“The past no longer exists, and the future is not here yet. The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment.” Thict Nhat Hanh
There are many reasons why we may struggle to live in the moment. Past trauma can consume us in the form of flashbacks. Constant demands on our time may have us stretched in every direction. Anxiety about the future can overwhelm our thoughts.
No matter what prevents you from staying in the moment, there are simple practices that can help you develop the ability to remain present.
Start with the breath
It almost sounds silly to remind people about breathing. Afterall, we have to breathe. But, how often do we actually notice our breathing? The simple act of observing our breath is the perfect place to start. Notice your breath going in. Notice your breath going out. Again, and again, and again.
In the beginning it may be difficult to completely focus on your breathing. Thoughts will flood your mind. Here’s the important part: it’s okay. It’s completely normal for other things to come to mind. This is why we call it practice. Practice makes better. Practice noticing the thoughts, but not engaging them. Then return to your breath.
At first this may feel uncomfortable. You may not be used to just noticing. You may have been told in the past that you need to change your breathing. That’s a different exercise for a different day. When you’re able to notice your breath, you’re able to return to the present. Once you’re in the present, you may also start to notice other changes as well, like a clear mind, or feeling more relaxed.
Find an object
Sometimes we need something substantial, or tactile, to help bring us back to the here and now. Look around you. What is something small that you can hold in your hand? It may be something from nature, or even a pen sitting on your desk. Take some time to observe this object. Use as many of your senses to study it as possible. How does it feel on your skin? Is it warm or cold? Heavy or light? Does it have any kind of odor, good or bad? What color is it? Continue to make as many observations about the item as possible.
Sometimes it’s nice to have someone else guide us through an exercise. Guided meditations are one of my favorite ways to return to the here and now. Apps like Calm, Plum Village, Headspace, and The Mindfulness App offer guided meditations you can choose.
If you’re not interested in downloading another app, YouTube has countless guided meditations that are as long or short as you need. Many of them are specifically designed for things like anxiety, sleep, or stress relief. Channels that offer guided meditations include Hay House Presents: Guided Meditations, The Honest Guys, Positive Magazine Meditations, Michael Sealey, and Meditation Vacation, just to name a few.
There are even podcasts dedicated to guided meditation. The One Mind Podcast, I Should Be Meditating, Ten Percent Happier, and The Daily Meditation Podcast may be a good place to start. No matter what platform you prefer, there are plenty of options available.
Find the rainbow
Take a moment to observe your surroundings. Thinking back to the rainbow acronym from elementary art class (ROYGBIV), start looking for colors of the rainbow. Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, Indigo, and Violet. When you find an item, try to describe it to yourself in detail. For example, there is a red jacket hanging on a coat rack. There’s an orange Crayola marker on the table. A large painting has a fall scene with yellow leaves on the trees, and so on. If you’ve been through the alphabet and it wasn’t enough, continue to look for more items in the rainbow.
Savor the flavor
For many individuals, there is a disconnect between the brain and the body. This is especially true for those who have experienced significant trauma. Eating an orange can involve all five senses and be a mindful eating exercise.
Hold the orange in your hand. What does it feel like? What does it look like? What kind of textures can you feel? Now slowly start to peel the orange. You may see, smell and feel a variety of different sensations. Take a moment to notice each one. As you continue to peel the orange, consider the changes that are occuring. Take your time, paying attention to every part of the experience. Try to appreciate every part of the activity.
For some, mindful activities may be uncomfortable. In some cases, it may even intensify trauma reactions. If this is the case, a trauma informed therapist can help you address your trauma safely.
Remember. These are practices. We practice because we aren’t perfect. Give yourself grace as you develop your mindful muscles.
If you’re looking to be more mindful and present, consider booking an appointment with Heidi at The Truism Center. View her profile here www.thetruismcenter.com/heidi