How to live in the moment
My Thoughts on Mindfulness
By Karen Chin @karenevachin
A few days ago, a friend mentioned to me about ‘living in the now’. I asked him what he meant and he tried to elaborate about living in the now, forgetting about the past and not worrying about the future. Sensing that it was probably not the most satisfying answer one can get, he told me to research the concept online.
Apparently, typical worriers like me, and the sort that are prone to depression, have what Buddhist philosophers call ‘monkey minds’.
People with ‘monkey minds’ have thoughts that swing from tree to tree, unfocused, and do not appreciate the present. The undesirable thing about this is that our thoughts control us, affecting how we think while our feelings govern our actions and actions that are emotionally driven usually do not serve our best social interests.
Upon further reading, I discovered that the solution to living in the now was mindfulness. Mindfulness is basically living in the moment – a state of active and open attention to the present, and being intentionally focused on the present happenings and surroundings.
Being mindful makes you like a third person between you and your thoughts – you are not you thoughts. You become merely a keen observer of your thoughts, letting the good be good and the bad be bad, with no direct reaction to your thoughts. You neither grasp nor obsess about your thoughts or try to push them away. You just let them happen and observe.
How to live in the moment, you ask? Ironically, it is to let go of what you want and trust in the consequence of now.
Here are some tips on how to apply this concept in common situations like this.
To improve your performance, stop thinking about it.
This calls for letting go of being self-conscious. The term ‘singing like no one is listening and dance like no one is watching’ comes to mind. Be an ‘absolute beginner’ – thinking too much about what you are doing, how you are doing it and how you will look like to people will only make it much worse. Stop focusing on yourself and look at the bigger picture – your purpose to the whole group and event (for example, you are to give a speech to a crowd – it is not about you but about the event). Focus on the things outside of yourself and be one with everything.
How to be less self-conscious? Don’t take things personally. If you stop attaching your present experience to your self-esteem, everything is less threatening. Watch your feelings come and go. It is a drama you don’t need to participate in. This will stop you from over-thinking.
To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present.
I am a chronic worrier. I worry about everything that I think might happen in the near or far future. That unknown fear frequently paralyses me. I let experiences that are potentially good become mediocre or bad because of this worry about the unknown. Mark Twain (the famous author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) said this and is now appropriately quoted, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
This calls for learning to savour the moment. Involve all your senses! When you think about it, most negative thoughts only concern the past or future. Mulling over something tragic that happened to you (for me it can be something as petty as an iffy small comment a friend made) or worrying about the future (what if, what If, what if). The latter is known as ‘catastrophizing’ – worrying about things that has not happened yet, or maybe might not even happen at all. ‘Catastrophizing’ is a common trait in depressed and anxious people.
Think of a beautiful place you have visited – did you savour the sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste of everything around you or spend the time thinking “This place is breathtakingly beautiful, I wish I can come back here in the future.”
You are already here. Savour the moment and forget about the future. Don’t let the future rob the happiness from your present.
If you want a future with your significant other, inhabit the present.
Mindfulness reduces ego involvement, meaning that fights and disagreements are less likely to disturb your self-esteem and issues can be taken at face value and not personally.
In a way, being mindful of the present increases the gap between emotional impulses and actions. You will recognize the spark before the flame. Remember when you are mindful, you view your emotions more objectively and witness its passing drama. You are able to identify your emotions and think about your response without reacting in a defensive manner. When dealing with relationships, living consciously and with alert interest can increase your self-control.
What is the easiest way to inhabit the present? Breathe. Focus on it, feel it, experience it. Be mindful of it. This may sound like new-age crap, but don’t diss it until you have tried it. Breathe.
To make the most of time, lose track of it and flow with it.
“Flow” is when you are totally absorbed in the task before you – you are so engrossed that everything else can be pushed aside and deemed insignificant. For example, playing the piano by reading music notes, it is progressive bar by bar and it presents a near challenge for you to anticipate – challenging but attainable. As your attention starts to narrow and focus on the task ahead of you, your self-consciousness evaporates.
You will sense a personal mastery over the situation if you are mindful of it.
If something is bothering you, move towards it.
As mentioned before, witness your feelings and let the drama pass. Accepting it is different from avoiding it. Negative feelings and situations cannot be avoided – avoiding them only makes it worse. Accepting it however, is letting the emotion be there, whether good or bad, and accepting that you while you are not in control of your situation but you know that your thoughts are just thoughts and you don’t have to believe them or do what they say.
Some people may say “that’s life” and “God knows what is best for you”, that is a way of acceptance by some.
For me, sometimes I read The Serenity Prayer in which I ask God to give me the wisdom to accept things that I cannot change.
To be mindful, you have to come out of autopilot mode.
Many times when I am driving back home I realized that I might have just spent the last 20 minutes teleporting. I zone out. The last thing I remember before reaching my house is leaving the office door. Thinking, thinking, thinking. These autopilot moments are called mindlessness. When you catch yourself zoning out, actively try to notice new things around you with a ‘beginner’s mind’.
Engage in your surroundings, be excited and live in the now!