It’s become easier to catch myself drifting away into thoughts and losing focus from the present moment. But even with this increased sense of awareness, it isn’t easy to stay present. As I learn and grow in my spiritual practices, I want to share some reflections with you and help you understand from my lens what even is the present moment. And then share some tips you can apply to stay more in the “now”.
Let’s begin by addressing what the present moment means to most people.
#1 – The present moment can feel unsafe for some people.
The reason we are not able to stay in the moment is because we get checked out and live in our minds. This can happen for different reasons. For some people, they underwent physical trauma like bullying, sexual abuse or getting beaten up at home, which made their body feel unsafe.
They may also have had a negative relationship with their body if they were constantly sick or lived in a lot of physical pain. As a consequence of any of these reasons, the mind and the imagination became a safe haven.
So, even when there’s no actual danger, many people just find it more comforting to be in their minds, because their relationship with their body hasn’t healed yet.
#2 – To others, the present moment is underwhelming.
I am grateful to not fall into the first category. However, I used to wonder why I’m so checked out, if it isn’t about safety for me. The truth is, growing up as an introverted only child, the present moment was BORING for me.
I often took refuge in my doll sets and books. So as much as I considered myself spiritual for reading all those heavy spiritual books, it wasn’t helping me get any more present.
Even though I have a powerful imagination and it has contributed to the nourishment of my Third Eye energy centre, it took years to realize the fact that I don’t enjoy being alone if I don’t have something to do by myself. Even when I meditate, I am meditating on something. It isn’t without purpose.
So, if you’re like me, the present moment can be underwhelming to you. Especially if you’ve been raised in a predominantly masculine environment, where it’s always about do-do-do. It can become our nature to constantly be achieving or planning something in our heads.
So as a consequence, you might constantly be looking for ways to fill these spaces with something or someone. If you don’t find something in the physical, you check out and live in your headspace.
#3 – And then, to some, the present moment is simply uncomfortable.
For many of us, our inner critic is constantly evaluating us. We are worried if someone will like how we look, or if they’ll judge us. So, ironically, we constantly judge ourselves!
But where did this judgemental way of thinking come from? Most likely from some important people in your childhood who were constantly judging you. This way of living in the head has become a learned behaviour for you.
So when you are in the present moment, it can seem intimidating because you don’t know how to look at anything as a mere observer. You realize that there’s always some kind of chatter, some kind of tainted lens through which you’re experiencing the world.
If the present moment isn’t all of the above, what is it?
The present moment is exactly what is happening right now.
The humbling fact about the present moment is that it’s the only REAL thing happening, at any point of time. You see, if you’re not present, you’re living in your thoughts. And those thoughts don’t have tangibility. They might be from the past, but the past is also just some form of images being recycled in your head on a loop. Or they might be projections about the future, which hasn’t even happened yet.
So the only place we can truly be is the present, is the now. Every where else is just an illusion (because it’s in our head). Many of us might spend our whole life living in illusionary realities. A great way to check if we’re really present is to ask ourselves questions like:
- Do I sulk, romanticize or try to patch up a relationship after it’s broken? It could be a sign that I’m living in the past pleasantries of that relation and am unable to accept where it’s at right now.
- How often do I daydream and disassociate from my reality? That’s me not in the present, for sure.
- Am I really comfortable feeling my feelings, or do I distract myself when tough emotions (like anger, sadness or jealousy) show up? Once again, it could mean that I am not here for my experience, rather running away from myself.
- Am I often caught off guard and surprised by what’s happening around me? Hmm… I think I get it now. I haven’t been keeping up with reality.
This might be a shocker to you as you read these realizations. But breathe that in for a moment – if you’re not living in the present, you’re not really living at all. You’re physically present but disintegrated between the past, the future and somewhere in between.
And for all these reasons (and many more), you might be getting a sense of why it’s important to build present moment awareness.
Now what do you do with that piece of information? Don’t let it keep you in shock! Here are basic principles to help you understand what you can do to stay more present.
#1 – Teach the mind what it SHOULD do.
I know how confusing it can be, when you keep hearing things like “don’t think when you meditate”. Or are told to NOT be checked out. But then, what should you do?
There are simple mindfulness practices like breath-work, journaling and grounding which can help you focus on the present moment. All, with the intention of retraining your thoughts to come back “here’.
But it’s a muscle, and just like going to the gym, it takes conscious and continuous effort to build.
Just know that you don’t have to beat yourself up for not being able to stay present. Have awareness, and focus on what you should be doing, versus what you should not have done.
#2 – Integrate the past so that you’re not stuck there.
If you’ve undergone trauma, it can actually do you more harm to meditate. As meditation teacher and guest writer Clayton shared with us in this post, meditation practices are NOT meant for everyone. So, work with trauma specialists and integrate your past.
As you integrate the past, you will become more comfortable and at ease being here, now. Only then, should you attempt to “come back to this moment”.
#3 – Heal your relationship with your body so that it’s safe to be here.
In order to heal your relationship with your body, understand the importance it has to begin with. It’s not just a body that’s meant to digest your food or take you from place A to B. The ego-mind would like to believe that it’s the most important aspect of who you are. But that’s not true, and you should work towards discovering that for yourself.
Your body is a beautiful vessel that allows you to have your spiritual awakening. Here’s a foundational post to help you understand the spiritual significance of your physical body.
You can consider taking on Yoga practices (not the westernized, aerobic version) that focus on slowing down and really becoming present with the body. I know that even Tai-Chi has the same effect in bringing you back to the body, and can be deeply spiritual if you’re open to it.
If you’re not a fan of Yoga or Tai-Chi, play any sports. The amount of present moment awareness it requires to not get hit in the face by a shuttlecock in the badminton court is deeply spiritual in itself!
#4 – Come to the present moment afresh.
I talked about the “now” being boring. And even as adults, if we live on autopilot, walking into the same office or same house everyday can be dulling. I invite you to try this on with me – come to the present moment afresh.
What if you arrived at work or to your bedroom every single day as if it were your first time? How would you see it differently?
I used to get bored on walks. And then one day, a conversation with my Forest Bathing friend Katriina, really changed my way of thinking. She told me that she walks through the same forest every single time and it looks different. She was right.
I tried that out and haven’t found a single walk boring ever since! It’s because now, I can appreciate the ways in which the sun changes angle, the water levels dip and rise, the different birds and animals that come with each season, and so on.
I also applied this to my workspace and realized that the energy of my room seems to move up and down with me. Even though everything is inanimate, there are subtle changes.
When I’m present, I can see when there’s a small layer of dust collecting on the surface, and notice when the carpet is vacuumed. Sometimes when I walk into the room afresh, I see a book on my shelf that I had completely forgotten I had ever bought!
So, you see, the present moment is not boring if we are invested in it. If we are in reverence of it. Of course, this is easier said than done, but try it on. See how that lands for you, and if it makes each day significantly different, no matter how similar it was from the day before.
#5 – Ask yourself, what are your thoughts even about?
Science reveals to us that when we’re on autopilot mode, we tend to think the same, old train of thoughts on repeat. A majority of our thinking is redundant. Well, knowing what we know, how can we reduce the redundancy?
By analyzing what it’s about.
Are you constantly looping in thoughts about work, relationships or money? Most likely. If you didn’t have all those things to think about, what would you do with your time instead?
As you gain awareness and step off that autopilot train, continue asking yourself what would life be like, if you could just enjoy it for what it is? And don’t answer the question logically, but this time, go out and let all of you, mind, body and soul, really experience the answer to that question!
It’s not that being present is hard, it’s that we’re not used to the idea of present moment awareness. And when we begin to experience more of it, we can feel the difference between living in our heads, and living in real life. You become your own example and keep working your way up.
Remember, the present moment is rarely as boring, scary or as uncomfortable as you grew up believing it to be. Try coming back “here” more often. You might fall in love with it.
Vasundhra is the Founder & Writer of My Spiritual Shenanigans. After seeing 11:11 on the clock one fateful night, her life turned around. Ever since, she has been blending modern psychology and ancient spirituality, to help herself and people around the world elevate the quality of their lives.
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