Being Present

You've probably heard of being present, but what does it mean? Being present essentially means that we pay attention - full attention - to the right-here, right-now. So much of the human experience is spent worrying about the future or ruminating on the past. But these things are not happening. The past is not happening anymore and the future is not happening yet. If all of our time is spent worrying about things that could happen later or things that already did happen and can't be changed, what does that leave for right now, which is the moment we are actually living in? It doesn't leave very much at all.

The past is over. It's done. Good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, it's a done deal. It cannot be changed. That's kind of cliche to say, so let's really think about that for a moment. We all know the past is over and what's done is done, but when was the last time you really thought about and internalized the fact that the past is over and there is nothing you can do to change it? Think about it, and while you're thinking about it, ask yourself why you are giving so much energy to something you can do literally nothing about. Thinking about it harder or more often is not going to change anything. Thinking about it differently is the key.

There is a difference between ruminating on the past and processing it. Processing something is experiencing it, accepting it, validating it, learning from it and letting it go. Ruminating is usually just thinking about something, often obsessively and usually unproductively. This often comes from not accepting that it happened, or the conclusion it points to.

Processing looks like:

  • That happened. (experiencing)

  • That happened and it means this? Yes, even though it was unfair, wrong, painful, etc. (accepting)

  • That happened, it mean this and I feel how I feel about it. (validating)

  • That happened, it means this, I feel how I feel and it means I need to do this. (learning from it)

  • That happened but I've learned from it and can move on with new knowledge. (letting it go)

Ruminating looks like:

  • That happened. (experiencing)

  • I don't accept that this happened or what it means. (non-acceptance)

  • I cannot move on.

For example, let's say you had too much to drink at an office Christmas party and really embarrassed yourself in front of your boss. You have the option of either quitting your job in embarrassment and thinking about it for the rest of your life, or you can face it head on and learn from it:

"I made a jackass out of myself and I'm embarrassed about it, but I now know that when I go to office functions, I don't need to drink. That way, this will not happen again."

Processing and learning from the past is how we put it to rest. If we cannot do these things, we will keep repeating it until we do. We have to learn to think of thinks differently, because not doing so keeps us stuck in these same feelings, same thoughts and same patterns. Every time you think of the same event with the same thoughts or talk about it with the same words, you will experience the same feelings. You are actually reinforcing the pattern by doing that. Your mind and your body become habituated to this way of being. Thinking of the event or talking about it then becomes a trigger for the thoughts and the feelings, and it just keeps happening over and over again. Thinking of these things and talking about these things differently is the way to break out of this pattern.

It is the same with the future. So much of people's anxiety, worry and stress comes from trying to control things and events that have not happened yet and may not happen at all. Most of these things are also out of our control. It is a waste of time and energy to worry about things that have not happened, may not happen and which are out of your control anyway. You can only do what you can do. You can only control what you can control. That's it. A healthier way to deal with this is to look at possibilities:

"It's possible this may happen. Its also possible these other things may happen."

After you've examined all the possibilities - not just the one you are worried about or afraid of - you can explore what you can do if that happens. Having an idea of what you can do if something happens goes a long way to reduce anxiety over unknowns and things you can't control. Once you've got an idea, leave it at that. You can't control other people or events or anything outside of yourself. What you can control is what you do and how you will let something affect you. Things that have not happened and may not happen at all don't need to take up so much of your energy, especially when you can't do anything about them anyway.

Once we can change how we look at these things and how we talk about them, we can start being present in our lives. We can be fully in the moment that is happening and experience it as it's own thing. Whether you are at the beach with your family or sitting on the couch by yourself, be present! Feel the sand under your feet, smell the air, cuddle with your blanket, feel the warmth of your coffee mug, listen to the birds or your kids' silly stories. Look around. Take it all in. The past is over and the future can wait.

Notice all of the things that you didn't before because you were too caught in your own thoughts and in your own head. Stop trying to just get things done and actually do them. Slow your mind down, slow your breathing down, relax your shoulders and fully experience things before rushing off to do the next thing that you will also rush off from. It makes a difference. It really, really does.