Live in the present – be mindful – meditate – be grateful and so on.
It’s great that “mindfulness” had enjoyed an explosion in popularity. You can now find colouring books and apps that will help you stay grounded in the present moment.
But with this rise in popularity comes over-saturation. We’re told to live in the present moment to reduce anxiety. To appreciate the world more.
Does this still hold much weight when we’re all told the same thing over and over again?
Mindfulness isn’t a cure – it’s a practice
Given the way it’s marketed, mindfulness practice can be seen as a cure.
Meditation, colouring books and the like are no silver bullet. It can be wonderful the first time we make a deliberate effort to calm down but there’s often little use in that if we do it once and move on the exact same why we were before hand.
There are many reasons to be stressed and rarely does it all come down to a lack of mindfulness. Job insecurity, long hours at work, lack of autonomy are all reasons. It’s difficult to say all you need to do is breathe for these problems to have little impact on your well being.
So this is why being mindful and grounding ourselves in the present moment need to be practiced regularly if the stresses of life are also regular. It won’t cure everything but it might make things a bit easier.
But why practice living in the present at all?
- We stop living in explanation
One of the main themes in The Obstacle is the Way is to take action.
Worry less, act more.
It is easy, when faced with a mundane problem, to spend the majority of your time thinking about what to do and all of the possible outcomes in the future.
Of course, there might be tens or hundreds of possible outcomes (if you think for long enough, I suppose) which all seem equally likely and catastrophic. Yes, we need to think about future consequences before acting. Doing otherwise would be foolish.
However, if that’s all we do then our minds become a theatre for worry rather than measured consideration of the future.
Indecisiveness is an easy way to never do what you enjoy.
When we live in the present with purpose, it’s easier to understand the challenges that we’re impacted by right now. From there, it’s easier to take intentional steps forward to making a solid decision.
We reduce the stress of feeling as though we have control over nothing by realising we can control the something in the present. No matter how small it is.
2. We stop thinking about whether “it’s fair”.
“We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is doing.
Then we wonder why we don’t have the energy to actually deal with our problems. Or we get ourselves so worked up and intimidated because of the overthinking, that if we’d just gotten to work we’d probably be done already”.
Maybe I’m hypocritical for talking about this because I have a bad habit of thinking about the fairness of my pain. It took me a year to agree with Nietzsche when he says people hate meaningless suffering more than suffering alone.
However, most problems aren’t existential. Even so, I’ve noticed that in the moments I’ve stopped thinking about whether it’s fair for me to be in pain, I’ve found a bit more peace. Maybe it just doesn’t matter but a problem to be dealt with.
Fairness does matter. However, when that’s all we think about while doing nothing but worrying about it, perhaps we’re causing more suffering than we need to.
So we bring ourselves to the present moment. How can we get past this obstacle and use it to become better?
3. We become better friends with ourselves
Practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for the past four years or so has taught me a few things. The most important one is that thoughts pass and emotional states leave.
Emotions and thoughts are best thought of as “phases” rather than permanent states of being. Even in the large overall states of being like depression, personally, I’ve noticed that emotions aren’t constant. Even if I’m a bit less sad than a few hours ago – that’s a change. To me, it demonstrates that change is possible.
This is enough to keep slivers of hope around.
Because of this, we can remember that the hatred we have for ourselves based on the past or the future can leave when we return to the present. If the hatred continues in the present, we can try shifting our focus to starve our ego of attention or ride the wave and watch the emotion leave.
4. It teaches acceptance
The present moment is not always pleasant. The present can suck just as much as thinking about the past can – not every moment grounds you in peace or happiness.
What if you’re in pain? What if all you can hear are sirens in the background while you’re stuck in traffic? There are many ways we can simply dislike where we are no matter how present we try to be.
To me, this is where a big mistake comes from in the marketing of mindfulness – the idea that mindfulness solves all stress.
I wish we focused more on acceptance. Plenty of the discomfort that comes from uncomfortable experiences is the mental resistance against it. Nancy Colier writes:
[…] as long as we are “checking out” on the moments that we don’t like, we are an extra step away from being able to change them.
We may not be able to change the sirens disturbing us on the drive home but we can begin to accept that it’s difficult to be there. Acceptance does not mean losing the will to change.
Living in the present helps us accept what is may not always be what we want. That can be painful and disappointing. But it’s a worthwhile realisation that will be forgotten and remembered again and again as we continue the practice.
Living in the present moment can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just better to escape into fantasy or light conversation.
But it’s also remarkably helpful. It can reduce stress and anxiety, help us act on problems rather than think about them endlessly.
Most importantly, it can help us practice acceptance. And with that comes more peace, more compassion and more engagement with our everyday lives.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
Do you find it easy to live in the present?