How to Live in the Present Moment
“I have little use for the past and rarely think about it…”
This is how Eckhart Tolle begins his book The Power of Now A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.
I read that line probably five times.
He doesn’t have use for the past?
He rarely thinks about it?
That means he’s so committed to being in the present moment, he doesn’t spend time thinking about what happened, who did what and why things were the way they were. And if he’s truly in the present moment that would also mean he doesn’t send time worrying about the future or thinking about tomorrow. And God knows he NEVER says, “Is it only Tuesday? When’s the weekend getting here?”
What does it mean to be present?
My spiritual guru taught me the concept of being present nearly 15 years ago and I got the top layer of it: be in the now because it’s the only real moment in life. But after re-reading Tolle’s book (which came out years ago and is so worth reading several times), I realize this applies to how we approach everything in our lives.
The key to applying this to everything in our lives, is to catch ourselves when we wander away from the present moment. This can happen dozens of times in one day.
For example, my son has been away at football camp for a week. Tomorrow, I’ll get in the car and make the 4 hour drive to get him and bring him home. I found myself really looking forward to seeing him, and really dreading the long ride.
CATCH. “Oh, I’m thinking about tomorrow” I said to myself, “get back to the present moment.”
It’s okay that I was looking forward to seeing him. It’s okay that I missed him, but dwelling on it keeps me out of the present moment. It’s also okay I don’t like driving long distances, but dreading it keeps me out of the present moment.
And this isn’t a one-time thing. Later in the day I was texting and walking.
CATCH. “You’re multi-tasking so you can’t be totally in the present moment.” I put down the phone.
Then, when I go to bed I start to worry about what my next blog will be, what I’m going to wear to a party, my daughter’s haircut appointment and whether or not I should laser again.
CATCH, CATCH and CATCH!
I told myself “You can set time aside later to plan. Get back to the present moment, which is feeling how soft this bed is, how tired I am, and listening to my breath.”
Those are pretty obvious and relatively easy catches I like to call Basic Present Moment Training Exercises for your emotional muscle.
It’s far more challenging to catch yourself not being in the present moment when you are triggered, or in reaction.
A trigger is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when something triggers or ignites an old thought and therefore an old reaction or response arises within you. It’s definitely not from the present moment but something in the present moment pushed your old button and an old feeling is coming up.
If we are not conscious or aware of this, we will be tricked into thinking the trigger is really from the present moment. Most of us get tricked into this frequently. But, just knowing the trigger isn’t from the now, just having the awareness you’re in reaction, is actually you being the present moment.
So, even if you just have one thin slice of awareness while you’re screaming at some idiot who just cut you off on the highway, you are in the present moment.
My latest trigger…
I have enough examples of this in my own life to fill an entire library. But let’s just go with the most recent trigger that lasted for a mind-blowing 10 day stretch.
Someone told me something (pushed my old button) that brought up an old wound of feeling unprotected and invalidated. It must have been a really ancient wound because I was in reaction (angry then sad) for over a week.
In the very beginning of my trigger is seemed as if it was about this other person. I said to myself, “How could this person do this to me? I’m a good person.” Then, I caught it. I would start to notice during this 10 day trigger I was in reaction and that my old issue was up.
The part of me doing the noticing was the part of me that was being in the present moment. Which led me to the healing.
The healing is:
1) Acknowledging I feel invalidated.
2) Accepting this is an old wound of feeling invalidated as a child.
3) Getting into the present moment and knowing that right now I am not being invalidated.
I know that last one is strange. How is it that I’m not being invalidated right now, when it feels like it?
Yes, it feels like I’m being invalidated right now for sure, and yes I was invalidated as a child and I’m bringing that into the present moment. Someone for sure is pushing my button – but it’s my button.
That’s Doctoral Level Exercises For Your Emotional Muscle: recognizing when you’re in reaction and getting yourself back into the present moment.
It’s okay if you can’t do this or don’t want to do this. But it’s nice to know we all have a choice to be in the now.
And that’s where you will find true joy.
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