Present-Moment Awareness

Present-Moment Awareness

Present-moment awareness is exactly what it sounds like – becoming acutely aware of what’s happening around and within you right now.  Why is this something worth doing?  Because it’s the answer to all of your problems.  Literally.

Why Try Present-Moment Awareness

Present-moment awareness is the key to freeing yourself from any form of mental or emotional suffering you may be experiencing. If you want to cultivate a life where you feel happy and content, the only time you can ever do that is right now.  Because right now is the only time that exists.

We often find ourselves saying things like, “I’ll be happy when…” but it’s always something in the future, something that hasn’t happened yet – something that may never happen.  Even if that thing you think is going to make you happy does come, you might feel happiness, sure, but it’s not guaranteed. Because when all is said and done, the only time you have a choice to consciously direct your emotional state is now. Neither the past nor the future exisst when you really think about it.  

The past has already happened and exists now only in our memories.  The future hasn’t happened yet, and so we can only use our imaginations.  When we imagine a future that fits our criteria of happiness, we feel good, we feel happy.  But whether it’s daydreaming about our fantasy life or worrying about our worst nightmares coming true, the future hasn’t happened – it’s not real.  The only moment when life happens is right now.

Sometimes our forays into the imaginary world of the future can be exciting and motivating.  Other times, it can completely suck. Wanting something and not having it yet, or worse, knowing you’ll never have it.  You can think about the future, but thinking about something you’re concerned with will only cause anxiety. The same thing happens when you dwell upon the past.  

Stop Dwelling on the Past

When you dig up an old memory that was truly remarkable and affecting, you immediately feel good within yourself, because you’re retrieving something that your brain perceives as good. But if your brain decides it wants to pull up something that was negative, or worse, traumatic, this is the time to focus on the moment and activate your present-moment awareness.

We all have choices with every thought and memory that comes into our awareness.  We can choose to focus/fret/worry/dwell over whatever the memory was, or we can choose to observe it and let it pass. Like a wave in the ocean.  

Stop Worrying About the Future

When it comes to thinking about the future, we as a species tend to cause ourselves A LOT of unnecessary pain.  We do this thing, mental time travel, where we imagine things happen that we perceive as negative or worse. But these things haven’t happened yet.  

If your mind is off on its mental time travel trip and you’re here, in the present moment, the space between where you are and where your mind is taking you is called anxiety. The further away we drift from what is actually happening, the more uncomfortable we get.

When your thoughts start to hone in on the future, instead of being excited, just notice that you don’t have it now (whatever it is), you’re irritated that you don’t have it now, and you’re starting to get antsy. When you start to experience suffering when thinking about the future, bring your attention back to enjoying the fact that you get to imagine the things that you want.

If you’re feeling anxious about the future because you think something bad will happen, it’s a fear that can be completely avoided. I get super nervous during turbulence on airplanes. To the point where my palms sweat, I have to close my eyes and focus on my breath, I find myself gripping the armrests of the plane seats. It may not be the most pleasant thought, but I think to myself: “If you’re going to die right now, you’re going to die. You don’t need to feel this way now because you can’t control this.”  

It may sound silly, but it does help me a great deal.  Of course, I can never completely relax. But still, bringing myself into that conscious state of ‘whatever is going to happen is going to happen regardless of my reaction right now’ does a great deal in terms of soothing my nervous system and bringing myself into a more rational state.

Because with future-related anxiety, that fear comes even though whatever it is you’re afraid of isn’t even happening. Think about when you reflect on your past and you feel that suffering. Thinking about a shitty day hours after you’ve gotten home from work.  It’s like extending that shitty work day for those hours that you let it fester, suffering when you didn’t need to be. It’s not super easy to stop doing this, but you do have a choice.  It’s the same with any lifestyle change.

Contrast this imaginary suffering with real suffering. Imagine you broke your ankle and you’re feeling a lot of physical pain. Or you’re getting bit by fire ants. Maybe imagine you’re in a situation where someone you care for is hurting you. In the moment, those would all be incidences of real suffering.  

The problem is that even though this suffering is real, we tend to add another layer this suffering with our silly brains. We create more suffering by judging the situation as bad, by worrying and projecting this into the future. Maybe thinking that the pain will never end or the mistreatment will never end.  

We judge the situation, we project it into the future, so we add it to the current stress we’re already experiencing.  By bringing your awareness back into the present moment, you shed that one layer of suffering.  

If you’re going to be stuck in traffic, why make yourself miserable by getting pissy thinking about whoever caused it, stressing over what will happen if you’re late.  You’re going to be in traffic regardless. You can spend that time complaining, or you can listen to a podcast, music, audiobook, whatever. It’s your choice how much you suffer in that moment.  Just consider how much is actually happening versus how much you are adding to the situation with your brain.  

It takes some self-honesty to recognize when these things are happening.  Anyone who’s driven with me knows. But little by little, my reactions and my reaction times have improved, and slowly but surely, I am coping with driving with a little more grace.  

Anyway, my point is that most of the time we create this stress for ourselves.  Try to notice yourself doing this. Don’t criticize yourself when you notice, but be glad that you’re developing deeper awareness.  And when you notice yourself creating stress when there needn’t be any, take your attention back into the present moment.

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