How to be Present in Daily Life
I want to be present each and every moment and I’m trying, I’m really really trying. But being present is hard.
It was hard in Bondi and in Sydney where you walk around and every store is yelling out to you to come in and buy these sunglasses! And then you start thinking about how you really do need new sunglasses because yours has that one scratch on them.
Or how about a juice bar just screaming your name at the top of its lungs telling you to buy an acai bowl. Then I think about how I’ve only been eating pasta because it’s all I can afford and then right after that, a personal trainer who I only know is a personal trainer from her meticulously crafted abs, jogs past me further sending me into the spiral of how terrible I feel from all that pasta I’ve been eating lately.
And then I trip over my own step because for those few minutes I wasn’t present at all and I allowed my mind to take me elsewhere - to an alternate reality where I had sunglasses without that tiny scratch and also a six-pack because I could afford a personal trainer and also $15 acai bowls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
But I still have my days, or moments I should say where I’m fully there. Those happen when I’m drinking Coronas on the beach. Or watching the sunset from the balcony at work when I should be clearing a table. Or when I have a really great meditation. I have to say, it’s much easier now that I’m out of Bondi and in a town with only one main street - but how do you stay present in a place like Bondi Beach or Manhattan or Madrid or Chicago when everything around you is constantly competing for your attention and is desperately trying to bring you out of the present?
I know, you’re already breathing (hopefully) - but focus on that breath. I forget where I read or heard this sentiment but this really stuck with me: your breath is what’s allowing you to experience the reality that you’re experiencing right now so therefore, all you need in this moment is your breath. When you catch yourself thinking about something you don’t want to be thinking about, on your very next breath close your eyes and feel just how deeply you breathe in, feel that pause right before you exhale, and then exhale while opening your eyes. Repeat as many times as necessary until the thoughts stop, focusing only on your breath -because your breath is truly all you need at the present moment. I like to think of it as a nice little shortcut straight into the present. This is literally the first piece of advice you say to anyone if they’re feeling overwhelmed, angry, anxious, sad - you tell them to just breathe. And they’re right! But you have to do a little more than “just breathe”. Watch your breath.
This is something that I learned from the amazing women who taught my meditation class. Whenever you’re having a thought you don’t want to be having, or a thought that’s taking you out of the present, that thought is coming from the ego. If you get to the route of the thought, it will fall into one these seven categories. What you want to do is immediately replace that thought with one on the other side of the coin, from consciousness.
Example: you walk by someone who has a new Chanel bag that you really want but obviously can’t afford then immediately start thinking “Ugh she doesn’t even deserve it, it would look way cuter on me” (a thought I constantly have to combat) - that’s a classic combo of greed and envy. After you have that thought, don’t be hard on yourself that you had it, just counter it. Maybe think “Actually, I’m sure she’s worked really hard to be able to buy that. I’m happy she’s able to put it to use, because God knows I never would’ve been able to.” Throw in a joke, it’s okay. This works in any scenario really and soon enough, thoughts from the side of the ego will start coming less and less and you won’t even have any thoughts to counter.
A lot of times when I find myself living in either the past or the present, I realize I’m longing for something in one of those times. In the past, maybe I miss the days where I had a new iPhone or when I was in college and had no bills or even three months ago when I had a stable apartment and didn’t have to move. Other times in the future, maybe I’m looking forward to my next travels, or to getting a job. The thing is, you will always find yourself doing this if you don’t make an effort to stop. It’s the classic “you always want what you can’t have” scenario. You’re working 50 hours a week and have a lot of money, you miss the free time of being unemployed. You’re unemployed but have no money, you wish you were working 50 hours a week. It’s like you can’t win with yourself sometimes!
So if you find yourself doing this, take a minute to remember what it’s like on the flip side, and appreciate what you have right now. Instead of feeling bored that you’ve been in the same place for six months, take a minute to appreciate the fact that you don’t have to pack up your belongings and move every week. The more you do this, the more you’ll find you’re not “chasing happiness”. Because no matter what scenario you’re in, your mind is very tricky and can always convince you that what you really want, is something that you don’t have.
I know it doesn’t seem like doing any one of these actions with any one thought will change your life and you’re right, it won’t. But as soon as you do it with one thought, you’ll do it with a second thought, and then a third - you get it. Slowly but surely, these thoughts of the past or the future will start to be fewer because they’re going to get tired! They know that every time they come in, you’re going to ignore it and breathe, or maybe you’ll counter that thought immediately, or you’ll take a second to appreciate something you currently have. Who knows, maybe eventually they’ll stop coming altogether? I definitely haven’t made it that far yet but we’ll get there together.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any other tips on how to be present, especially in cities or overwhelming situations.