That’s a good question. Living in the moment, or “being fully present” as Eckhart Tolle calls it, can be a challenge sometimes. And just because I’ve spent some time reading about it and practicing it, doesn’t mean that I’m the expert. But I do have some “tips” that work for me, when I remember to employ them. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few meta-themes you can use any time you’re feeling negative emotions.
First, remember to breathe. I’ve learned that when I am in the midst of a stressful situation or just having a not-so-great day, I have a tendency to hold my breath. I never realized this about myself until I started focusing more on my breathing. Holding my breath adds to the stress I am feeling – it is a signal to my body that something is wrong.
Notice your breathing. Once you’ve actually starting breathing (if you’re me), then pay attention to your breathing; notice the rhythm of it. It’s a bit like the ocean waves. Feel the breath as it fills your lungs and notice what that feels like. Then exhale and take note of how that feels. When you’re paying attention to your breathing, you are in the moment. Take deep breaths and feel your body start to relax.
Notice your emotions. In a stressful situation, or on a day when I might get stuck in the past or be worried about the future, my pain, fear, anxiety, regret, whatever – these emotions take me out of the moment and drop me into an unreal existence. So I just become my own observer. I get out my mental notepad and jot down some details. Without judging them. I just note. I may even say it aloud. “Seeing that woman and her little boy in the store is making me feel sad.” “I am angry that the postal employee didn’t come to the door for my signature.” Or whatever. Acknowledge the emotion and leave it at that.
Inventory your immediate circumstance. This one works great for me and it is the logical next step after acknowledging emotions. It really helped me when my older son Ian was in the hospital after an accident. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge that you are alive, that in this very moment all is well. Think about the things you have and that you are safe right now. Say a quick thanks for those things. “Right now I have everything I need.” No buts! Don’t overanalyze.
Look for God. Take five minutes, get still and ask him to sit with you as you meditate. Close your eyes, imagine you are in a peaceful place, and “watch” for God to show up. If any distracting thoughts come to mind, notice them and go back to your focus of waiting for God. Don’t chatter on about your needs and desires to him, this is not the time for that. Just look for his presence. If you are in a situation that prevents you from formally sitting down to meditate, adapt it to your circumstance.
In all these things, becoming the observer is a key to existing in the moment and being fully present. Today and the rest of this week I am going to remember to practice these tips in uncomfortable or unexpected social situations (one of my greatest challenges). What is your biggest obstacle to living in the moment?