The notion of “living in the present moment” is all the rage these days. Everywhere you turn, there are articles, books, workshops, retreats, conferences and talk show segments about what it means to be mindful.
Everyone talks about being mindful, but very few people explain how to do it.
So, let’s do this thing.
I’ve read countless books, attended numerous workshops and tuned into hundreds of talk shows and podcasts on this topic and here’s what I’ve learned:
Being mindful isn’t about having a full mind, it’s about having an empty one.
Personally, I think the practice should be called “emptymindedness”, but let’s not argue with what is. There are only so many hours in a day.
Here’s the point: Anything you can do to empty your racing mind will positively affect your mood, your health, your well-being and, probably, the frequency with which you yell at your children. That means choosing not to dwell on everything that happened yesterday as well as what might happen tomorrow.
Great. Got it. But how the hell do you do it?
The good news is that it’s simple. Now before you get excited (and start living in the future, admiring yourself for how good you are at this mindfulness stuff), take note that I didn’t say it was easy: I said it was simple.
The end goal of mindfulness is inner peace: a sense of serenity and solitude inside your heart and mind, regardless of what’s going on in the world around you. And in case you’re wondering, it is, indeed, possible to cultivate calm while coping with the chaos of raising children.
Calm in the chaos. That’s the goal.
Here’s what will prevent you from achieving that goal: regretting your choice of college degree, feeling sorry for what you did or didn’t say to your mother-in-law last night, kicking yourself for not helping your daughter study for her spelling test, worrying about next week’s spelling test, or fretting over when you’re going to get your next promotion/salary increase/fancy new title at work. Oh, and looking forward to the day when there are no spelling tests.
What do all of those scenarios have in common? None of them are happening right now.
The key to living in the present moment is to live in the present moment.
Simple? Yes. Easy? Nope.
Here’s a stunning example of exactly how to do this, brought to you by mindfulness guru, Eckhart Tolle, in the book The Power of Now.
In the book, Tolle asks you to think about a problem you’re dealing with right now. If you’re like most human beings, you can probably think of a half-dozen in six seconds. But what’s fascinating about each and every one of your problems is that not one of them is happening right now, at this exact moment — they’re all based in the past or in the future.
Let’s look at a few examples.
If right now, one of your problems is that you’re stressed about a presentation you have to give later today, that problem is based in the future. If one of your problems is that you feel guilty about snapping at your husband this morning for not taking out the trash, that problem is in the past.
You cannot name a problem you have at this moment because you don’t have any. Every problem you can possibly list is either:
- What you shoulda/coulda/woulda done better yesterday.
- What you need/must/wish you could do tomorrow.
Try it. Try to name one problem that you have at this very moment, this exact moment — one that’s not based in the past or the future.
Chaos and turmoil exist in your mind because you’re thinking about — and often living — in the past or in the future.
If you live your life in the present moment, you can live your life with a calmer mind and, therefore, more inner peace.
Here’s exactly how.
- Adopt a mantra. When you find yourself racing into the future (What the hell am I going to make for dinner tonight?) or reliving the past (I cannot believe I called that woman the wrong name today. I’m such an idiot.) start silently repeating the mantra “right here, right now” in your mind. You’re not in your kitchen yet, and you’re not standing in front of your former colleague, frantically searching for a name tag. You are right here, right now. Take a couple of deep breaths and repeat the mantra. Inhale: “Right Here.” Exhale: “Right now.” Do it ten times and you’ll arrive promptly back in the present moment. Here’s an example of when this mantra worked like a charm for me in a challenging situation.
- Embrace a metaphor. To maintain calm in the chaos, it’s often helpful to think of yourself as the deepest part of the ocean. The wind and weather might cause turmoil on the surface, but 99% of the ocean is beneath the part that’s getting roughed up. Storms (the chaos in your life) will come and go, but the depths beneath the surface stay smooth. It’s always calm, always quiet, always stable. Let the winds blow — you cannot stop them — but dive down and remember to dwell below the surface.
- Get some guidance. Meditation can help you train your mind to stay in the present moment. If the thought of sitting on a cushion in the corner, staring out the window scares the crap out of you, get a coach. Download the app Headspace or complete a 21-day meditation challenge with Deepak Chopra. Like a lot of life skills, there’s a learning curve for meditation, but you don’t have to go it alone.
- Pick up a book. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is the bible of mindfulness. It changed my life every which way to Sunday. It’s provocative and powerful. And deep. If you’re looking for a lighter read, check out 10% Happier by Dan Harris, an ABC news anchor whose spiritual journey was inspired by a nationally televised panic attack. And if you want to read an amazing transformation story by a party girl who became a meditation guru, buy Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein pronto. There are a lot of gems packed into that skinny little volume.
So you see, mindfulness is a practice you can learn. There are habits you can adopt. There are behaviors you can change. There are simple things you can start doing right now to give yourself peace of mind, to calm the chaos.
Just because the idea of mindfulness is complex, doesn’t mean that getting there has to be.