Besides purpose and gratitude, our recipe for happiness needs a third ingredient: living in the moment. But what does it mean to live in the moment? And even more importantly, how do you do it? Because surely, by definition we all live in the moment, right? Sadly, we don’t.
We seem to have a natural tendency to live more in the past and the future. We regret the choices that we’ve made. We resent the events that happened and the people who made them happen – including ourselves sometimes. We cry over spilt milk, despite knowing full well that it’s no use.
And what about the future? We worry about it. We worry about the decisions we have to make, and the actions we have to take. We conjure up worst case scenarios, and then stress out over them as if they’re already real.
That last bit is key actually. In our mind we have equated reality with our fears, worries, doubts and regrets about the past and the future.
But is that really reality, or are you just fooling yourself?
Stop living in an illusion
The past exists only in your mind. It’s a personal collection of memories coloured by how you felt when it happened, and by how you feel whenever you ‘relive’ the memories.
The future is an illusion in much the same way. It exists only in your thoughts. Depending on your mood, the future will look rosy to you, or black. Or something in between.
And even the present moment doesn’t necessarily exist in reality. For a lot of people it doesn’t. They simply go through life on autopilot.
Who’s in charge here?
The present moment only really exists when you are fully aware of it. And only then will you be in charge. In charge of your own life, and therefore, in charge of your own happiness. This is the position of the creator. You’re in the middle, pulling the strings. No wonder Eckhart Tolle calls it The Power of Now.
Who’s in charge when you don’t live in the moment? Your past, your future, your old habits, and other people who will make choices and decisions for you. Simply because you let them. By giving away the power that is naturally yours.
We’ll delve into this powerful result of present moment awareness later, in other articles. For now, let’s move on to some useful tips on living in the moment. Something you can actually do in your daily life, not just on a colourful meditation pillow.
How to live in the moment?
First drag your attention out of the turmoil caused by your thoughts and emotions.
You can do this by simply focussing on your breath. What does it feel like when you draw in air? Can you feel the air flow through your nose and your throat? Then turn your attention to the movement of your lungs. Gently sink lower and lower, down towards your belly.
Another way is to focus on a random object in sight. Anything will do really, even a stapler or a coffee mug. Try looking at it as if you’ve never seen it before. Look at its colours, its shape, its features. Study it in detail, but without passing any judgment over it.
The goal is to distract your rational mind. To gently and temporarily pull it away from whatever emotion or thought you’re experiencing. Not to suppress or to deny anything. But to step aside, and become the neutral observer.
Once you’ve successfully done that, and when you feel up to it, you’re ready for the next step.
From this calm position of the observer, casually go back to the memory of the ‘undesirable’ thoughts and feelings you were experiencing just before. See them as a mirror. What are they trying to tell you about yourself? What were you afraid of, or worried about?
When you feel that the original emotions or thoughts are regaining their control over you, slip back into the exercise above. And then simply try again. It’ll take some practice and you might stumble along the way. But the end result will be worth the effort.
It might also be helpful for you to find some sort of personal visual clue. Something to remind you to focus, whenever someone or something is pushing your buttons. A small gadget perhaps, or a little note with just one word. It’ll be your very own magical spell to trigger your present moment awareness routine.
Learn to connect with the pure joy that is your natural state. It’s free too ;-)