Being in the Moment
What does being in the moment mean? We should know, we hear about it all the time. Parents are told to cherish every moment with their little ones because they grow up so fast! We’re told that mindfulness means being in the moment. We’re encouraged to live for today, to live in the moment. And yet, when I ask people what their biggest spiritual struggles might be they frequently list, you guessed it, “living in the moment.”
We just got a new puppy. And the temptation is there, to beat myself up for not spending every waking minute on the floor playing with him. After all, in a few months he won’t be a puppy anymore, he’ll be a grown dog. But at the same time I’ve still got to keep us all fed, and monitor every move in case he’s looking to potty, and do all my regular work, and try to keep the house from becoming a wash of mud. Heck, I would love to get a plain old cup of coffee without a potty accident.
You might not have a new puppy at home but you’ve got something. It doesn’t even have to be as big as a new member of the family. Between work, home, family, and any semblance of your own passions most of us have lives absolutely crammed with activity.
A Common Struggle
So it’s no surprise that if there’s one thing we all struggle with it’s that incessant nagging from well meaning people that we treasure this moment. Parents get it, busy professionals get it, I’d be willing to bet you monks and nuns get it, so what hope do the rest of us have. We’re all scrambling, trying to keep our heads above water and we’re all desperately struggling with being “in the moment”, living in the moment, cherishing the moment.
So if you fall into bed at the end of the day and wonder where the minutes went, you aren’t alone. If you find yourself at the end of the weekend and aren’t quite sure what you did for two days, you aren’t alone. If you’re kid is a toddler now and you’re still exhausted and cranky and you want to punch the next person who tells you to treasure it you really aren’t alone.
Human beings are one of the few creatures (far as we can tell) who have a concept of time. We’re aware the passing of time in a way other creatures don’t seem to be. The past is a solid concept for us, the future is too. But that means the present is a continuously moving target we never quite seem to be able to catch.
No Simple Answer
And I don’t have a simple answer for that all to human struggle. Being in the moment isn’t easy. By the time we are aware of the moment, really, it’s the past. I actually think being in the moment at all times is impossible for a human being. Our brains just aren’t wired for it, and that’s OK.
But here is what I can tell you: practice does help. Practice doesn’t in fact make perfect, but it can make us better at practicing. And that makes a difference. Being in the moment is really about mindfulness and as I’ve written about before, mindfulness is as simple (and difficult) as doing one thing at a time.
The Journey To A New Normal
So while there aren’t simple solutions, there’s no magic bullet, we can learn from mindfulness practice. Here are my favorite tips and techniques to help you practice mindfulness meditation, or being in the moment in your own life.
Stop Being So Hard on Yourself
First off, stop beating yourself up, about your mindfulness practice and anything else. It doesn’t help, it actually hurts your goal. So tell the judging voice in your head to shut the hell up.
Let Go of “When.”
This one is all too common.
“When I graduate, then I’ll have time to meditate.”
“When I get my next raise, then I’ll be able to relax.”
“When I lose 10 pounds I’ll be happy with my body.”
The “when” game is basically living in the future. We set up some sort of goal and we essentially stop living until that goal arrives. But the goal generally becomes a moving target and we find ourselves always wistfully thinking “when…” This one is extremely hard to break. This might seem silly but when those sorts of thoughts or feelings arise flip the script. Even if by just saying to yourself:
“Before I pick up my pen in my next test I will take three long slow breaths.” (Hey, mini meditation AND probably a better test score.)
“A raise will really help us pay off our student loans, but I’m going to take a bath after work tonight and relax now.”
“My body is beautiful just as it is.”
Those affirmations might sound silly, and the baby steps in them might too. But it makes a difference. When we live in the idea that someday in the future we’ll be happy we cheat ourselves out of finding joy in the current moment. Your life might be struggle right now, but the future isn’t guaranteed, so practice finding joy now. Joy is a mindset. (For this one I find this book super helpful:The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World)
It is pretty much impossible to stay “in the moment” all the time. So it’s helpful to have reminders around us. Maybe a framed mindfulness quote for your wall, or a stencil on your bathroom mirror (I like the word “breathe” or “be”). Or you could try wearing a special bracelet or necklace that you will feel on your body throughout the day, or loop a set of prayer beads around your purse handle or wrist.
The what isn’t all that important, what’s important is something that you will see, hear, or feel on a regular basis that you know means “hey, pay attention!” It’s all a reminder to come back to the present, even if just for a moment.
Turn the Enemy Into A Friend
Maybe one of the most disruptive things to mindful living is our electronic devices. They have multiplied in the last few years until you pretty much are never without something beeping or flashing or otherwise trying to get your attention. Which means your attention is not in the moment!
My first and biggest suggestion for this is to go into your settings and turn off all your notifications. Turn off the notification when you get new mail, and Facebook updates, and Twitter pings, and game reminders. Turn it all off. Now, that might make you break out in a cold sweat but I did it two years ago and guess what: the world didn’t end. Not only that, I didn’t actually miss anything. Checking my email one or two times a day instead of the instant an email arrives works just fine. I don’t need to know what happened on Twitter every second, Youtube videos can wait. The games definitely don’t need to be pinging and binging at me.
Feel free to make an exception for your children calling or texting you, or your elderly parents. But turn the rest of that noise off.
And now? Go into your calendar or other suitable app and setup reminders every few hours, let those notify. Set it to a nice Tibetan bell or something. No need to look at your phone, or dismiss the notification. The sound alone is your little reminder: pay attention, take a breathe, pause.
It is often helpful to have a time specifically dedicated to spiritual practice. It means your attention can be on your mindfulness goal without any guilt. For me that’s yoga, or horseback riding. When I’m riding, if I’m not fully present something’s going to go wrong. In yoga if my mind starts wandering I’m going to fall over. These practices help me because they demand my attention. Even if I am scattered and bouncing the rest of the day for at least those moments I have to be mindful. Being in the moment is part of the practice, and that makes it much easier to, well, practice. If you still want some specific ideas for how to practice mindfulness I have a list!
Practice makes perfect, and sometimes the thing that keeps us from practicing are the distractions with which are lives are filled. For those wanting to cultivate mindfulness in their lives I highly suggest a dedicated mindfulness retreat as a way to go deeper and set habits.
It’s All Practice
And finally, remember, it’s all practice. Mindfulness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. When you find yourself judging your lack of ability to be in the moment, laugh a little and just be aware. Be aware of what you are feeling, of what’s going on around you. Come back to whatever it is you were doing when your mind went all judgey on you. There you go, that little inner critic just failed because you are indeed in the moment. Good for you.