“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I get in my car after work and drive home. I listen to the radio, or turn on my iPod and drive. As I pull into my driveway, I think to myself “wow, how did I get here so quick?” My 30-minute commute seemed like a 5-minute ride. It’s kind of scary, if you think about it. My mind was so distracted, that I didn’t even realize I was already home.
I was probably thinking about what to make for dinner while also planning out the next day. Maybe I was worried about something, or re-living something that happened at work. I’m sure this happens to you a lot, too; you’re having a conversation with someone and find yourself asking “wait, what? say that again?” because you weren’t paying attention.
Life moves at a fast pace. We spend most of it worrying about the future or re-living things that happened in the past. Is there anything wrong with thinking about the past or the future? Not necessarily. But, you can’t change the past, and you cannot control the future, no matter how hard you try, so why spend so much time worrying about it? If you’re not careful, life can pass you by, while you’re “someplace else”.
These can really be anything- a certain color, a number, a sound. Using these will remind you to come back to the present moment. I have a few: a sparkling light- like when the sun hits the key chain that hangs on my rearview mirror, or a certain sound or number. If I walk around the office, or my house, and happen to hit my elbow on something, or when I accidentally drop my keys- I use that as a reminder too. Whenever I hear or see those “mindfulness bells” I stop and think “what am I doing right now, right this moment? Where are my thoughts wandering?” This is a really good way to start practicing being in a present moment.
Be present and focus. On your breathing, on what’s right in front of you, on your inner body, your senses. When you spend time with your friends or family, put your phone down. Pay attention. We are so easily distracted these days, and a lot of times when we’re with our loved ones, we aren’t actually there. Physically, yes, but our minds are often distracted, already thinking what to say next, or worrying about something completely unrelated. When you talk to someone, listen to their voice, focus on their words, notice their smile- then, rather than just meeting or seeing someone, you’ll actually connect with them.
DO ONE THING AT A TIME
Okay, I’m the worst at this, but practice makes perfect. I mention multitasking quite a lot and it’s probably because it’s something I, myself, still struggle with. I know that if I focus on one thing at a time, I’ll do a better job and get it done faster. When I try to split my focus between several different things, that focus can lose some of its power and my work isn’t as efficient. When you eat, do nothing else but eat. Whatever you’re doing- playing, working, washing the dishes, drinking tea- do your best to focus on one thing at a time. If you also struggle with multitasking, check out this article on Zen Habits.
SEE THINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME
We spend a lot of time chasing our dreams. We always want to do better, bigger things. We want to do our best for our families and our children. At times, we’re so concentrated on where we’re going, we forget to take a look at how far we’ve come. Whenever I become a little bit too focused on where I’m going in life, I bring myself back to present moment and I try to see everything for the first time. I see how much I’ve grown. I see that I smile and feel excited every single day as I open my eyes, whereas 6-7 years ago, I had to force myself out of bed each morning. I look at my brother and sister as they’re lost in a conversation and I remember the exact day when each of them was born. I get up early and have my morning tea in our backyard and I hear all these birds chirping and singing so loudly. How did I not hear or notice them before? When you start paying attention, you start noticing new things, things that were always there.
Being present isn’t always easy to do and it might feel a bit unnatural at first. This is why you need to practice it. Using tools like “mindfulness bells” is a good way to start. I actually like practicing mindfulness when doing simple things like washing the dishes or folding laundry. I love how warm the laundry is after I take it out of the dryer, that fresh smell and soft feel as I fold it- when you start paying attention to these things, without thinking about your next task or chore, they become more enjoyable. You can find pleasure even in those very simple things.
There is something magical about being present- when your mind is free of judgement in every single moment, every single thought. When you don’t worry about the future or stress about the past. If you think about it, all you ever have is now.