Be here now. Do this now.
How often do we hear these words, or similar ones, without paying attention to them? I was just in a yoga class where this was the theme. At the beginning of the class the teacher spoke the words and then gently talked about how hard it is to follow this idea. We are so often focused on what we want to be and where we want to go and what we need to accomplish that we forget to take pleasure in the present moment.
After each series of movements, the teacher would quietly say these words, reminding us to try to appreciate what we were feeling in that moment.
The theme had special meaning for me that day. My son had recently been home from college for a very brief visit. My husband I always anticipate his visits with great excitement. Yet when he arrives our small and already cluttered New York City apartment somehow starts to feel overstuffed. During his absence it seems that we have gotten used to having more space for our disorganization. So when he is at home again, happy as we are to see him, we start to feel a little overwhelmed and sometimes a little irritable.
On this visit I explained to him that I was working hard to keep the apartment a little neater and would really appreciate his help. He said that he would be glad to help, but that he thought the apartment looked wonderful - nice and cozy and warm. It was a sweet compliment, and I thanked him for it; but I half-laughingly told him that I wanted it to look elegant. He seemed astonished. "Mom," he said, "that would be awful. It wouldn't be you. This is you."
I thought of his words when I was trying to stay present in my yoga class. No, my apartment would never be elegant. I have too many things, too many photos, too many knick knacks, too many messy spots piled with books and papers. Cozy, yes. But messy. Not elegant.
In the yoga class that day, I realized that being elegant was simply one of the things I will never be or be able to do. I will also never be able to do a backbend the way the young woman on the mat next to me was doing - nor even the way I could do a few years ago. But I can try to take in and enjoy fully who I am and what I feel at any moment. I could do a backbend, my backbend. I could feel my legs and arms working hard - not necessarily a comfortable sensation, but one that actually made me feel strong. When I came down to rest, I felt pleased that I had managed to stay up a nano-second longer than I had wanted to. I enjoyed my body's feeling of being stretched out. And then the instructor's voice encouraged us to leave that experience and move to the next movement, the next "here and now."
Staying in the moment is no easy task. Books have been written about it (my favorite authors on the subject are Tich Nhat Han and Pema Chodron). Yoga teachers, psychotherapists, meditation experts all encourage us to work towards it, but no one expects it to happen easily or all the time. Some of my colleagues on the PT website have written about this. Two examples are Karen Kissel Wegela's blog and Linda Wasmer Andrew‘s blog ; but you can also do a search for "meditation" on the website itself and find many other interesting discussions of both meditation and mindfulness. I am not pushing meditation here; what I am suggesting is that without any formal structure, we can all start to feel more connected to each present moment. And feeling this connection can help us stop longing for what we don't have and start enjoying who we are, what we have, and the life that we are living!
After the yoga class I started thinking of ways that I could work towards being more present. I made a short list that I thought I would share with you. I would love to know of other possibilities, of ways that you have managed to bring yourself into the present, and whether or not that has helped you feel more comfortable being who you are. Books you have read, things you have learned, techniques you use. And I'd also like to know if you have questions or doubts about the idea - and if you've tried things that haven't worked!
Here's my list:
1 - If you have a child, take a few moments to be with him or her. Do not try to teach her anything. Just play or talk or sing or walk or even just sit and watch television. Pay attention to what is happening in the moment. If it is possible and not intrusive to him and doesn't interfere with whatever he is concentrating on, feel his skin. If she does not want to be touched, just feel what it is like being near to her. Listen to her sounds. Breathe the air around her. Try to put aside thoughts about whether or not he is doing things at a particular developmental or academic level, how she compares to other children her age or how he is in relation to his siblings. Enjoy this moment.
2 - Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Turn off your mp3 player. Listen to the sounds around you. Take in the smells, the sights, the feelings of being there. Do not try to accomplish anything. Do not run errands. If you stop and speak with someone, feel yourself there fully. If you speak to no one, feel what it is like. Neither of these is better than the other. Simply appreciate what it feels like to be in your neighborhood at this time on this day.
3 - Have a face to face conversation with another person (for this exercise, it should not be on the phone). It can be someone with whom you are very close, someone you might like to get to know better, or a chance acquaintance. Try to focus on the sounds of your voices, on the ways you feel standing or sitting near this person. Pay attention to how you feel as you end the conversation and move away from one another. See where your thoughts go. Try not to judge or criticize yourself or the other person. Try also not to look into the future or think about the past. Try to simply feel what it is like at this moment with this person.
4 - Take a yoga class or a meditation class and try to focus on each moment.
5 - Do any kind of exercise for a specific, limited period of time. Pay attention to what it feels like, but try not to allow yourself to think about how fast you are going or how hard you are working or how much more you should be doing. Give yourself credit for what you are doing each moment; and try to feel your muscles, your breath, your head, your feet, your skin - even your hair -as you go along.
6 - Do a "mindless" and uninteresting task - sweeping the kitchen floor, doing the laundry, washing the dishes (okay, so you've just found out what activities interest me the least in life! No wonder I don't do "elegant!") Pay attention to how you feel and what you think about. As I wrote in my book Daydreaming: Unlock the Creative Power of Your Mind, this is a time to allow your mind to wander. Don't try to stop yourself; pay attention to where your thoughts go. Daydreams hold important information about you, but not literal information about what you should be doing (I have earlier posts about ways to think about your daydreams; and Amy Fries has a website on PT that discusses some similar ideas ).
7 - Hug someone you care about. This can be a spouse, a partner, a child (if they are willing), a parent, a pet, a friend. Feel your skin, their skin, the ways your bodies touch. Listen to the sounds you both make. Pay attention to the way they smell. Don't think about "where this will go." In fact, don't let it go anywhere. Keep it short. Just let it be. See what you feel in the next present moment.
8 - Read a book, listen to music, go to a movie. Let yourself be absorbed in the experience without trying to judge any aspect of the experience.
9 - Take a shower or a bath. Use a scented soap. Burn candles (with care). Enjoy the moment; and pay attention to what you feel and think throughout the process and afterwards. (Don't be surprised to find that you are tempted to do more self-grooming. It's a natural response. You may want to smooth on body cream, file your nails, wash and dry your hair.) If you have the time, follow these urges, again paying attention to each moment. If you're out of time, remember this activity and what it felt like - and try to make time for it again as soon as you can!
10 - Cook or bake something. Anything. It doesn't have to be a gourmet dish. It can be something you eat alone or share with someone else. Make scrambled eggs if that appeals to you. But pay attention to the process. What do you feel as you crack the eggs, beat them in the bowl, turn them into the pan? How does it feel to eat them? (And then go back to #6 while you clean up!!)
These are just some ideas. Please tell me what other ideas and activities have helped you to "be present, be here now." Tell me if it has helped you feel better about yourself in anyway. And tell me what other thoughts you have about this idea (positive or negative!!!)