I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard expressions like ‘Live in the moment’, or ‘the time is now’. I’ve always thought that it was a very nice idea on paper, but not one that can actually be incorporated in a practical way into a real life: not when we need to plan for the future, not when we need to review our past mistakes to make us better people and avoid the same trips and pitfalls.
Then my therapist introduced me to the concept of mindfulness. She recommended books for me to read – always the best way for me to learn – and I ploughed through them, fascinated. It turns out that mindfulness – essentially being conscious in each moment and living in the now – doesn’t mean abandoning your past or forgetting about your future, hoping that it flowers before you, just so. Mindfulness is about not letting those things define you. It’s about not blindly rushing around without thinking about what we’re doing. It’s about noticing. About really connecting.
It’s not easy to keep bringing your mind back when it wanders – we’re imaginative creatures, and we like to daydream, we like to revisit old ground and set up temporary camp there. Our minds are like gypsies in that way – always drifting, never settling. Apparently, it gets easier with practice.
What I did notice, almost immediately, was how much more connected I felt.
One of the simplest exercises I was taught was to just notice my surroundings – for example, walking home from work, I’d normally be thinking about my day, calculating how much money I’d spent, worrying about the work I hadn’t completed or wondering what to eat for dinner. My therapist told me to actively observe instead – talk to myself as if I was pointing things out to a child (because, as she pointed out, children are naturally mindful), keep a mental litany going.
Look how blue the sky is. The clouds are lovely, and full of light. That one looks like a teapot. That one like a rabbit in a hat. Look at those bright pink flowers, the one bee nosing about in their petals. Listen: a dog is barking, it echoes from the walls. Feel that breeze lifting my hair, the sun on my skin. I taste like spearmint. I feel warm, and calm.
It sounds ridiculously simple. That’s because it is. If it sounds hippie-ish or New Age-y…it isn’t. It’s just about learning to notice things again rather than drifting off. About experiencing things rather than dulling them out with the white noise of our swarming thoughts. How many times have you driven home without remembering the actual journey? Or washed the dishes on autopilot? It’s easy to zone out. It’s easy to disconnect. But we miss out on so much actual life when we do it.
I just wanted to end with a quote I’ve always liked – it may sound trite, but there’s such truth in it:
Today is a gift – that’s why it’s called ‘the present’.