As I talked about in a previous post, living in the present moment simply means that you stop thinking and totally consume your attention on what is happening at that given moment.
When you do this, you are incapable of thinking about the past and incapable of thinking about the future. And even better yet, you are incapable of dwelling on bad things in the past or fearing what could potentially happen in the future.
When you are experiencing the present moment, those thoughts that could get the best of you no longer exist and time seems to slow down and a weight seems to be lifted off your shoulders.
Sometimes life forces us to experience the bliss of the present. For instance, if you're walking down a street on a beautiful day and you see a friend who you haven't seen in years walking towards you, chances are that for at least a few seconds, you're going to be forced to become present as you're consumed with the exact situation at hand. For those few seconds, your mind is given a rest; a rest from constantly thinking.
Or let's say you're walking on that same street and suddenly the smell of a nearby bakery hits you and you're totally consumed with the smell of fresh bread. Your sense of smell is going to ground you in the present moment, even if it's only for a few seconds.
Imagine being able to experience the present moment on demand. Wouldn't this be amazing? Well, there are a vast array of techniques that can help us experience the present moment.
Remember, it takes time, practice, and patience.
Here are three of many techniques (I'll introduce more techniques in future posts):
1. Catching your thoughts: Remember, the average person thinks many, many thoughts (sometimes into the thousands) every single day. A simple way (but certainly takes practice) is to catch yourself thinking.
When you catch yourself thinking, you break the pattern. Keep in mind that literally seconds after catching yourself thinking, you may go back to thinking. That's okay!
Try to catch yourself thinking as much as you can, especially when you are thinking about bad things that happened in the past or fearing what could happen in the future. The more you catch yourself thinking the better you're going to become at it.
You may be out for a walk and then suddenly realize that for the past hour you were stuck in your head dwelling on something bad that took place before. That realization that you were stuck in your head thinking is what we are looking for. When you catch yourself thinking, you automatically enter the present. Catch those thoughts as much as you can.
2. Use your sense of hearing: When you feel like you are lost in your head, simply take a few minutes to try to hear as many sounds as you can, one sound at a time. When you concentrate on the sounds that surround you and truly listen to them, it's very difficult to think at the same time.
You may hear a car, a bird chirping, etc. When you hear one sound, try to then hear another sound. When you hear a second sound, try to hear a third. Every sound you hear and register is bringing you deeper and deeper into the present moment.
3. Use your sense of sight: When you feel like you're overwhelmed with everything that's on your plate, take a minute and use your sense of sight to help you ground yourself. Note* We'll talk more about grounding in future blog posts.
Simply look around you and try to notice as many unique and new things that you never really noticed before. You could literally be in your living room and look around you and start to realize that there are dozens of things that surround you every day that you've never really given any attention to before.
When you notice one of these things, pay attention to it. Note the shape of it, the colour and other details about it. Then, move on to something else, then something else. Every time you notice something new, you dive deeper and deeper into the present moment.
Experiencing the present moment takes time, practice and patience. However, like any skill, it gets easier with time. Most importantly, when you start feeling the benefits of living in the present moment, you'll be drawn towards the techniques that can help you get there.
Just like a muscle, your mind needs a break from constantly thinking. Imagine if you were pulling an all-nighter, studying for an exam. Your mind feels exhausted and you feel as though you can't study anymore. But then, you decide to get outside and go for a brisk walk. What happens next? When returning to your room, you can then get back to studying. All you needed was a break from thinking.
Experiencing the present moment is certainly a one step at a time type of process. No one is an expert at this. Your mind is going to gradually take you back into the past or take you into the future. That's okay. Keep catching your thoughts and use your senses (like your sense of hearing and sight) to help ground you.
With practice, you'll get there a lot easier.