When we are not present in the here and now, we are in our heads, often imagining the worst-case scenario that could happen and could never happen, thinking about what might have been possible for us “if only…”, having an imaginary argument with someone while imagining how this person rejects or hurt us, imagining how we might fail, or resisting our circumstances.
The ability to be present in the moment provides many benefits, such as:
- Maintaining inner peace even during times of turmoil
- See reality clearly, rather than through the pain of the past and the fear of getting hurt again
- The ability to not react automatically to emotional stimuli
- Breaking free from troubling thoughts and burdening emotions
- Truly enjoying the little moments in life
- Stress reduction
- Enhanced feelings of self-acceptance
- Increased focus
- And more…
Here are some basic exercises and activities to connect with the present moment:
- Mindful breathing—Focus your attention on your breath. Feel the air moving in and out of the body, notice how it moves inside your body; the expansion of the chest and abdomen, and the flow of air through the nostrils. Focusing on the breath without judging it or trying to change its rhythm creates relaxation and expands inner space. It helps in creating a space between stimulus and response and in falling asleep when thoughts won’t let go at night. It’s a simple action that can be done at any time.
- Listening—Be still for a few moments and listen to the sounds around you: driving cars, birds singing, a distant talk, or anything else. Sometimes you will hear pleasant sounds; other times, listening without judgment will increase your tolerance for unpleasant sounds.
- Observation—Look at something carefully. It shouldn’t be something that triggers thoughts, such as another person, words, or an object that holds memories. When we learn to look at nature in this way, we find the magnificence of even a simple flower. However, since this exercise might create anticipation for a sense of awe, sometimes it’s best to focus on meaningless objects, such as the surface of your desk.
- Attentive touch—Touch something, no matter what, and feel its texture; when you wake up in the morning pay attention to the feeling of your body on the mattress; when you perform simple actions, such as turning the lights on or off, do it mindfully; while watching television, put your hands on your abdomen or chest and feel their warmth; close your lips gently and feel their softness.
These small moments of presence can be incorporated through your day. You can do it when you are alone, as well as you are with other people.
You can do it while walking down the street, lying in bed when you wake up, or taking a moment of presence before you turn your attention to the screen in front of you again.
And if you feel you need a more intense practice to break the cycle of your thoughts, you may use the following:
Five Minutes of Stillness
I like to use the following exercise when I want to ground myself and be more present, especially in moments of unease and agitation.
Find a quiet spot—it can be a pleasant room at your home, garden, or any other place you find comfortable. Set the timer for five minutes and just sit quietly, with your eyes open or closed. Listen to the sounds, look attentively at what’s around you, pay attention to your breathing and your body’s sensations, and if thoughts arise, don’t try to fight them. From time to time bring your attention back from thinking to what’s around you. Feel the life around and inside you.
Like in the previous exercise, first find a quiet and pleasant spot. In this exercise it’s better, but not necessary, to be outdoors.
Sit quietly, in a comfortable position; don’t try to avoid moving or thinking, but stay as present and alert as possible.
This exercise can last ten minutes, half an hour, or more. You can determine the duration in advance, or sit until you feel serenity fills every corner of your body.
There are plenty of YouTube videos and wonderful apps, such as Headspace and Calm that offer all sorts of meditations and mindfulness exercises for various purposes.
Some more ways to bring presence into your everyday life:
Use everyday activities as moments or presence—Give your full attention to every little thing you do, or to the words of the person in front of you.
(To understand more about how to do that, you can listen to this podcast episode by author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle -“Daily life as spiritual practice”).
Engage in activities that enhance presence—Some activities, such as reading a book, physical activities, hikes in nature, creating art, gardening, or cooking (according to your preferences)—enhance presence naturally. Other activities, such as screen activities, diminish our level of presence.
By changing the balance between these two kinds of activities we can bring more inner peace and joy into our lives.