Maybe this expression evokes a hokey, new age connotation for you and it may even seem frivolous. After all, many of us, myself included until recently, believe it just means living the present, enjoying what you have now in front of you and not worrying about the future.
However, as this is the season for spending quality time with our friends and family, it would see this may be the best time to consider the benefits of living in the moment..
It turns out that being present in your everyday life actually has some real benefits and is a key component in the practice of mindfulness, a type of meditation that finds it roots with Buddhists, Taoists and indigenous North Americans.
Research has found that that the practice of mindfulness helps lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduces chronic pain, improves sleep and can improve intestinal issues
As for mental health, mindfulness can help with depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, relationship conflicts, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders
When I first started learning about the practice, I assume that the exercise of living in the moment was just that – an exercise.
The practice of mindfulness requires participants to do exercises where they focus on something simple in the present like studying a raisin.
Since meditation helps reduce stress, I can see how focusing on a raisin can take you away from your stressful thoughts. By not thinking about the stressor, even for a short time, cortisol levels will fall and corresponding body functions that are affected by stress will improve, even if it is temporary.
I can also see how developing this skill gives individuals a tool they can use during times of stress.
But when I started learning more about this, I discovered that I had completely missed an even more important piece of information. And I really hope I explain this properly. I have discovered two things that make living in the moment something you should do all the time:
The first is the concept of where stress exists. Chronic stress is a product of either worrying about the future or regretting the past. Think about this, when you are stressed what are you stressing about? It is usually something you cannot control. Well that is either something that is in the future that you can’t control because it has not happened or something in the past that you cannot change. You can only control the present. If you focus on what you are doing in the present, then the mind cannot stress about the future or the past.
That was pretty mind-boggling to me and when I started thinking about what I typically think about – I realized I am either thinking about the future or the past. No wonder I am stressed and can’t calm down.
The second concept that really hit home for me was that what it truly means when your thoughts are focused on the past or the future. It means you are not paying attention to the tasks you are doing in the present.
So how can you do a good job? How can you learn all that is there to be learned, from your present activities, if you are too busy focusing about the future and what the present means to it. What discoveries have you missed by not staying in the moment?
Have you had the experience of driving home in your car and arriving in your driveway with no memory of making the turns and decisions that would have allowed you to get there. This happens because, as your are driving, you are thinking about something in the future or the past and not thinking about the task of driving.
It is a testament to the power of our brains that we can successfully drive and think about something else. But what are we missing when we do this, whether it is driving or doing any other activity in the present.
I have to say, this has consumed me lately. I now know why I do so many dumb things like walking into door frames, which I have a bad habit of doing or tripping up the stairs.
When we are young, we call this clumsy but as adults, we call it preoccupied. Maybe because what we are stressing about seems more important that what stressed and occupied us as children.
It does not really matter why, we are just not paying attention. And this means we are missing out on a lot of valuable information that will makes us better and more successful at what we do.
And it is now my goal to stay focused on the present. Yes we must have plans and goals but it is the activities in the present that are going to take us to where we want to go.
So my sincere wish for you is stay in the moment during the holiday season. Pay attention to your friend and family, savour the food and drink, and engage in relaxing activities that allow you to be present and aware.
Happy holidays everyone.
- A quality study of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression, Oliver Mason et al, British Journal of Medical Psychology 07/2001; 74(Pt 2):197-212.
- What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research, Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes Pennsylvania State University, Psychotherapy © 2011 American Psychological Association 2011, Vol. 48, No. 2, 198–20