Just this morning, I was working with a client of mine, helping her focus inward to notice pleasant sensations of warmth and joy. These feelings arose spontaneously as she was reflecting on one very satisfying friendship. After about three seconds, her mind drifted to worries. If she felt such positive feelings right now, might she be disappointed in the future?
We spend too much of our time worrying about bad things happening in the future, most of which will never happen. Or we become consumed by past events that went wrong even though they are long gone. It’s very human to worry. But, sadly, we forget to pay attention to what’s going well or that nothing terrible is happening now.
To help pay attention to what is—not what was or what could be—it is beneficial to practice (and it does take practice) being in the present moment for longer periods of time. I have come to use the present moment as a refuge from the unknowable future and the traumatic past. When I am upset and I return to the present moment using the techniques outlined below, I feel calmer.
Here are some quick tips for staying present in the present:
Find a calm place and a comfortable chair or just stand still for a couple of minutes. With both feet planted firmly on the floor, come out of your head and sense the ground with the soles of your feet. Bring the full weight of yourself into your body so you feel weighted and rooted to the earth by the gravitational pull. Keep sensing the ground with your feet. Try not to float away into your thoughts. If anything, just say to yourself any of the following sentences that feel true to you: I am here. I’m alive. I matter. I’m OK. Keep focusing attention on the soles of your feet. Allow yourself to slow down, breathe, and just be.
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nostrils into the bottom of your belly. When you've inhaled fully, pause for a moment and then exhale fully through your mouth. Purse your lips and imagine that you are blowing on a hot spoonful of soup. As you exhale, just let yourself go and imagine your entire body going loose and limp. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale. To try deep-belly breathing with me, click here.
Look around your room right now to name three colors you see in the room, three textures you see in the room, and three sounds you hear in the room or outside environment. Then repeat to find three more colors, textures, and sounds. Now do it one last time.
For staying in the present more reliably over your lifetime, work the Change Triangle to notice your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations right now. Practicing the Change Triangle tool for emotional health helps us move beyond our worries by identifying the underlying core and inhibitory emotions that drive worried thoughts and ruminations. Working the Change Triangle forces us to come into the present moment and into our bodies to notice what is happening now. For long-term emotional health, it’s important to identify when we are avoiding emotions with protective defenses, experiencing anxiety, experiencing guilt or shame, or experiencing core emotions like anger or sadness. The Change Triangleis simply the best tool I have come across to make sense of our emotional world.
Staying present takes practice over a lifetime. It’s the trying that makes the difference. Without judging yourself or having a goal, experiment with the tips above and find out the ones that feel best to you. When you can reliably return to the present, you’ll have a place to “rest easy” when you need one.