“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” – Eckhart Tolle
We have a linear understanding of time—the past, the present and the future. Dealing with three separate points in time leaves our brains dazed and confused. It’s no wonder we get confused and hung up on past experiences and become anxious about what is yet to come when we have so much going around in our head.
The only way to relieve some of this anguish so that we can experience our lives as they are is to anchor our attention in the present. This means to only pay attention to what is happening now, no attention to the past and none to the future, to be exactly where we are at the time and nowhere else, this is the only way for us to find contentment;
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
– Lao Tzu
Let’s have a quick look at each of these times individually…
If we anchor ourselves in the past we will end up with feelings of regret and strong judgements about what happened. With mistakes we make and situations that didn’t turn out as we had hoped a lot of negative emotions can arise within us, like fear or resentment. On the other side of this coin we can live on our past glories or daydream about times gone by, perhaps missing better days, this leads us to miss what is happening now. If our attention is drawn towards the past we will overuse our past experiences when we make our decisions, which could lead to us missing out on some great opportunities. Ideally we should be able to learn from our past experiences without them limiting our presence.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Søren Kierkegaard
The future has not yet come to pass; we can change the course of the future but this is only something we can do right now. If we leave all of our attention in the future we miss life as it is happening, we are concerned with what’s next and can’t fully appreciate what is happening now, this dulls our senses and when we are trying to make changes to affect the future this can cause us to over think and be indecisive at best and anxious at worst.
“The future depends on what you do today.” – Mahatma Ghandi
If you aren’t in the present moment then where else are you? Life is only happening now! There is no other time and there’s no time like the present. If we could all cast our anchors in this moment it would reduce our stress and make us kinder to others. Lack of presence makes us react according to past events and worries about the future, for instance, overreacting to certain trivial treatment from someone else. I can count numerous times when I was younger (and sometimes to this day) when I overreacted to my parents as I was using conditioning from the past or frustration on how what was happening would affect me in the future.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha
There are so many distractions we can encounter in our daily lives in everything we do, we have multiple things to do at work, different tasks to prioritise, distractions at home, you name it. What presence allows us to do is to be alone with what is going on now, without distraction.
Mobile phones and social media can distract us so much from what we are doing that not only can we spend twice as long doing something, we go from giving it most of our attention to our attention being split over three things at the same time, the result is that the quality of what we do, whether it’s work or spending time with loved ones will suffer.
Inhabiting the present means that it is just us and this moment. This can do so much for our wellbeing, it can remove stress (even if only temporarily), help us to quieten the incessant thoughts our brains have and make us calmer and more relaxed; if we are present we can be ourselves without all the worries that our thinking causes us.
How to be More Present
Letting go of the past, turning a blind eye to the future and living now is like any skill—it requires practice. The more consistently we do it the more it will become a habit. As a simple method, try to feel all the bodily sensations going on: the way your feet are on the floor, your body on the chair, items in your hands and even things that are harder to notice without paying close attention—like the feeling of clothes against the skin.
From here we can start to be anchored in the moment, we can then expand attention to our other senses and start to fully take in what is going on around us.
My personal favourite is to try to be fully aware of the sounds and tactile sensations when brushing my teeth, I find this is a good injection of presence at the beginning and end of my day. It works equally well in the shower, when eating or drinking tea.
If we can increase our time in the now by even a little then we can start to be more joyful, less worried and less regretful, to me this sounds like a good payoff for such simple actions!