The definition of mindfulness mentions “the awareness that arises from paying attention”.
Being present is simply paying attention to our own experience in this moment. Noticing our surroundings, being fully aware of what we are doing, noting how we are feeling and if there are any thoughts or judgements. Not trying to change or fix anything, just noticing.
It sounds simple and it is simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes practice.
It takes practice because our minds naturally wander, often subconsciously, which might then seem like our thoughts are something beyond our control.
If we aren’t experiencing the present moment as it happens, our minds are obviously elsewhere.
So, if we are not focused here, right now, in this very moment, then our minds are thinking of something in the past or future.
It’s perfectly normal behaviour to reminisce over memories and to look forward to future events. That’s all part of being a functioning human being and can bring us joy in moments of recollection or anticipation.
We can come unstuck however when those thoughts are judgemental and critical. Thinking back to things we should, or shouldn’t, have thought, done or said. Worrying about the stuff that might, or might not, happen in the future. This is often when we suffer.
In those moments of regret or worry we have no power. The only place we have the power to move on from our past or to influence our future, is now, the space we are currently in.
Mindfulness matters because if we can take a break from those thoughts, even for the briefest of moments, we can give ourselves some peace. That moment of peace is often an OK place to be.
Breathing is a great place to start being present, because we all do it. Just take a moment now as you are reading this to notice your breath.
Don’t change how you’re breathing, simply pay attention to the air as it flows in and out of your body.
Breathe in and notice.
Breathe out and notice.
That’s essentially what being present is, in its simplest terms.
Another way to practice being present is to choose a sense and tune in to it. If something catches your eye as you’re walking or looking out the window, tune into your sense of sight. Really focus on what you are seeing.
If you have any thoughts or judgements around it gently notice them and come back to simply looking. If you hear a sound perhaps close your eyes for a while so that you can focus fully on what you are hearing; a bird, the rain, music. Notice if your mind wanders and gently return to being present.
I have found formal practices like meditation apps and attending Fresh Air Fridays sessions really help me to practice and develop this skill. Those things help because there is an external voice prompting me to be present, notice when my mind wanders and to gently return my focus to being in that moment.
Some days I am easily swept up in my thoughts, and other days my mind is fairly tranquil and quiet. There is no right or wrong here, it is simply a case of noticing how it is for us.
Once we start to notice what is really going on for us, we become more aware, and awareness is key to most things. It’s a transferable skill. When we can identify and clearly see a situation or problem for what it really is, we are better equipped to find the most appropriate and effective solution.
Take time over something and notice what you are doing as you are doing it.
For example, pay attention whilst making a hot drink, notice each little step required. Taste and experience the liquid fully when you drink it; the smell, the feel of the mug in your hands, the taste.
Try looking at the clouds, take time to work on a jigsaw puzzle, stroke that cat that meows as you walk past, smell the roses.
Do pointless stuff just because, or simply do nothing at all. But whatever you do, or don’t do, really be in that moment and experience it.