You already know how important it is to live in the present moment. Philosophers, sages, poets, and mystics have been making the point for centuries. "Seize the day," wrote Horace. "You can never step in the same river twice," proclaimed Heracleitus. "Be here now," exhorted Ram Dass, inspiring the entire 60s generation in the process. But what does living in the moment really look like? Feel like? And, most important, how does one actually do it?
The good news is that it's simple. The bad news is that it's not always easy. But there's more good news–the ability to stay in the Now can be easily learned, and strengthened over time like a muscle. Even the briefest moments of presence can quickly lead to more presence. Eventually, living in the moment becomes a natural, effortless way of life.
As the saying goes, "There's no time like the present." So let's begin. Take a breath. Pay attention to the way the air feels as it fills your lungs and expands your belly. Now relax, and let the next breath come on its own. Do you feel just a bit more here? The simple act of breathing attentively can always lead you back to the Now.
Look around the location in which you're reading. Keep looking without any goal in mind until your eyes land upon something you hadn't noticed before. Once you've found it, go see if it has a smell. If it does, let the smell linger in your nose. If it doesn't, follow your nose to the closest thing that has a smell.
Tapping into your senses is another quick way to become more fully present. Sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste work just as well. In addition to the external five senses, there is also your ability to sense within, to experience the way your body internally registers pleasure, pain, hunger, fullness, etc. For example, pay attention to what happens when you smile. Notice how your interior sensations shift as a result. Next, close your mouth and hum a note. Follow the vibration of the sound waves as they spread through organs and bones. Let them wake you up.
While awareness of your breath and senses is instrumental in true presence, there's much more to it than that. Unfortunately, we spend a large part of our lives blocking out what we don't want to acknowledge and accept. Feelings, difficult situations, troubling aspects of the world at large-all these can cause us to shut down, to turn away from what's actually happening. Whenever this occurs, we lose our connection to the present moment. In the process, we also lose our vitality, our innate joy, and our power to heal and grow.
Most of the time, our disconnection from the present moment is unconscious. We're gone and don't know it, or we know we're gone but don't know why. That's where my new book, 'How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment,' comes in. These hundred practices are designed to help you find out when, where, and why you might have shut down, and then to bring you back to life as swiftly and enjoyably as possible.
The best way to approach presence is with a playful spirit. It's about freedom, after all. So rather than putting Presence on your to-do list, give yourself some pressure-free time to try one of the practices from the book below. Don't try or push. Instead let the suggested activity slow you down and soften you up until a greater sense of presence seems to permeate your being without any strain whatsoever.
No matter how long you take to complete them, their effect will be cumulative. Each of the ways will reinforce the others. At a level deeper than everyday awareness, your being will begin to blossom. You will feel more peace, love, and contentment than you previously thought possible. This is the gift that the present moment bestows. Always. And it's yours right now.
The Practice: Make a list of some endeavors that you'd like to begin. This list can include an array of choices, such as a new friendship, an herb garden, a dance class, a journal, a different style of dress, a book you've always wanted to read, or a more honest way of communicating. Your selections can also be internally oriented, such as paying more attention to what you feel, or focusing on what brings you joy. Next, scan the list for something you can begin right now. Do so, and allow yourself to bask in its birth. Then keep the list nearby and make frequent beginnings an ongoing part of your life. Refresh the list often as you grow and change.
The Practice: Give yourself a day to open every drawer, cupboard, and closet in your home. Inventory all your stuff with an eye toward letting it go. If you absolutely need something, leave it where it is. If you haven't used something in a year and have no emotional attachment to it, put it in a "recycle pile." If you haven't used it in a year but do have an emotional attachment to it, put it in a "maybe" pile.
Spend a little time with each item in the maybe pile. Let the feelings connected to it flow. Notice whether the attachment is one that seems to shut you down or open you up. If it's the former, consider adding that item to the recycle pile.
Then, when you're all done, recycle everything you're ready to let go of, and revel in your newfound spaciousness.
The Practice: Choose an activity that you're able to perform at least three times slower than usual. Cooking, walking, and bathing are three such possibilities. Give yourself more than enough time for this practice so that nothing will impinge on it.
Make sure to breathe, pause, ponder, and move through your activity with gentle and continuous attention. If the urge to speed up arises, stop completely until it passes. Once you're in a relaxed and easy flow, let yourself surrender to the flow rather than dictate it.
The Practice: For thirty seconds, take in all the sights around you. As quickly as possible during that time, name every object you see along with its color-such as "Blue wall, brown chair, yellow grapefruit, red placemat, white door, green countertop, beige rug." When you're finished, take a deep breath and notice whether you're more centered and present. If not, move to a different room and repeat the practice.
Raphael Cushnir is a popular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. He has been a teacher, activist, screenwriter, and film director. His first book, 'Unconditional Bliss' was twice nominated as Best Personal Growth title of the year. His second book, 'Setting Your Heart on Fire' has been endorsed by Sharon Salzberg, Byron Katie, and Lama Surya Das and is used as a teaching tool in churches and spiritual centers throughout North America. Raphael's brand new book is 'How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment.' Raphael's work with the general public is described at www.livingthequestions.org.