One of my all-time favourite books is Thoreau's Walden. Decades ago, when I first read the book, something he wrote (well, a lot of things he wrote) struck a chord with me. As I read, I underlined almost everything! One particular quote I pondered over quite a bit, as I just didn't know what that meant (I was in my 20s): "There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands."
About eight years ago, I re-read the book when I started practicing mindfulness shortly after my mom passed away. At the time I couldn't deal with life, or with thoughts from the past and worries about the future.
I went back to the page with that quote; and I got it! Aha! "Bloom of the present" was such an eloquent term for what I was striving toward -- that I need to just be in the present and revel in it, notice it, be aware of who I am; who I'm talking to, what I'm thinking about, and letting go of fears, guilt, and all the rest of my "monkey mind."
Every day we sacrifice our moments by not being in the present, and then wonder "where did the time go?" In my mind, it feels like I've sacrificed precious time by not having that moment-to-moment awareness. In its most simple definition, being present means being engaged physically, emotionally, and mentally in what is going on around you and on what you are doing right now.
Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. James Thurber
Your "right now," or present moment, changes with what you are doing, and includes a certain practical amount of anticipating and remembering and thinking about not only what you are doing but also what is going on around you. A good check could be to ask: Am I spending more time in my head, or are am I spending more time in experiencing the moment?
I never think of the future. It comes soon enough. Albert Einstein
It's easiest to be present in the moment when doing physically demanding activities or when learning new things. We are much more likely to drift into thoughts of the past or wishes for the future, and to dwell on old fears when what we are doing is familiar and routine. While there is nothing wrong with not being present all of the time, being present more often can enhance just about every area of your life, from work, to play and relaxation, relationships, family, finances, creativity, healing, and spirituality (some studies even show being present changes your luck!).
Being aware and in the moment allows you to receive feedback from people and activities going on around you, which in turn allows you to make better decisions and take more effective and appropriate action. Others instinctively know when you are fully present and when you are not and they will respond with more awareness.
Improved physical energy is another benefit of mindful awareness and being present: when you are aware of your breathing, your physical movement, and what and when you are eating and drinking, your energy increases.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard
And how we spend our moments is how we end up spending our days. As a parent, I find myself often multi-tasking, and listening but not quite hearing. With a daily practice of mindfulness, I can catch myself in the middle of a conversation and ask, " Am I hearing what my daughter is trying to tell me?" That's when I put down whatever else I'm doing and breathe, and not allow the many "to do list" items to sacrifice the "bloom of the present moment."
Present-moment techniques to try
Here are some techniques for beginning to become more present in your own life, whatever the circumstances, and no matter where you live: (adapted from www.huna.org)
- Be aware of beauty in your environment.
- Be aware of colors in your environment.
- Be aware of patterns in your environment.
- Be aware of the sensations of your body.
- Change your breathing and shift positions or modify your movements when it feels right.
If you are in the Vancouver, BC area and would like to learn mindfulness techniques, check out our mindfulness training programs.