How to embrace the present moment

“Happiness, not in another place but this place...not for another hour, but this hour.”  ― Walt Whitman img_0016For many years, individuals sprinted into my office, speaking fast, watching the clock, and sometimes appearing more exhausted when they left than when they entered. After spending some time on my own journey to live more in the present moment through meditation, I decided to try it with my patients that day. My first patient was a woman who walked quickly into my office, ready to begin what I knew would be a long soliloquy of the troubles in her life. Before she started, I asked her to take 5 minutes for deep breathing, relaxing, and focusing on the present moment. I found an amazing thing happened after the 5 minutes ended. When we started our session, my patient appeared calm, relaxed, and less frustrated than what her body language suggested when she walked into my office. She told me that during her 5 minutes of silence and breathing, her thoughts focused on the pleasantness of the present moment and she didn’t feel as upset as when she entered. She was able to use the silence to focus her thoughts on the serenity and pleasantness of the moment and not on bad relationships, dysfunctional family members, questionable friendships, deadlines, or expectations. When was the last time you gave your brain a little vacation? Can you remember the last time you gave your thoughts permission to just savor the present? Did you think this was even possible? Well it is, and for centuries individuals who practice meditation, yoga, and silence have experienced the peace that comes from focusing on the present. What does this involve? To focus on the present means to let go of the past – it is behind us, so we must forgive others and ourselves for mistakes made. We must also trust the future – it is the result of our actions today and can’t be anticipated.  A commonly quoted verse from the Bible is: “For as he [a]thinks within himself, so he is” Proverbs 23:7. Dr. Wayne Dyer says it like this, “The thing you focus your thoughts on is the thing you will create”. Finally, Dr. Deepak Chopra says we have 60,000 thoughts per day, but 95 % of our thoughts each day are the same thoughts we had yesterday. How do we silence our thoughts and the opinions we have about our lives day after day, year after year? Below are 5 suggestions for finding your bliss by embracing the present moment. 1. Observe Silence Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart. Mother Theresa One of my favorite parts in the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love” is when Liz (the main character) goes to New Delhi for a spiritual retreat. Upon her arrival she meets her new roommate who is observing silence. Liz attempts silence throughout the movie, but only achieves it once she lets go of the past by forgiving the mistakes she made with her ex-husband. Her peace of mind is restored and she was soon ready for her own time of silence. Why do we need silence? If we have 60,000 thoughts per day, our mind is on a constant marathon of endless activities of internal and external stimulus. A marathon of endless thoughts saps our energy and strength which can create obstacles to experiencing a more fulfilled life. Silence requires discipline to turn off the noise and to allow ourselves the time to sit in the present. Present moment thinking is practiced in various forms of meditation, deep breathing, and yoga, to help individuals find wellness by balancing the mind, body, and soul. The goal is to spend time allowing all of our senses to experience the harmony that is occurring in the moment and allowing our thoughts to rest from activities. As we focus our thoughts on the present moment, several things happen to our bodies - our minds are quieted, our heart rates decrease, and our stress system slows. Our mind feels at peace and our bodies feel relaxed. Feeling more relaxed allows you to see that the pressures of your life may not be as precarious as you once believed. 2. Carpe diem (seize the day) Several years ago Sarah Ban Breathnach created the book, “Simple Abundance” and encouraged us to write 5 things that we were grateful for each day. Well, as with many people starting this exercise, it may be difficult to remember all of the blessings that happened that day. Many of us used the same 2 or 3 generic thoughts each day to get started and struggled to fill in the rest of the lines. As we continued on our quest in gratitude, we eventually learned to pay attention to every thing and every moment, and soon we found that filling our list with 5 thoughts flowed as easily as breathing. Carpe diem comes from a Latin poem by Horace and encourages us to “Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the next (day)". The Merriam-Webster online dictionary explains it as, “Seizing the moment allows us to exert wisdom by taking each day as a gift from God, by accepting both the good and the bad, and being prepared for everything. Enjoying each day as it comes also implies a grateful heart on the part of the believer and a willingness to accept hardships when they come.” 3. Let Go I had a professor in grad school who often said, “The past is to learn from, not live in”. Wow. This quote encourages us to let go of anything that challenges us from living in the present . Many people use events from the past to write personal stories about why they can’t fulfill dreams today. If your personal story is preventing you from living the life you want today, change your story. Instead of a story that says “you can’t because you parents didn’t or your community doesn’t, change that story to reflect thoughts that embrace where you are today as you move towards where you want to be tomorrow. Remember, the best thing about life is that each day we get a new opportunity to get it right. Each day we have an opportunity to make our lives whatever we want it to be. If we spend our time looking backwards, we will miss everything that is good today. To live fully, we have to learn to embrace each moment, now. 4. Go with the Flow Many of us hear phrases like “go with the flow” and instantly cringe at the notion. The very thought makes us feel like we are not possessing complete and total control over our lives. Going with the flow is not a war cry to never have a plan in place for things you want to accomplish, but it is allowing yourself to embrace the many twists and turns that are the result of life. Life often throws us curve balls, so what do we do with them? We pick them up and toss them back. Learn to embrace “what is” by going into a situation with an open mind to all possibilities. Embrace change and become more flexible, understanding that nothing in life stays the same. Staying in the moment allows us to focus our attention on what is happening now and realize that every moment of every single day may not be as terrible as we sometimes think. Through the clouds, often sunshine peeks through. We may fail to see it if we are only focused on the clouds. Ask yourself right now, am I currently feeling peace in this moment? 5. Cultivate personal happiness I find that most people would list their number one goal in life is, “To be happy”. I hear this daily in my practice and agree it should be a priority. I generally follow-up with questions asking how “happiness” would look to them and how would they know when they were “happy”. Of course, the definitions and answers to my questions are as varied as the number of people on the earth. I say to first Make You a Priority. What do you want for your life? Find the thing that makes you feel alive, worthy, Holy, and fulfilled. What speaks to your heart? What do you dream about doing or becoming most days of your life? If the things you are doing today or the people you are associated with do not support how you see yourself, do something else. Spend time listening to yourself, you are smarter than you may think. You have the answers for your life, so pay attention. My Grandmother use to encourage me to spend time after prayer in silence, listening for a still voice as my guide. That voice would often come and it sounded just like my own voice, but the inspiration in my heart would be an energy I hadn’t felt before my time of silence. What is this moment saying to you and how will you answer?