Bringing my attention to the present moment feels intuitive. Natural. Obvious. I’ve been doing it for so many years that it’s almost instinctual. While I still, of course, get lost in thought, it’s easier for me to realize when that happens. And, it’s also easier to bring my awareness back to the current moment.
And, while it feels so obvious to me now, I remember that at one time it didn’t. That there was a time when I had no idea what it meant to “come into the present moment” or how in the world I would get there even when I wanted to.
So I’m laying it all out clearly. Right here. Right now.
But first, I want to make a few quick notes:
Some of this may sound conceptual or theoretical—like, it sort of makes sense, but you can’t totally wrap your mind around it. And, that’s okay! You’ll understand what it means to be in the present moment as you start to practice bringing yourself into it.
Because we’re so used to getting lost in our thoughts, it takes effort, focus, and concentration to bring our attention to the present moment. Until we’re told that we can extract ourselves from our thoughts, and that we can focus our attention deliberately—we don’t even understand that we can get “lost in thought.” Because it feels so normal.
Your thoughts will wander, even as you begin bringing your attention to the present moment in these small ways. And, that’s okay! If you’re actively trying to focus on the moment and you get lost in a thought, just notice that it happened, and gently bring yourself back to what you’re doing.
What is the present moment anyway?
The present moment is this moment. The one that’s happening right here and right now.
It’s now, and now, and now, and now, and now. The present moment—because it’s literally what we’re living, and breathing, and experiencing—is all we ever really have. It’s all we’re truly guaranteed. Life is really just a series of present moments.
The past is behind us and the future has not yet happened. The future, in fact, will happen in a future present moment.
In order to experience life while it’s happening, we have to be able to pay attention to what’s going on in this moment, right here and right now.
How do we start bringing our attention to the present moment?
In small and simple ways!
The present moment just is. It’s just happening.
There are many different aspects of the present moment. And because of this, there are many different ways we can direct our attention to it. We can narrow our attention to any aspect of our present moment experience—which will bring us fully into the present moment.
Here are three easy ways you can start paying attention to the present moment:
1) Focusing on your breath.
Take a slow, deep inhale, and a soft, slow exhale. As you inhale and exhale, focus your attention on the sensations of breathing. Try focusing on one of the following things as you breathe:
1. The sound of your breath.
2. The way your chest rises with the inhale and softens with the exhale.
3. The sensations of feeling the air moving in and out of your nostrils, by placing your attention on the tip of your nose.
As you focus on your breath, you’re automatically in the present moment, because you’re breathing in the present moment. Your breath is one aspect of your present moment experience.
2) Focusing on your body.
What are you doing? Where is your body in space? Are you sitting? Standing? What can you feel?
If you’re lying down in bed, can you feel your comforter wrapped around your legs, or your pillow resting beneath your head. If you’re sitting or standing, what are you touching? Can you feel your feet on the floor? Can you feel the clothes on your skin? Do you have a backpack or purse bouncing against some part of your body? Can you feel it? What are your arms doing?
Again, when you focus on your body—on what your body is doing, or what it feels like, you’re bringing your attention to one aspect of your present moment experience. Which brings you fully into the present moment.
3) Focus on what is around you.
A third way of focusing your attention to the present moment is by paying attention to what is happening around you. Don’t analyze it, just watch it. Just notice it.
What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell?
Can you hear your boss typing on her computer in the next room? Do you hear cars driving down the streets near you? Do you hear children playing outside? Can you hear the wind blowing, or a neighbor listening to his television? Can you smell what your loved one is cooking for dinner?
Look around you. What do you see? Really pay attention to what you’re looking at—trees, flowers (what colors are they?), clouds, street signs, a microwave, a sunset or sunrise.
Tune your ears into what you hear. If you smell something, notice it.
Using our sensory experiences brings us immediately into the present moment, because it’s how we focus our attention on something. It’s how we process the world.
Being in the present moment is just noticing and observing what’s happening right now. Witnessing the current moment, while it’s happening.
We can only really focus on one thing at a time, so being in the present moment is more of a shifting between different sensory experiences—what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what you taste, what you smell. They’re all ways of tuning into what’s happening right now.
And when we’re tuned into what’s happening right now, we’re in the present moment.
What are your thoughts? Do you practice bringing your attention to the present moment? If so, how?