze? The pressure of your feet on the earth?
Second, pay attention to your breath. Follow it in and out. Feel it. Just breathe and be that breathing.
Third, allow yourself to be a witness, to be the observer of self and environment. Imagine that you must see and record every detail of what is taking place right now.
Fourth, let go of the need to judge, to analyze, to classify, to attach meaning to. Just allow this moment to unfold.
Keep coming back to your breath. Breathe your world. Your breath is the breeze that caresses the trees, the updraft that the eagle rides to kiss the sky, the trade winds that fill the sails of ships riding the waves, the atmosphere that surrounds the planet and enables life to thrive. Your breath is all that and more. For you breathe not just molecules of air. You breathe photons of light. Every breath you take is infused with light. You breathe sunlight. And, of course, you breathe the dust of your ancestors. Every molecule of air is comprised of the dust of ancient stars that went supernova and spit out the nitrogen, the oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide that your every life-giving breath contains.
Once you are able to be still, and pay attention to the here and now, you will become able to move through your environment while being present. Go for a long walk in the woods. Practice being present. Feel the life that surrounds you. Listen to the sounds of the forest. Feel yourself moving through the landscape. Listen to your footsteps. Listen to your breathing. Listen to your thoughts. Focus them on the here and now. Feel yourself simply being in the forest.
Once you are able to walk mindfully by yourself in nature, you will be able to choose moments to be fully mindful or present in the human construct of modern life. You will be able to sit in a sports bar with the game playing loud surrounded by people chatting noisily about random trivialities and become detached, become the observer that is fully present but not caught up in the noise. And then, you will be truly powerful. You can be in the noise and confusion without being caught up in it. And, it will be a whole lot of fun.
I will leave you with three thoughts…
The first from Rastaman Bob Marley:
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
The second is this koan:
“What is most amusing about mindfulness is that it is only truly experienced when the mind is empty.”
And the third from this page on my website:
“The future is a mystery; the past is a myth/story; only the present exists as real.”
Revere. Relish. Contribute.