I am sure that you’ve read a lot about being present or have seen the phrase mentioned in mindfulness books and articles, but what does it really mean to practise the art of being present?
I believe it differs for every individual, but ultimately the word present means existing or occurring now. For some, being present means not having regrets about the past or not stressing about the future and only focusing on the here and now. It can also mean making the most of the moment you are in; soaking up everything and being fully focused on what’s happening without letting yourself be distracted by thoughts, worries, or more commonly nowadays, technology.
For me personally, when I say I want to be present I am mostly meaning that I want to fully invest my time and attention to the person/people I am with, or the place I am, or the activity I’m doing. I already have a bad memory and often find myself struggling to remember little details of things, including times spent with people I love. I can recall the general gist of these memories, but small things like how somebody belly laughed at a joke we shared, or when a friend embraced me in an enveloping hug after being apart for so long, these often go unnoticed or forgotten about. Those are the moments that count though, and the ones I want to remember.
I first started appreciating what it meant to be present just over a year ago, when I was sailing around the Croatian islands with my brother, sister in law, and friend. Out in the middle of the deep blue sea, I had no access to my phone or laptop. All I had was a book, some music, and the wonderful company of my fellow sailors. After a hectic and stressful year, this was the most relaxed and at ease I had felt in a long time. Or maybe even ever. I embraced every single moment with open arms; I soaked up the beautiful sunsets we were witness to, I felt every inch of my body immersed in the cold sea water, I savoured every taste of the delectable food we feasted on. I truly felt present. Thus, I began on my mission to practise the art of being present in my day to day life. Here’s a few ways that you can practise presence, which are all very small amendments amounting to big changes.
Limit Screen Time
All too often, we’ll be spending time with friends and family, but we’ll not be fully in the moment because we have our phones either in our hands or within reaching distance. I even often find myself scrolling aimlessly through Instagram or Imgur when I’m watching a film or supposedly reading a book. We aren’t ever giving anything or anyone our full undivided time and attention nowadays. My Dad will often remark that technology has ‘killed the art of conversation’, and he’s totally right (don’t tell him I said that). The best days I’ve ever had have been where I don’t have my phone on me or I have it tucked away in my bag and am not constantly checking for texts or updates, because I haven’t been distracted. I understand that some people need to be reachable and cannot commit to fully abandoning their phone, but simply cutting back on the screen time and our dependence on phones is a great start. Many smart phones nowadays have settings you can put on your phone which will notify you when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on social media or other apps, and will actually even lock you out. Even our phones are telling us, put me down! Go and do something else! I now put my phone on loud, so that if I leave it in another room and someone rings me, I’m aware. Old me would have it in my hand or pocket at all times, like an actual crutch. Other people I’ve spoken to about this say they put it on silent, so that any notification that comes up doesn’t end with them aimlessly playing on their phone and they aren’t taken away from what they were doing. Find whatever works for you and stick with it.
I know many will scoff at meditation, and the idea conjures up images of someone sitting in the lotus position for hours on end, barely moving a muscle. The reality is, meditation can be however you choose it to be. For me, I like to listen to a guided meditation, even just for five minutes, to try and shut off the outside world for just a hot minute. I have participated in fire meditation before, and found that hugely calming. Focusing on something like a candle is an easy way to practise meditation alone and without a guided video or recording. I personally also like to do breathing meditation, and have never once felt worse for practising deep breathing techniques. Pranayama is a favourite of mine (check out Yoga with Adriene’s video on pranayama breathing for a simple guide), and I also really like combat breathing where you breathe in for four, hold for four, and breathe out for four. Breathing deeply and calmly helps me feel grounded, and enables me to shut off the chitter chatter in my mind. It’s pretty hard to focus on your breathing without being present, so give it a go and notice the benefits! I still ‘struggle’ to meditate successfully for more than about ten minutes, but that’s ten minutes more than when I started!
Movement is so important not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. Have you ever been so immersed in an intense workout, all the while wondering what to make for dinner, whether you replied to that work email, or if you fed the cat today? No? Me neither. Personally, I find it hard to focus on anything other than the task at hand- the mountain climbers I’m attempting or the burpees I’m cursing my trainer for making me do. You’re so in the moment when you’re moving, whether it’s a dance video on YouTube you’re busting out to (I’m a fan of The Fitness Marshall’s dance videos), a workout you’re smashing, or a yoga practise you’re doing. Yoga, although not a strenuous activity in many people’s eyes, is a great way to move your body, stretch out those muscles, and be totally present. I find it hard to let my thoughts wander when I’m deeply relaxing into pigeon pose. My friend told me that one yoga instructor we both love often says “all that matters right now is what’s happening inside the four corners of your mat, everything else can wait”. Nailed it.
The list could, honestly, go on and on, and it is unique for every individual. What works for me might not work for you, but the actual art of being present is something that we can all benefit from. Since I have started actively practising presence, I have been making more memories and have been my best self, this benefits me as well as those around me whom I spend my time with. They are getting my undivided attention, and I will walk away remembering everything they said and how our interaction made me feel.