I have become acutely aware lately of how many moments I spend wanting to be somewhere else or at some time in the future. When I am in the mood to, and I remember to be present, it’s pretty easy to accomplish.
What’s more difficult and elusive is choosing to be present when I start to feel uncomfortable, to stay when I predict that something will be unpleasant, or when I determine that there’s nothing in this moment, hour, or day for me and I wish I could press a fast-forward button. Sometimes I wish I could fast forward through the whole week to Friday at 5pm. Sometimes I avoid doing what I should, and it hangs over my head and steals my peace even while I am doing something else.
With mindfulness practice, I have a growing awareness that whenever I wish to be somewhere else instead of fully participating in the present, I am missing my life. I can no longer ignore that I am losing the time I claim to care so much about, and feel such a shortage of. I understand this conceptually, and I can even get glimpses of what it would feel like to be present most of the time. So why can’t I get there more often? Well, I think I am moving toward being present more of the time, but here is what seems to get in the way…
- Lack of acceptance of whatever is happening. It can be sneaky and subtle. It’s like when I have the thought “if I only didn’t have to do this stupid paperwork, then I could be home right now”, or “It’s not fair that I don’t get paid for paperwork, so I shouldn’t have to do it”. Since the only way for me to keep the job is to do the paperwork, and it behooves me to do it as efficiently as possible, these thoughts do not help and only hinder the getting it done.
- Lack of consistent self care. I know that taking care of myself impacts how I show up in the world. For example, when I spend too long in front of the television in the morning and then I have to cram in my routine and barely peel into the office on time, it’s hard not to feel rushed, stressed, and wanting to get back home and away from the feeling, to spend more time in front of the tv! This is another level of not accepting – denying the need for adequate sleep, or meditation time, or time to pack my lunch and gather my things, or the real amount of drive time needed. Cramming it all in, ironically enough, means getting less out of my time because I spend so much of it rushing through to the next thing and wishing for the rushing to be over.
- Intensity of physical stress reaction. All the things on this list are interconnected, but sometimes this one is triggered, and seems to come out of nowhere. The size of our stress reactions are partly a function of self care, having good boundaries, etc. Sometimes the fight or flight mechanism can be so intense that no amount of logic can prevail and we just want it to end, NOW! We can learn to work with these feelings, asking what they are trying to tell us and compassionately addressing them.
- Lack of prioritization. The taking care of myself then leaves only so much time to do other stuff, and I still haven’t untrained this notion that I ought to be able to do more. I have improved an awful lot here by building in cushion and making sleep, exercise, meals and meditation a permanent part of my schedule, and acknowledging my individual tolerance for busyness, but it’s a fine line. There’s always more I want to do than I have time for. Ideally, we want enough action in our lives to stay interested and engaged, but not so much that we can’t be present for any of it. This is tricky because it’s individual AND a moving target – it looks more like continuously reprioritizing wants and needs and sorting out the right balance, rather than thinking we will achieve the magic formula and then just follow it forever.
Some questions I ask myself from time to time, and that are helpful when I am finding it especially difficult to be present:
- Is there anything I can let go of to free up time?
- What is the best thing I could be doing right now?
- How well have I taken care of myself the last week, two weeks, or month?
- How could I take better care of myself today?
- Am I getting enough play time?
- If I don’t want to do this, why am I here, doing it now?
- What matters most in the big picture, and is that where most of my time is going?
- What would it feel like to accept this moment exactly as it is?
- What if I were to let go and decide to be totally present right now?
- (If I feel desperate to get away from this moment) What feelings or needs are asking for my attention right now and how can I do a better job of acknowledging them in a compassionate way?
Everything is moving so quickly, and we’re all caught up most of the time in busyness and hurry. If we started to slow down a little, and find moments of pure presence, we would start to notice a shift. I have noticed it, and others who try to be more mindful and present in their lives notice it, too.
Where could you start? Absolutely anywhere. Eat one meal mindfully. Hell, just eat one bite mindfully. Be totally present for one conversation. Make a habit of only talking on the phone when you are talking on the phone. Refuse to do more than one thing at a time.
Other suggestions? Add ’em below and share how they worked!