There’s something inherent in all human beings that longs to feel connected to everyone and everything else. At a deep level, we want to heal our fundamental aloneness.
When we’re fully present, we feel connected to life and everything in it. We are part of the moment, inside it. So too, there exists a drive within us to directly experience life and know our experience more intimately than we can through any idea, concept, memory, or fantasy.
We crave the flow experience, to be fully absorbed into an activity to the point where the separation between doer and doing evaporates and all notions of time disappear. We want, ultimately, to return to a state of oneness we seem to remember at a psychic level.
On a more immediate level, we want to be in the present moment because the distracted experience of not being present feels unsatisfying. It leaves us feeling empty, unfulfilled, and unreal—like ghosts in our own lives, the whole adventure slipping past us.
Profound regret appears for so many when they realize that they’ve missed out on their life. Not being present is like winning a ticket to the most amazing adventure ever created and choosing not to attend. We want to be present so that we can be in the game while this amazing opportunity is here.
Being in the present moment includes a few fundamental practices. Most it all, it involves experiencing what’s happening in our senses right now. It’s feeling what our body is feeling, inside and out; seeing what we’re seeing, smelling what we’re smelling, tasting what we’re tasting, and hearing what we’re hearing—as it’s happening. It means experiencing the feelings and sensations through our body and not our mind’s interpretation of them.
Being present means not thinking about our past, nor projecting our future. It means paying attention to this moment as it’s arising through our senses without judgment or commentary.
While being present means not being engaged in thinking, it’s important to mention that being present doesn’t require the absence of thought. Being in the present moment doesn’t mean the mind stops producing thoughts, and thoughts in and of themselves are not a problem for presence.
Thoughts happen, they can keep coming no matter how present we are. To be present with thoughts involves being aware of the fact that thoughts are appearing, but (and here’s the big but) without identifying with those thoughts. In other words, noticing the presence of thoughts without getting involved in their stories, content, or going down the rabbit hole into which they beckon.
Being in the present moment means directly experiencing what’s arising in the body, in the senses, which also includes paying attention to what’s happening in the mind.
Simultaneously, living in the present moment involves experiencing whatever’s happening right now without an agenda for where it needs to lead us. Being present is turning our attention to right now without trying to build this moment into a desired outcome.
Many of us, myself included, struggle with this more subtle aspect of presence. Deep within us, there exists a drive to make something with our moments, to move our life in a positive direction that will create what we want. As we’re living this moment, a part of us, sometimes unconsciously, considers the present a stepping stone in the larger path of our life. We live in a linear frame, with the present moment inextricably linked to an imagined future.
This linear frame emits a subtle, sometimes imperceptible energy that keeps us at a slight distance from life. It keeps us doing something with life, making something out of it that will benefit us. With our ‘now’ perpetually linked to a future, we can’t trust that it’s safe to truly let go and surrender entirely into this moment, as its own destination.
To be fully in the present moment is to show up without demanding or expecting that it leads to anything else. It’s to be here without using this moment to promote any particular identity, or demonstrate that we are or aren’t something we imagine.
To be fully present is to relate to each now as a vertical eternity, a moment complete and whole, a hologram of everything. It is to release the idea of now as an usher between the past and future.
To live with profound presence is to trust that life will be enough and we will be enough if we simply show up for it one moment at a time. It’s to believe that, like a necklace of pearls, life can be well-lived as a series of present moments strung together. The shift into this sort of presence is about letting go of the idea that we are the directors of our life and we need to use it to achieve a particular agenda.
When we pay attention to our senses without judgment, interpretation, or agenda, and refrain from engaging in thinking, we start to experience—at a gut, heart, and mind level—that simply taking care of our now is the most skillful and successful means for taking care of our future and ending up where we want. It’s much easier than we’re conditioned to believe.
Counter to everything we’re taught, the best way to create a joyful life is to pay attention to this moment and then the next and then the next. We can only learn this truth through practice. Attending to now is all we ever really need to do.
Practices for Being Present
Take a few minutes each day to drop out of your mind and into your body. Feel the experience of right now as it’s happening in your senses. Allow your attention to sync into frame with your body. Sense the felt experience of returning your attention to your own physical being. Feel the sense of relief, calm, joy, or whatever arises as you bring your body your full attention. Feel the “Aaah, yes, I’m here with you. I’m home.”
As you go through your day, notice the subtle drive to live the present moment as a means to an end. Notice the spur to be or do something with the moment. See if you can drop that agenda. Practice surrendering into now, without any thought or plan for a future. Play with living in this moment as if there really is nowhere else to go. Give yourself permission throughout the day to require only one thing from yourself, that you show up for this now. Approach it as an experiment to discover if taking care of your present moment, and only your present moment, can be enough to generate a good life.
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, public speaker, workshop leader, and author of “The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.” For more information, visit NancyColier.com