For much of my life, I hated the present moment — sitting still, noticing my own breath, trying to just BE where I was.
In my mind, these were all things reserved for monks and people with some kind of scary, non-human inner calm. People who were normal, I guess.
And then, one day I actually tried meditation.
I hated it. After sitting in the middle of my living room and setting a timer on my phone for five minutes, I couldn’t even make it 30 seconds before getting frustrated and panicked and uncomfortable.
There are a thousand other important things I could be focusing on right now, I thought irritably. This is just wasting time. And I’m doing this wrong. And it feels awful.
And I continued that day as I had been for years, running mostly on autopilot, constantly anxious and worried about getting things done (but never really getting anything done) and not being present with anything in front of me.
But a few months later, I tried meditation again. I knew someone who was effectively using it daily for her OCD. I knew others who used it to ease anxiety, and I had just recently learned that anxiety was one of the biggest things interfering with my own life.
After downloading this app and coming to terms with the fact that the purpose of meditation is not to do it perfectly, I slowly eased into daily meditation, starting with just two minutes a day.
And what’s happened since then has been kind of astounding:
My life has slowed down. I’m so much less anxious about day-to-day things. I can actually catch myself in thoughts that used to send me into a panic or cause me to lash out in frustration.
And I think it’s because I’m more aware of my mind.
I have always been all up in my head, always worrying about the future and feeling like I’m constantly two steps behind. Always being so hard on myself for functioning or thinking differently than other people.
While I am still this way often, I’m not always running from it anymore. I have learned to stop and be aware of what’s going on more often — to observe, and to try doing so without judgment towards myself.
Staying still and present has trained me to better notice my thoughts too, so I can recognize when they are spiraling or causing me anxiety that used to happen without me understanding why.
I have learned that practicing being present often, while not always comfortable or remotely easy, is a path to peace and calm.
If you can relate in any way and want to incorporate more mindfulness into your life, below are some tips I’d recommend to get started.
5 Ways to Start Living More in the Present Moment
1) Download a Meditation App
If one doesn’t seem to work well for you, try another. I found guided meditations really helpful at first, as well as clear instructions on breathing (I’m not someone who can meditate while breathing naturally — it actually makes me anxious! I have to direct my breath in and out. Don’t be afraid to do what works for you).
If apps aren’t your thing, you can look on YouTube for guided meditations too, or take a meditation class. I also talk about meditation during one day of my 8-day self-care challenge.
Or you can just set a timer for a couple minutes, get comfortable, and focus on breathing deeply in and out, if that works better for you to start. Just don’t get discouraged if it’s hard the first time (or even the second or third time). There’s a reason meditation is called a “practice.” It’s not meant to go perfectly; it’s meant to be a lifetime process.
2) Play the Rule of Five
When I want to come back to the present, I’ll try to notice five things with each of my senses (except taste, unless I’m eating!): five things I see, five noises I can hear, five things I can touch, etc. It might be hard to smell five different things, so just notice as many as you can.
I find this helps me more naturally notice what’s around me and appreciate the different colors, textures, and sounds of life, rather than what’s happening in my head. Over time, you may find it gets easier to notice these things.
3) Don’t Try to Quiet Your Mind
It’s a common misconception that in order to meditate “right,” you must have a quiet or blank mind. That’s unrealistic, and I know from experience that trying to force my mind to shut up only makes things worse.
During meditation, observe thoughts as they come up and imagine gently pushing them into the background of your mind, letting your breath be the foreground.
Instead of trying to quiet your thoughts, shift to simply observing them — without judging them or labelling them as “good” or “bad” (this can be really helpful in having a healthy relationship with food too). I find noticing my thoughts as if they’re unattached to me or to any personal outcome helps me notice what’s going on without anything spiraling or feeling like I need to act right now on how I think or feel.
Make the goal just being present, in body and mind.How to Slow Down and Live in the Present Moment Click To Tweet
4) Come Back to the Breath
If you feel overwhelmed by the present, your breath is always available to you. I tend to hold my breath or breathe very shallowly when I’m anxious or overwhelmed, but this just puts us into more of a fight or flight response where the body’s on alert.
It’s pretty cool that our breath is always constant, and always in the present. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. 😉 Take some deep breaths, even if it’s uncomfortable at first, until your body relaxes.
Deep breathing lets the body know that everything is okay, and that it can be calm. This makes it easier to focus on and appreciate what’s happening around you.
5) Write Down Your Thoughts
In a journal, on a sheet of paper, in your phone, etc. Set a timer and write about how you feel and why you feel that way. This is so helpful for me when working through my thoughts, and it helps me redirect some of the negative or anxious thought patterns I tend to get into.
Today I came across something I wrote in my own journal at the beginning of this year after practicing being present for a year or so. It clearly showed a shift in my perspective:
My realization today is that the present moment is my life, that the big happiness secret is in experiencing the meaningful elements of the now.
How peaceful I feel when embracing that, sitting in my apartment even as I must complete work I’m not too passionate about.
I notice the blanket on the floor I never picked up from last night — a shadow of the nightly cuddles with my boyfriend and little dog while watching one of our favorite shows. Suddenly I’m not as angry or upset that cleaning up is a struggle for me. The love it represents is far more important.
I notice the overflowing stacks of books, movies, and comic books that so many times have annoyed me for their propensity. Suddenly I see them as an appreciation of the life and learning I’ve built for myself, and the entertainment we are so fortunate to have access to at any time.
I look out my window on this cold winter day and glimpse a gorgeous view of the leafless trees outside, feel the cool air blowing in from upstairs, and I know I’m fortunate to have a sturdy, stable, nice apartment to live in and a friendly neighborhood — and, perhaps most importantly, a warm place to sleep tonight.
This feels so good that I don’t want it to end. It’s like a drug trip, even though I’ve never experienced one. It can’t last, surely, I think. But then I realize that this is all within me. This is all my “now,” and the ultimate gift to myself is being in that “now” without trying to change it or shape into what it’s not.
There’s no superpower, no drug, no pill, or powder making me feel this way. These are my own thought patterns, available to me at any time, and to anyone else too.
I share this today because I hope it’s helpful to others, but also because I needed it too. Although my anxiety and perspective on life and myself has shifted with meditation and being more present, slowing down my mind is still a daily struggle. It probably always will be in some way, and that’s okay.
But it’s a lot more manageable, now that I have some mindfulness tools under my belt — now that I know I can train myself to be more present. It’s not something that comes to me naturally, but it gets easier every day that I practice.
I can actually be comfortable where I am, both physically and mentally. And although I have goals and ambitions for my future, I have access to contentment with now I didn’t have before, the lack of which was actually hindering me from thriving.
Making an effort to live in the present moment more often gives life more meaning and allows us to find happiness in the smallest of things we might have missed before — and that is priceless.