It’s not easy being present. Our brains, unlike other animal brains, are made for extensive time travel. We can mentally replay the past so well that we smile with joy, or, as is more often the case, drive ourselves insane with rumination. And our ability to imagine the future to its nth detail—again, often negatively—is a major cause of everyday worry and anxiety.
As a longtime worrier myself, I know how easy it can be to slip into the future and let life slip by. However, in my efforts to be more present, I’ve found that simple meditation, wonderful as it is to calm my mind, does not allow me to be an active and involved participant in the day-to-day unfolding of life. Identifying situations where I want to be more present, then engaging with them mindfully, has been far more effective because it allows me to make the most of the gift of life.
If you want to live more fully, here are 5 situations where you can aim to be more mindful:
Be Mindful in Your Time with Others
As social animals, we humans are our greatest source of strength and comfort. Yet we can be largely absent from each other’s lives and distracted by our own inner and outer worlds, which ultimately harms us as much as it harms those around us. Fortunately, we can reclaim the magic of relationships by becoming more present with each other. One of the best ways to do so is to try to listen more attentively. Listen to the person behind the words, to the joy or the pain in their voice, to their need to be noticed and loved. Because when we listen deeply, we increase the joy and minimize the suffering—not just of others, but of ourselves.
Be Mindful in Moments of Awe
Awe and elevation are positive moral emotions that arise most often by exposure to certain kinds of beauty and perfection that are beyond human comprehension. Jonathan Haidt, who has researched these emotions, has found that they make us stop, they move us deeply, and they open our hearts and minds. Most important, they help us “be here now” and trigger a desire to be a better version of ourselves. Some ways of eliciting these emotions are to step out in nature, be more attentive to the sights and sounds that surround you, and stop and notice the kindness of others more often.
Be Mindful During Routine Tasks
So much of our day is spent in routine tasks like folding clothes or washing the dishes; in walking the dog or walking to work; in vacuuming, doing the groceries, or preparing and eating meals. All of these are wonderful opportunities to reclaim precious moments of our lives. Notice the feel of cloth as you fold it, admire the color and texture of vegetables as you chop them, savor the food you eat as your taste buds experience each spice and flavor. Because when you do so, moments that are lost on the brain become significant. You learn to see with new eyes. Wonder expands your experience of time, and you reclaim the magic of the moment.
Be Mindful During Joyful Moments
Many of us can let positive moments slip by without harnessing them fully. Barbara Fredrickson’s research shows that there are 10 positive emotions, and each one of them is capable of broadening our “momentary thought-action repertoire.” In other words, they make us open to new ideas and new possibilities and buffer us for the future by building our resilience. You can enhance the power of positive emotions by holding onto them for just that little bit longer. Psychologist and author Rick Hanson has found that savouring moments of feeling loved, or proud in your accomplishments, or supported by others or the universe can help momentary states turn into lasting traits of well-being.
Be Mindful in Times of Pain
Challenges are part of every life, and suffering underpins our common humanity. But so does the inbuilt action tendency to want to run away from pain. However, when we do so, we become weaker in the face of challenges, avoiding situations that may be opportunities for growth, and we end up living lesser lives. In order to face our challenges with grit and grace, we need to learn how to deal with pain. One effective way of doing so is to distance ourselves from our minds. Practice sitting with your feelings with compassion, while watching your thoughts like clouds that come and go. Or “ride the wave” of your emotions, while trusting in the calm of the deep sea below.
Now it’s your turn! Choose one or more of these situations and try to bring greater mindfulness to it. Or choose one from your life that’s ripe with the potential for greater presence. After all, it’s your life—”your one wild and precious life,” as beloved poet Mary Oliver has beautifully said.