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Live Fully in the Present, Not in Your Head

Interoception is the ability to sense your own body and its internal state.

Source: Anna Dzinbinska/Unsplash
We are more distracted than ever.
Source: Anna Dzinbinska/Unsplash

Do you ever feel like you're going through the motions without really being present? There is so much good advice out there on being present, yet it seems we are more distracted than ever.

Most of us struggle to slow down and really notice our thoughts and feelings. What is going on? And what can we do to help ourselves show up and fully inhabit our lives?

We are not the boss of very much

It's a difficult fact of life that we are vulnerable. We are confronted with uncertainty and limits, in small ways and large, on a daily basis. We long for things, but there are limits to our ability to control when or how they happen. When we tune into the moment, we feel the passage of time and become aware of forces that impinge on attaining our desires. We recognize that we are not the ultimate boss of very much. And in that moment unrest stirs.

Unrest is our friend

Unrest is an attention-getter. It wants us to wake up to the optimal moment to pay inner attention, so we can feel fully alive. If we tune in to our inner experience, we will be aware that emotions are rising. Those emotions are adaptive, meant to help us come to terms with our limits and embrace the richness of our lives.

But we have a dilemma: Unrest signals us via the same quick pathway as fear, and we are wired to move away from things that we fear. We unconsciously misperceive vulnerability as danger and are ejected from the moment. We escape, distract, and busy ourselves. We worry and try to control things. We eat and drink and shop and scroll.

The paradox is we need to get out of our heads and into our experience in order to live our lives more fully, but when we slow down unrest stirs: We are prompted to escape what we feel. Rather than react to unrest like a threat, we need to do the opposite of how we are wired and see unrest as our friend.

Interoception is like a superpower

Paying inner attention to body sensations is a powerful form of mindful awareness, which is especially effective in soothing the nervous system. Interoception is the term for the inner sense that permits us to become aware of what is happening inside our bodies. Interoception is how you can experience yourself from the inside: heart rate, hunger, thirst, temperature, breathing, muscle tension, and fatigue, to name a few.

Alexey Demidov
The body is our pathway to the present.
Source: Alexey Demidov

Interoception is like a superpower. When we deliberately bring warm interest without judgment to sensations, our bodies recognize our inner attention. Our bodies implicitly understand that there is no external danger at the moment. If there were an immediate threat to life and limb, we would not be capable of perceiving our inner state, as our fight-flight reflex would force us to be oriented outward. We would be scanning the external environment for the source of the threat. Hence, our inner awareness of body sensations (when slow and precise and without judgment) is powerful evidence to the body that we are safe.

Unrest is uncomfortable but it is trying to help us wake up to the truth that we are not omnipotent. If we don’t notice and soothe unrest, we will be ejected from the moment and find ourselves avoiding our experience. And everything we do to not feel leads us to be more anxious and depressed. We will be shopping, exercising, eating, drinking, worrying, intellectualizing, ruminating, numbing, busying, and scrolling our lives away.

The body is our pathway to the moment

When we learn to tune in to the sensations of unrest and soothe our nervous systems, we can come home to the present moment. The body is our pathway into the present moment. And when we bring warm interest and non-judgment to what we feel in our bodies, we not only get to have a deeper, richer experience of our lives but we may also be surprised at the welcome home we receive from our grateful bodies.


Brown, Brene (2015). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York: Avery.

Fosha, Diana (2000). The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model For Accelerated Change. New York: Basic Books

Parker, Sandra (2022). Embracing Unrest: Harness Vulnerability to Tame Anxiety and Spark Growth. Vancouver, BC: Page Two.

Santomauro, D.F., Mantilla Herrera, A.M., et al (2021). Global prevalence and burden of depressive and anxiety disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020 due to the COVID-19 epidemic. The Lancet, 398(10312), 1700-1712

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