The first time I experienced being in the moment it was as if somebody had dropped me into the world for the first time. Everything appeared more vivid and in sharper focus. I remember thinking, "Oh, I'm here." I felt more energy and aliveness than I had felt before. I noticed a feeling of contentment and an absence of worries. I realised that my whole life up to that point had been lived either in memories of my past experiences or plans, dreams and fears of the future. After this first experience, I found that the awareness of the moment would come and go at different times. However, having had the experience once, I knew it existed and what it felt like. Since it was so much more enlivening and enjoyable to live in the present, I discovered it was possible to choose to return to that state of being when I remembered to. There are many things which I have found to be very helpful for being in the moment.
The Power of Your Thoughts
One important thing to do is to become a witness to your thoughts. Eckhart Tolle describes this effectively in his book, "The Power of Now". He suggests observing your thoughts and noticing when your thoughts take you out of the moment into either the past or the future. When we are in thoughts of the past, it is often a regret or we may be reliving an experience which may be positive or negative. While we are doing this, we are possibly missing what kind of experience we may be able to have right now. If there is something which has caused us emotional pain in the past, by reliving that experience in our memory, we are recreating the same feelings and chemical responses in our body. This idea of the body experiencing what the mind thinks about rather than what it the eyes see is explained beautifully in the film, "What the Bleep do We Know?"
As with the past, when we live in thoughts of the future, it can take us away from the possibility of what is here, now. Often thoughts of the future are fearful because they refer back to past experiences and worries, and the more we think about a future which has worry around it, the more we manifest this in our lives. This idea of thoughts creating reality is explored in the popular books by Rhonda Burne, "The Secret" and "The Power" and also in numerous other books such as Esther and Jerry Hicks' book, "Ask and it is Given." These books suggest that what we think about and resonate with in life is what we draw to us and manifest. It can be incredibly powerful when it is done with full consciousness and with love, in the knowledge that what you desire already exists. In this way thoughts of the future are infused with positivity and the energy of the present moment.
When we realise how much power our thoughts can have on our lives, it becomes obvious how important it is to change them, especially when it comes to being able to be present. What Tolle suggests is to observe your thoughts and to recognise that you are not your thoughts. Thoughts come and go and you are the observer who can witness them. When you become the witness to your thoughts, they cease to take control of you, distracting you from the moment, driving your emotions and creating all sorts of chemical reactions in the body. What Eckart Tolle writes is that through being in the moment we can find our way out of psychological pain. He describes the "pain body", which is an accumulation of past pains and lies either dormant or active in people. When a person is stuck in thoughts of the past which activate this pain body (which according to Tolle can be occurring in some people almost all the time) the pain body takes over. Tolle suggests that by observing our thoughts and by becoming a witness to the pain body, it loses its control over us. We may find that the pain does not go away immediately as the residual chemicals and emotional responses may continue to resonate for a little while. However, if we keep returning to awareness of our thoughts and observing this experience, rather than continuing to perpetuate it, we find that the pain eventually subsides and the pain body dissolves.
The first time I read about observing your thoughts and the pain body in "The Power of Now", I found trying to implement the concepts overwhelming. I attempted to observe my thoughts and become a witness to them, but there were so many of them and they kept coming back. I found it exhausting and temporarily gave up. My 'ego' as Tolle describes it wanted to stay in control and it wasn't until a few years later that I discovered some different techniques I could use help calm my thoughts enough to be able to be the observer of them, rather than being taken over by them. I learned that if you keep persevering, keep reminding yourself, eventually it becomes easier and easier to stay in the moment more frequently and for longer periods of time.
One of the most useful activities for being in the moment is meditation. There are countless kinds of meditations which can be found in cultures all over the world. Different meditations will suit different people, depending on what works for them. A couple I have tried and have found useful are Buddhist meditations, Transcendental Meditation, and other mantra-based or breath awareness meditations.
Sometimes people may find it easier to do something physical, which brings awareness into the body and can really help with calming the mind. Such practices as yoga, pilates, walking in nature and dancing (especially presence-based improvising dances like 5 Rhythms) are a few possibilities which may help. Any activity which causes you to pay attention to your body and where it is in space at a given time is very helpful for encouraging presence. The key is paying attention. You can practice paying attention at any moment by looking to your five senses. Ask yourself, what do I see right now in front of me? What do I hear in the environment around me? What do I feel with my physical sensations? What do I smell or taste?
Awareness of the Breath
Awareness of the breath is another important key to helping presence in the moment. If you take note of your breathing at any given time check whether it is shallow or deep. Often we go through our lives breathing in a shallow way, without thinking about it. When you observe your breath coming in and out, you can watch it enter the nose or mouth, going deep into the abdomen and fully oxygenating the body (breathing with the diaphragm) and then watch it leaving the body, carrying away things the body doesn't need any more. It can be an incredibly relaxing and also energising practice to observe the breath for a while. So when you notice that you have a thought which is drawing you either into the future or the past, an easy way to come back to the moment is to pay attention to the breath.
Connecting with the Earth
Another thing which can help is to feel your feet connected to the Earth. There are many people working with 'earth energies', such as author and workshop leader Glennie Kindred, who recognise the importance of 'being grounded'. Being grounded means feeling connected to the earth and being in your body. It can be helpful to feel the sensations of your feet as they touch the earth, to walk barefoot in the grass or on the sand and really feel how you are connected to the earth. I was told once by someone to think of the Earth's gravity as the Earth's love for us, attracting us to her. One place which works with this philosophy is called Embercombe, which is a centre for sustainability and personal growth and empowerment in Devon, England. Going to a place like this and working on the land in the gardens and building things can be a very grounding experience and really bring us into awareness of the moment, especially when we are working with other people with the desire to be present themselves.
Being in the Presence of Presence
When you associate with other people who are used to being present, it helps draw us into presence and vice versa. In this way joining groups of people who are already working with this consciousness can be very helpful. This is true when you attend a concert or some event by a performer who is used to functioning and performing from a place of presence. Through being strongly present themselves, they are able to subtly draw the audience into a state of presence with them. Perhaps you have had an experience of attending a concert by an artist like this, whose performance brought you to a place of greater stillness, energy and heightened awareness. One such performer I have experienced who does this very effectively is the master improviser Keith Jarrett, who has been quoted as saying that improvisation is "composition in the moment". This is one of the great gifts that artists and performers can offer people. When they give their art from a place of presence it helps others to experience that, too.
Something else to try is to take a course or have a session in a complementary alternative therapy. The best practitioners and teachers are operating from a place of presence, for when they are in the moment they are able to listen and sense what is needed by their clients or students. Especially in the case of energy-based practices like Reiki, Craniosacral Therapy, Spiritual Healing, Shiatsu, Reflexology and others, having even one session with a competent practitioner can be enough to draw you into a state of presence. In my case, it was after my first course in Reiki, a hands on energy healing technique, that I found myself catapulted into an experience of the moment. It was then that I was able to fully take on board what Eckart Tolle writes about in "The Power of Now".
Practice and Purpose
It can take some practice before it starts to feel like it is an effortless natural state to be in, but being in the moment is our natural state. You can observe this with babies. They are completely present, responding to what happens in the here and now. It is only through associating with adults who have forgotten how to be present that children, too, fall into patterns of forgetfulness. However, as Eckhart Tolle writes in "A New Earth", our deepest purpose in life is to return to a state of presence and even if this is the only thing we accomplish, we have made a positive difference in the world, for our presence helps others to be present and the more present we are, the happier we are. The happier we are, the better world we can create.
Suggested Reading and Further Resources
Some books: Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth: Awakening to your life's purpose", Glennie Kindred's "Earth Wisdom".
A film about the power of our thoughts: "What the Bleep Do We Know"
Some performers who work with presence: Keith Jarrett, Lisa Gerrard, Chris Ellis
A place to take a course or become a volunteer, which helps develop presence: Embercombe