What is required to be fully present in each moment, to notice the now? I have a few practical thoughts. These are a few things that I have worked on and found varying levels of success.
I’m able to be more present in the moment when I…
1. Put my eyes on my surroundings. It’s easy to keep my head down, plotting my next few steps, deep in thought about some worry or plan or situation. I don’t have the research to back this up, but I’d guess that something chemical happens in the brain when we look up and notice our surroundings.
2. Put my eyes on the people I am with. I also try to pay attention to how often I look at my friends in the eyes, not to creep them out, but to truly notice them and hear what they are saying to me. It makes a difference when I do that. More importantly, I want to do this with my wife and my son. It’s amazing how I could be home for 30 minutes or an hour and suddenly realize that I haven’t looked at either of their faces.
3. Replace grasping with intentional breathing. In my more chaotic days, when stress levels are at maximum, and the task list is beyond reasonable, I find myself grasping for relief. Often it’s food that I can most easily access, so I grasp for that unnecessary snack. It isn’t that snacking is inherently wrong, but I know when I’m using it like a chain smoker would use a cigarette. To grasp at something is an almost an act of panic. There is no mindfulness in grasping for a bag of potato chips and eating half of the contents.
This last one is the most difficult for me, but when I get it right it means that I stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes and focused entirely on my breath for 5 minutes or more. Occasionally I’ve used a short phrase from Scripture that I whisper as I exhale. I would do well to add that element more often. But I’ve discovered that something happens to the chaos within when the moment is simplified to breathing.
I’ll spend the rest of my life learning not to miss out on now and be mindful of the present, knowing that sometimes it is a moment, as Buechner put it, “that is trying to open up your whole life.”