We've all heard the mounting research that indicates that our buzzing lifestyles and devices are zapping our attention, our memory, increasing our stress, and negatively affecting a number of aspects of our mental and physical health. With this magic being no secret, most of us easily come up with a list of excuses to not sit quietly. This is the nature of the mind, by the way, to come up with fear-based excuses. Once you begin witnessing the nature of the mind, you will see that these are just tricks. Don’t fall victim to the trick!
Let's expand on some deeper reasons why we should work to break the habit of exiting the present moment.
if we constantly live in the future, we miss our entire life
Our days are a string of decisions, starting with what time you wake up, what you wear and what you choose to eat for breakfast. This is a problem because collectively, it has become a habit to make these decision ahead of time -- this is an illusion, of course, because as much as we want to deny it, we can never actually know what decisions and options we will be faced with in the moment. My meditation teacher's teacher in India said to her, “you Americans plan what you’re going to wear before you get to the closet.” It’s as if we don’t trust ourselves to make the right decision in the moment – that is why presence is an act of self trust.
We spend 50% of our waking lives thinking about something other than what we are actually doing, and we don't get any of these moments back. Here is how my day would go before I started practicing mindfulness: I walk home from work underneath a beautiful sunset that I miss because I'm writing an email in my head that I have to send when I get home; as I write the email, I plan what I want to say to my friend on the phone afterwards; while I speak to my friend, I think about what I'm going to eat for dinner; halfway through dinner, I daydream about my dark chocolate squares; as I eat dessert, I think about when I'm setting my alarm for the morning. When we live in the future like this, we rip through our day, and in the end we find that we weren’t really in it. We completely miss what the universe is unfolding for us. Trust that you will make the right decision when you have it front of you. Think about it: if you’re cycling through the potential solutions in your head before you even have the choices at hand, you already intuitively know how to handle to decision. Doesn't this sound like a waste?! Save your mind energy for making sound decisions in the now.
99% of this work is acknowledging the predicament we are in – that is, the burden of missing out on real life and the wasted mind energy. From there, it’s about holding compassion for yourself on your journey and determination to practice.
find out what you're supposed to do in this life
The sacred yogic texts say that the present moment is the only opportunity to practice correct perception, which means seeing things as they actually are. Only when we see clearly in this way are we connected to our wisest self – we enter a flow state where we are resourceful, creative, and efficient. When we are connected to the wisest part of our being, we make decisions that support our dharma, which is our purpose in this life; our inner wisdom guides us only when detach from the mental noise and enter the now. Only then can we make decisions that exploit our unique gifts and talents in a way that uplifts us and uplifts those around us. Review:
Meditation ➡️Presence ➡️Correct Perception ➡️Wisest Self ➡️Life Purpose ➡️serve ourselves ➡️Serve others
Now that we more deeply understand that meditation benefits us and all beings everywhere, let's consider some doubts that commonly get in the way of actually sitting down to do it.
I don't have the time or discipline
Yes, you do. You always have one minute. Start with that. Maybe you make it to five in a month. We easily spend 10 minutes scrolling around on our phones each day, and over an hour for some us. You have the time. It's just a matter of what you are prioritizing. The question is, what are you willing to do to reclaim agency over your right to be well?
Where in your day could you spare one to five minutes? Attach meditation to something else already in your routine — maybe before you brush your teeth in the morning or before you eat dinner. It might be hard at first, but remember that it is consistency that you are after, not duration. When life gets in the way, remember that the mind is conditioned to come up with excuses, and you've committed to not fall victim to the mind tricks.
I don't know how
Step 1: Sit with a long spine, on a pillow or a yoga block. Alternatively, what I do is sit tall on a chair with my feet on the ground and away from the back of the chair to keep alert. You can also lie on the ground.
Step 2: Follow your breath – begin by taking a few long deep breaths to settle in. I find it helpful to speak to my mind as I begin:
Hey mind, I know you always take control up there, but for the next few minutes, I am going to take the drivers seat. I might hear you talk, but I won’t listen or engage. Thank you, but you can have a break now.
As you return to the the natural rhythm, choose a focal point where you feel the breath present for you: in and out of the nostrils, the chest, or the belly. Simply witness the breath. You can even say to yourself: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
Step 3: The mind will wander - remember that the nature of the mind to exit the present moment, and you are sitting there to break that exact habit. The fact that you have caught yourself is a BEAUTIFUL thing! Every time that you realize you aren't present, you are present. That is when you smile, notice what caught your attention, and return to your breath. The problem isn’t that we think or feel too much — its that we cling to these thoughts and emotions. As a detached witness, you will notice that these distraction actually fall away as quickly as they arise, if you let them. Walk with two sticks: compassion for yourself for getting caught up in a distraction, and determination to return focus to your breath.
Alternative: Mindfulness broadly means giving your full attention to whatever you are doing in the moment. So, washing dishes and only washing the dishes, instead of also talking on the phone or listening to a podcast, is a form of meditation. Similarly, taking a walk and feeling the wind on your face and listening to the sound of your footsteps, is meditation. Anytime in your day when you are alone, try this time of moving meditation. Same thing goes: when the mind wanders, you bring yourself back to your breath and the sensations of your activity.
this doesn't actually help my daily life
With dedicated practice a formal setting, you create an intimate partnership with your breath, so that you can access presence whenever you need it. Meditation doesn't clean up the mess in your life, but instead allows you to better handle the mess in your life. Consistent practice of following the breath lends you the tools to remain present when you are under stress or feel scattered, so that you can move forward with clarity and skillful action. Your breath is a gift from the present moment - in each moment there is a new breath to bring you back home. Your day will begin to reflect your meditation practice – when you catch yourself in a rabbit hole, smile, notice where the mind went, and brig yourself back to your breath to re-ground.
I'm not good at it - I have too many thoughts.
Be very careful to never judge your practice. It's the same neurotic and fearful voice coming in the back door. There is no 'good' or 'bad' session - your practice just is the way it is that day; you notice what comes up and you show up again the next day. Ultimately, you’re only job is to make your practice consistent. You are tired, scattered, distraught, anxious, lonely: you show up. You learn to sit swithyourself in these moments. Don't expect to experience silence or bliss during meditation. Awareness of the chatty mind IS the practice. The idea isn't to immediately clear away the distractions that you experience. Instead, the idea to stay neutral toward the distractions: the thoughts (e.g., "I need to move on with my day"), emotions (e.g., boredom, frustration, doubt), and physical sensations (tight hip, an itch). If we can stay neutral – notice and not get caught up – they will fade into the background. With practice, their pull on us becomes softer and softer.
Patience, Compassion, & Determination
Above all, have compassion for yourself during this process. Overtime, with consistency and compassion, the subtle effects will transform your life. The fact that you have even gotten to the end of this blog post means you are doing such good work. This is not easy – I've been working on presence for a year and I talk to myself at least 100 times a day to spare myself from mental chatter: Meaghan, Be Here Now. Be with your meal. Be with your partner. Be with your book. Be with your rest. Everything else will wait. Trust that you will know what to do when you get there. I consider catching myself like this a win, as it means I've returned to the vibrant and vivid now. You are training the muscles of the brain just like you would the muscles in your body — it takes time and dedication to recalibrate the brain.
May we keep showing up to our seat and being kind to ourselves. May we trust that everything we need, and everything divine and holy, exists here now. May we keep coming back, again and again and again, to the present moment as we walk about this world.