During vacation I had some down time, and I realized I was subtly receiving a message from the universe – live in the now. Be present. Stop doing and just be. Really sink into each moment and savor it through all the senses. As I contemplated the thought of being present, I had several motivating factors for heeding the universe’s message:
- If you read my blogs from the last few weeks, things got pretty crazy and I was really overwhelmed. When I reflect back, I realize I was DOING to much, and not allowing myself to just BE. For me it would have been beneficial to enjoy each thing as I was doing it instead of trying to do too much at once and not enjoying any of it. And I probably would have made less mistakes.
- Several of elderly couples I know are going through some tough times. They retired and thought they would have a life of travel and volunteering, only to be sidelined by illness and hospitalization. And unfortunately it is usually only one spouse, while the other is in relatively good health. It really made me think that I need to pursue things like travel NOW, when both my husband and I are healthy and capable. Which leads me to…
- Health issues. I see the health issues my older loved ones are facing, and it reinforces the fact that we need to be preventive with our health care. Exercising, eating right (most of the time), relieving stress, getting regular checkups and listening to our doctors is critical. So while living in the present may feature something like having a piece of cake as a treat, we need to be health conscious NOW to prepare for a long life.
- Recently a couple we know were in a car accident. Thankfully they are OK, but it brought back memories of my own car accident almost exactly a year ago. It made me realize how quickly life can change. We had minor injuries, and luckily all others involved weren’t hurt seriously, we had insurance that was wonderful and the means to get a new car. But it reinforces the importance of savoring each moment as we may not get the opportunity to later.
What can you think of that may motivate you to live in the now? If you came up with a list like mine, it may be time to shift from ruminating on the past or pining for the future, and focus on the present.
Living a consistently mindful life takes effort. But mindfulness itself is easy. “People set the goal of being mindful for the next 20 minutes or the next two weeks, then they think mindfulness is difficult because they have the wrong yardstick,” says Jay Winner, a California-based family physician and author of Take the Stress out of Your Life. “The correct yardstick is just for this moment.”
Mindfulness is the only intentional, systematic activity that is not about trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, explains Kabat-Zinn (Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine.) It is simply a matter of realizing where you already are. A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience. You can do it right now. What’s happening this instant? Think of yourself as an eternal witness, and just observe the moment. What do you see, hear, smell? It doesn’t matter how it feels—pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad—you roll with it because it’s what’s present; you’re not judging it. And if you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back. Just say to yourself, “Now. Now. Now.”
Here’s the most fundamental paradox of all: Mindfulness isn’t a goal, because goals are about the future, but you do have to set the intention of paying attention to what’s happening at the present moment. As you read the words printed on this page, as your eyes distinguish the black squiggles on white paper, as you feel gravity anchoring you to the planet, wake up. Become aware of being alive. And breathe. As you draw your next breath, focus on the rise of your abdomen on the in-breath, the stream of heat through your nostrils on the out-breath. If you’re aware of that feeling right now, as you’re reading this, you’re living in the moment. Nothing happens next. It’s not a destination. This is it. You’re already there.
So don’t set a goal to be more present, just be. Remember, we are human BEings, not human DOings.