“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” -Eckhart Tolle
What Is the Present Moment?
One of the core teachings of mindfulness therapy is understanding that the present moment is all we ever have. Everything is happening now. When people experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma responses, stress, and so on, we can be sure that their mind is either in the past or the future (or flipping between both).
If we take a minute to pause, become still inside, and rest with our breath, we can feel what it is like to be in the present where our awareness is fully open. We can then prompt ourselves with the question: “In this very moment, am I okay?” The question is not whether we were okay two seconds ago or whether we are okay two seconds from now, but just in this very moment. By resting in the present moment, we come to realize that we are okay just as we are right now. In fact, our awareness is inherently okay. There is peace here, now, if we can tap into it. Then when we inevitably leave the present moment, our issues pop back up again. Adyashanti describes this experience as “I got it, I lost it,” and I think we can all relate to that. Holding our awareness open is not about perfecting our state of presence. It’s an ongoing practice teaching us that there is a part of our being that is steady, calm, wise, and unaffected by thoughts of the past or future. We eventually learn that we can come back to this place over and over again. It is never gone, even if we are not conscious of it.
By using our mindfulness practice of observation (see my past blog for instruction on this), we begin to see not only how much power our thoughts can have over us, but also how our thoughts actively and continually try to resist the present moment. Through our observation, we are just noticing this when it occurs. We are not trying to force change. We are not judging ourselves for getting stuck in thoughts again. We are not trying to make ourselves calm or peaceful. We are just catching the mind as it does what it does best. As soon as we notice it, that indicates that our awareness is open. Awareness is presence.
How Do I Practice Being Present?
The first step in becoming present is to notice when you are not present.
Here are some simple examples of noticing the mind resisting being present:
• You wake up in the morning, look out the window and see rain. You notice that your mind says “What a terrible day!” (resisting what is happening in the moment)
• You are sitting on the floor of your bedroom folding yet another load of laundry. You notice that your mind says “I hate doing this.” (resisting what we are doing in the moment)
• You have a difficult conversation at work and now you’re feeling upset. You notice that your mind says “I need to just get over this.” (resisting a feeling we are having in the moment)
• Your mother is doing that thing you hate, again. You notice your mind says “Why won’t she just stop?!” (resisting what others are doing in the moment)
Sometimes our mind has one single thought, like I listed above. At other times, there is a whole narrative that we become stuck in. It goes on and on and suddenly we are having an argument in our head and can feel our emotions escalating. This affects our mental health and well-being, and the only real way out is to catch it and come back to now.
Why Do We Resist The Present Moment?
So why do we resist the present moment? We resist because we have learned this mental pattern over time and we don’t know any other way (oftentimes my clients don’t even realize this is happening with their thoughts!). Our mind may also mistakenly believe that we are problem solving or gaining control over a situation. And most noteworthy, we resist because the ego thinks it knows what is best. I say the ego and not your ego, because it is not personal to you. If you take a look around, you will see these patterns everywhere. The ego thinks “It shouldn’t be this way!” and “I know how it should be!” If you question whether this is true, just take a look at any online discussion forum or comment section. We often see those people as irrational, rude, condescending, judgemental, and so on. But the truth is that all of our minds work this way. And at the end of the day, the only way to find inner peace is by looking within and correcting our own state of mind.
What Does Being Present Do For You?
What do we find when we come into the present moment? Calmness, joy, connection, belonging, acceptance, clarity, focus, ease, freedom, contentment, gratitude, and more. These experiences are not permanent - they ebb and flow just like any other part of life. It’s important not to become overly attached to them or to start seeking happiness specifically. The point is to just be here, now, because there isn’t anything else.
Mindful Awareness Practice:
Over the next week, spend some time observing your mind as it is thinking. Try to pay attention to moments when it is resisting what is happening in the present. Do not try to change it in any way, since it is enough to just catch it for now. What happens to you when the thoughts arise in your mind? What happens to you when you catch the thoughts?