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How to Be in the Moment

Photo by Máté Holdosi
Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. ~Dale Carnegie

I had been picturing the day for weeks, adjusting to the changing date, trying to avoid the palpable feeling of desperation that sat heavy on my chest when I thought about the long months ahead of us.

It was deployment number two. This one was decidedly more dangerous and carried with it more uncertainty, longer periods without communication and far more anxiety than deployment number one.

Military deployments, and the period leading up to them, are a constant wrestle with time — you dig your heels in, praying for time to creep forward at a snail’s pace, then you wish for the clock to speed through the next seven to 12 months of your life.

It leaves all those involved in a constant state of being out of the moment, thinking of the past and then looking forward to the future.

But while the tendency during this time is to discount the present in favor of the future or the past, it also opens the door to awakening to the now like few circumstances do.

Nothing Else Matters

It requires that you pay attention to details, say the things you need to say and express love to the full extent of your ability — right here, in this moment.

Any worries that once seemed relevant and important are simplified and reduced to one — that your loved one be returned safe and sound without the physical, mental or emotional scars of war. You quickly learn that nothing else matters.

When you’re in this state, gratitude comes easily. You can feel gratitude for a ten second phone call or a short letter. But most of all, you feel immense gratitude for life itself.

Fast forward two years later, and I’ve forgotten what it’s like to connect to the present moment in such a raw, organic way. I’ve adapted to a new sense of normal.

Spurred by an intense afternoon of extreme worry about the future, including a wide array of irrational thoughts about job prospects, relationships, money, etc. etc. etc., yesterday I tried to squash the anxiety I felt with my logical, left brain.

So I crunched numbers, frantically searched the Internet and attempted to seek solutions by talking it out with those around me.

The reality was that I was incredibly disconnected to the present, a moment that was entirely void of problems and was actually filled with love and comfort.

Time & Energy Wasted

By no accident, I chose that moment to pick up Soul Centered by Sarah McLean and came across this quote:

When you’re feeling anxious or fearful, it’s a clue that your focus is likely in the future; when you’re feeling grief or depression, your attention is probably on the past. If you’re feeling angry or critical, your focus is outside of yourself; and if you’re feeling ashamed or embarrassed, you are probably tuned in to an unclear or distorted image of yourself.”

I know that I spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about what the future holds and what I can do now to make it better. And any attempt to change something that is uncertain and always changing is not only futile, but exhausting.

It’s like using a flashlight to look at your destination when everything else around you is pitch-black. If you aren’t concentrating on each individual step, you likely will trip and fall before you even get close to the destination you shine your light on.

As I stepped out of my analytical mind, I had a brief moment of clarity — All I need to handle is this moment in this day. Nothing else is real or relevant.

The past and future are not my current reality, therefore they should have no bearing on the moment I am experiencing right now.

My Present is Perfect

I have never reached a point in my life and looked back and said, “Good thing I did all that worrying, that’s what got me to this point.”

In fact, any memory of the worrying falls into the background because it doesn’t matter. It had no bearing on what actually happened. It never does.

My present is perfect because it is simply what is — without the judgement of past events or anticipation of future events.

Here are five things I am practicing in order to bring my attention to the beauty of now:

  • Breathing — Concentrating on breathing brings awareness back to the body, something we fail to notice when we are thinking about everything else except the present moment.
  • Observing my thoughts — If you observe your thoughts, you have already removed yourself from the cycle of becoming your thoughts, something that keeps you out of the present moment. It also allows you to see patterns and avoid being overcome by the knee-jerk emotions that many thoughts cause.
  • Noticing signs in my body — If I’m experiencing anxiety brought on by future thinking, I immediately feel a heaviness in my chest or a churning in my stomach. Sometimes I don’t even realize what I’m thinking about until my body reacts in this way. Now I can recognize the symptoms and intentionally redirect my thoughts to the present moment.
  • Making present moment awareness my task — Instead of getting lost in my endless to-do list for work, I wake up and give myself one task for the day — extending the amount of time I am able to stay in the present moment. If I accomplish nothing else during the day, the peace of mind that comes from doing this successfully makes it worth it.
  • Not tolerating the worrier — Thoughts of worry often lead us to entertain the victim mentality. Instead of giving into that attitude, I’ve started to speak to these thoughts firmly, as if they were a young child — “That thought is simply not true and I won’t entertain it,” or “I’m not returning to this place. Period.”

If you become an observer of the behavior, it becomes easier to separate it from who you are.

In this moment, sitting at my computer, writing on a topic I am passionate about, everything is perfectly in order. The past is over and the future hasn’t happened yet — so what else is there to really reflect on?

What do you do to stay present in the moment?

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About the author

Kayla Albert is freelance writer intent on living life deliberately. You can follow her at Confessions of a Perfectionist. If there's a writing project you'd like for her to tackle, visit her website at kaylaalbert.com

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3 thoughts on How to Be in the Moment

  1. Thanks for this great post. I of late have been really trying to be in the moment. Trying to remain calm and not focus on tomorrow or the future nor the past but trying to remain calm and enjoy the now.

    Thanks again.

  2. Thanks Kayla, fab post.

    I look at my Dad, who has hated his job for over twenty years and has signposted five years time until he can (hopefully) retire, and it makes me sad. I think it is so important to achieve an optimal day to day life, not just occasional highs, like a 2 week holiday to justify a life that, well needs escaping every year!

    I was starting to fall in to a similar trap now at uni. The past two years haven’t been too great, not lived up to the ‘amazing’ time everyone insisted I would have. I would calendar count, telling myself that in a few months I’ll be leaving, forever. But, this was wishing my life away and trying now to be in the moment, making the best of it I can, it’s the only way to live really.

  3. Hi Kayla, I just love posts like this, I love the feeling of inspiration and call to action, humanity and unity when you write a post with the intention of helping others. Love it! I wrote a similar post last week about mindfulness and the reasons why we should give it a try (especially people who suffer of depression). Have a look, please. I would appreciate to link it to your post
    http://www.andramiclaus.com/mindfulness-vs-self-imprisonment/

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