How to accept the now, by being present

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” ― Thomas Merton

Contrary to popular belief, humans cannot multitask. We get ourselves so wrapped up in trying to do a number of tasks at the same time, it stresses ourselves out. What we are capable of doing is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic.  

It’s like how we think. We can only think of one thing at a time. However, with upwards of 70,000 thoughts going through our heads, we believe we are able to multitask our thoughts. Our brains are incredibly clever at rapid thought change, but in reality, our conscious thinking is a sequence of thoughts; one after another.

We can only think of one thing at a time. However, with upwards of 70,000 thoughts going through our heads, we believe we are able to multitask our thoughts. Our brains are incredibly clever at rapid thought change, but in reality, our conscious thinking is a sequence of thoughts; one after another.

Most of our thoughts are spent in the past or in the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. That’s how life ends up passing us by – we do it to ourselves.

So, how do we stay present?

The first thing to recognize is that try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time. Ruminating over the past, and that’s all we’re doing is ruminating over the past; is problematic because the past is something that can’t be changed. Certainly, we can change our relationship to past memories, but staying “back there” is simply ruminative and, for some of us, baldly destructive. There are a number of techniques that are used that can help you if there are past memories that badly affect you – Reframing; Integral Eye Movement Therapy; Talking therapies; NLP; Hypnosis; literally hundreds of different techniques. What they all do is change your relationship to the past memory.

Anticipating the future is also problematic, even futile, because, no matter how much we’d like to convince ourselves otherwise, we can’t really control the direction in which things will go. We can have an intention or goal in mind, but, in the end, the fates, God, the universe or something has a way of deciding.

Staying present, then, means staying here, right here, and there are a few simple techniques that can help us all experience the moment that we’re in.

Observe what you are doing right now

What you’re doing right at this moment? For most, right now, you are reading this blog post. Are you just reading? Where are your thoughts? Your emotions? Your hands? Your sense of time? You are reading – that’s it…so, just read. Not being present is easy. It is so easy to let our minds wander. Back and forth across our lives. The next time you are doing something, try to just focus on that task. I tried this, this morning when I cleaned my teeth. I focused my attention of the brushing motion; the froth created in my mouth and the tingle of the cleansing toothpaste. For a few moments, I was completely present.

Take a breath:

Our breath, along with change, are the only constants in our lives. Being present starts with the breath. All Mindfulness teaching starts with the breath. After all it , s always with us. Simply draw a deep breath through your nose rather than your mouth. When we breathe through our mouth it triggers a subtle anxiety response, which increases heart rate and redirects blood flow. A slow release of breath through the nose has the opposite effect of mouth-breathing, and draws a relaxation response. One of the quick mindfulness techniques is to breath in for half the amount of time you breath out. You can say breath in for a count of six and out for a count of 12, whatever works for you. I try to notice the difference in the air temperature between the in breath and out breath when I practice. It is always cooler on the in, than the out.

Take a moment:

Our 24*7 lives seem to be always on. When was the last time, you stopped and took a moment, even a few minutes to stop what you are doing? During the day, we rush to get to work; we try to cram in as many emails, meetings and tasks as possible and then rush home again. When we get home, we fill our task list with chores and activities. Even when we go on holiday, we seem to try to fill up every waking moment. Instead, take a mindful moment.

That is what mindfulness meditation teaches you. Whether it is 3 minutes, 10 minutes or even longer, try to take a moment every day. There is going to  be a follow up blog post with a fun way to bring attention to te now. In the mena time, if you have a ay of being present in the now, do share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment”

Gautama Buddha

This is the Now

“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

We spend so much of our lives living inside our own heads, it’s a wonder we ever have the time to see what is going around us. We have a constant narrative of thought going on. It is like the background noise of a radio or TV; often not noticed, but always there.

Do you realise that we humans, it seems, have anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. But according to some research, as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as we had the day before. Talk about creatures of habit! Even more significantly, over 80 percent of our thoughts are negative. That means that every day we are self-criticizing ourselves with over 56,000 thoughts. With that level of negative bias, it’s no wonder so many people suffer from anxiety and even depression.

Why is so much of our self-talk, negative?

If you think back to our pre-history as hunter-gatherers, we spent most of our time hunting or being hunted. Our flight or fight responses were tuned into everything going on around us.

“Is that a tiger I see before me, or just a leafy shadow in the bushes ahead?”

The default thought patterns were centred on how to keep us alive. In effect, making us be cautious about every situation we came across. We used our memories to record and reflect on previous encounters and to use those to help us keep out of danger.

“Yes, it is a tiger and I believe it was a tiger I saw yesterday. Therefore, keep out of the way”

This would be the instinctive reaction, eve if 9 times out of 10, it was just a shadow and not a tiger.

Leap forward and that base level instinct and mode of thought has not changed one jot. However, it is not the tiger in the shadows that makes us worry; rather it is life going on around us.

What appears to happen, is that we have continued to develop a narrative mode of thought. This is where we think about the future, based on circumstances; events; and key obstacles of the past. We constantly think about what may happen in the future, often thinking about future obstacles and how to overcome them based on prior experiences. This is not necessarily negative. In fact, it can be very helpful as we navigate this complex world around us. However, when we do overcome them, or go around them, or avoid them, we still have other obstacles that pop up. It is akin to a life long hurdle race.  

If we are in a negative mode of thought, we think about how difficult those obstacles are and how impossible it is to overcome them. We go round and round, and as mentioned at the start, we churn over our thoughts; day by day; returning to previous negative thoughts. By doing this, we artificially amplify them; making them bigger and more impossible to solve.

So how do you stop the negative thought spiral?

Stop. Just stop. Stop and pay attention to the now. Now, I know you are going to say, how on earth do you do that?

A simple exercise you can try is as – just for a moment, listen to your breath. Or notice what you are looking at. Or the smells in the air.

For example; If you have a shower; when you are standing under the water, close your eyes and feel the water on your skin. Open your eyes and when you open the bottle of shower wash, smell the aroma and scent. Mine is eucalyptus and grapefruit of all things. If you are cleaning your teeth, concentrate on the brushing motion against your teeth and gums.

And when those negative thoughts start to come around again as they will; the first step is to recognise the thoughts as negative. The second is to acknowledge that, like all thoughts, these will come and go. Moment by moment.

I was sitting on the bed this morning and a whole suite of negative thoughts starting going around in my head. It made me feel uncomfortable. I could feel my heart rate begin to increase. However, what made the difference was I realised that these were negative thoughts. Just thoughts. They did not reflect the reality of the moment, sitting on the bed. Thoughts of the past, that you can not change. Thoughts of the future, yet to come.

In effect, I was present in the now.

The TEDx youTube video that inspired this blog post, by Daron Larson, can be found here. It is well worth the 12 minutes to watch.
I leave you with the following quote.

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.” –  Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience