Do you want the secret to happiness, fulfilment, and enlightenment?
Well here it is: Live fully in the “Here and Now”.
And that’s it.
So I could just finish writing this post here. All you need to do is go off and practice that, and you’re set for unlocking the ultimate secrets of life, the universe, and everything.
Ok… I can feel you shifting uncomfortably in your seat, looking at me with a hint of doubt in your expression. I can imagine you thinking to yourself, is that it? Is that all he’s going to say?
First off you’re probably wondering that it can’t be so simple… the key to enlightenment and all the secrets of the Universe? Surely there’s more to it than that?
And even if you’ve heard of this advice before, maybe your wondering how exactly do you live fully in the present moment? If you’ve ever tried it before you’ll know how excruciatingly difficult it is.
So as someone who has been practicing this for years I guess I could expand a little on my opening statement. I’ll try to share with you some of the simpler elements of this practice which you can adapt and apply to your own life.
First let’s get clear on something…
Why is it so important to learn to live fully in the present moment?
Well, from a purely psychological perspective, when you are fully living in the moment…
- You are more focused, and consequently can do things better.
- You are more engaged with others, resulting in better relationships.
- You are more happy, because you have less anxiety and stress about the past and future.
These things in themselves are enough to completely transform the quality of your life, making you feel more at peace with yourself, with more fulfilment and happiness in your life.
However, for me the most important reason for living in the present moment is to know your spiritual nature. Living in the present moment is the gateway to true liberation and Self-realisation.
To realise the spiritual Self is to become one with the Universal consciousness. It is to achieve that state of being which is beyond thought. It is beyond the emotions of happiness and sadness, it is beyond all suffering. In the state of Self-realisation you are merged with the bliss and love of God-consciousness.
Contrary to popular belief Self-realisation is not something that you acquire or develop. It is not something that comes to you from some divine dimension.
The spiritual Self, which you can also call God, the Universe, Consciousness, or whatever, is already with you. But it is obscured by the thoughts of your mind. Your mind only exists while you have thoughts. There is no such as thing as a mind, in and of itself. What we call mind is simply the activity of thought. When you have no thoughts, the mind disappears. That is when you become aware of the spiritual Self. You have glimpses of true Self-realisation in those moments when all thought stops.
To achieve Self-realisation all you need to do is stop your thoughts.
And that is what happens when you are fully in the “Here and Now”. In the present moment thoughts slow down, and eventually stop completely.
When you are totally focused and alert in the present moment, you are in pure awareness.
You are aware of all the sense impressions. You see, hear, feel, smell, and touch, as normal but without any thought being generated from those impressions. Instead you are just observing. And you are aware that there is something which is experiencing those sense impressions. Your mind is registering the sights and sounds, but there is something behind your mind which is experiencing it all.
That something is pure awareness. It has no thought. It is simple awareness… calmly, neutrally observing everything. In this awareness you are simply “being”. The longer you can maintain your awareness in this “being present”, the deeper you merge into the Self.
So how to do that?
The mind is almost impossible to control.
Especially given the fact that most of the time we are involved in so much activity in life. Work, family, entertainment, plans for the future, anxieties about so many things… they all automatically generate constant thoughts in our head.
No-one ever said this practice was easy. But you can develop your own personalised strategy that will help you to cultivate and strengthen the practice of being fully present.
For convenience let’s split this practice into two aspects: HOW and WHEN.
How to practice being in the present.
Because of the erratic, monkey-like nature of the mind, you need to have one or more simple tools that you can use to keep bringing your focus back to the present. Your mind continuously tries to run away with one thought after another. You have to regularly “catch” yourself and bring your attention back into the awareness go being present. Here are a few ideas you can try…
1. Breathe. When you realise that you are lost in thoughts, stop and breathe. Become aware of your breathing. Follow the sensations of your breath going in and out. Do this for a few moments until you start to feel calm. Then expand your awareness out to everything around you… the sights, sounds, and smells. Just observe everything without giving an interpretation. Be a neutral observer.
2. Body awareness. This technique comes from the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. Become aware of your body. Without moving, feel your hands, your arms, your feet, and legs. Feel that there is an “aliveness” in your body, that you can be aware of without having to move. Then again move your awareness out to take in the sensations of the things around you. All the time as a silent witness, the neutral observer.
3. Hands. When you remember to catch yourself in your thoughts, say to yourself “Hands!”, and focus on the physical feeling of whatever they are doing or touching. For most of the time your hands are the active focus of your activities. Use that to your advantage by focusing your attention fully on what they are doing. Try to feel every detail of the physical sensations. Are you holding something? Like a pen, a sponge, a book? What does the surface of that object feel like in your hands. Observe the sensations without giving an interpretation, without generating thought. Make sure you do whatever it is with excellence. Feeling all the sensations, try to be fully concentrated on doing that thing really well. Even just turning the page of the book… do it carefully, feeling the surface of the paper. Then once again when you are centred move your awareness out to everything around you, as the neutral observer of all.
4. Devotion. If you are more devotionally inclined, use prayer to ask God to keep you in His/Her Presence. Ask for grace to be able to do your tasks to the best of your ability. Offer up your tasks with love when you complete them. Channel your thoughts by imagining that God is watching you closely in every single detail of your actions. The sensation is almost as though God were looking over your shoulder, without judging, to make sure you are doing your actions with full concentration and focus.
These are just a few tools I have successfully used to keep me in the present moment. They act as entry points into the presence of pure awareness.
To help you further, you should develop some strategies about WHEN to practice, so that you have a bit more structure with this way of living in the present moment.
When to practice being in the present.
1. Start simple. Some situations in daily life are near impossible to be fully present if you are a beginner with this. For example when the children are running around outside and you’re worried they might have an accident, or when you are in a high-pressure job with people making constant demands of you. So it is more constructive to start practicing with simple situations. Then as you become more skilled you can apply your practice to more complicated situations.
2. Have a daily routine. Start with the simple activities you do on a daily basis.
- Brushing your teeth
- Taking a shower
- Making the bed
- Doing the housework
- Preparing lunch/dinner
- Travelling to and from work
3. Use enjoyable activities. When you do things that make you feel relaxed. Going for a walk in the park, or in nature. Listening to music. Playing tennis. Relaxing in the bath. Activities where you are free of stress will make it easier for you to keep your mind in the present moment.
4. A set time for meditation. Set aside 10 minutes each day to sit quietly, close your eyes, and practice the presence of being aware. This could be the same as your practice mentioned in the first part above about HOW. Or it could be any kind of meditation that you enjoy. The idea is that you can practice your skill without too many distractions. This will help you to practice when you are in the hustle and bustle of your daily life.
With a combination of the tools for HOW and the strategies for WHEN, you can set up your own formula for living in the present moment. This approach is highly practical and will be really useful for when you lose the presence of awareness and get dragged away by your thoughts. Because of the nature of the mind, you will always, and I mean always, need to keep bringing yourself back to being present.
These tools and strategies adapt nicely to whatever spiritual tradition or beliefs you have. And if you aren’t yet sure about what is your personal spirituality then you may find it helpful to check out these links about discovering your unique spirituality.
So I highly recommend that you get into the habit of regularly bringing your mind back to being present, in the simple things of your daily routine. At first it’s really hard, I know. But believe me ,you can train this skill. With practice it gets easier, and in addition you can start to apply it in the more complicated moments of your busy life.