“Wherever you are, be all there.”—Ram Dass
Awareness is your most precious commodity. It is the light of attention that energizes, activates, clarifies, and illuminates. It can restore balance, harmony, and health to your mind and body as well as help you connect more deeply to spirit. From a chronological perspective, your awareness can embody one of two states: time-bound or timeless.
Time-bound awareness is rigidly anchored to one of two temporal domains: the past or the future. The past is everything that has gone before the present moment. It exists in your memory from where you play black previous experiences into the present. Unlike the past, the future consists of what is yet to be, further ahead in your timeline. The future exists largely in your imagination and you infer what will happen based largely upon what has happened in the past.
What’s important to grasp about the time-bound states of past and future is that they have no literal existence. They are mental constructs; abstractions that you use to map out the flow of time in your existence. Once an experience is over, there is no way to influence it in the past. Similarly, the future, being without form cannot be accessed, only inferred as a potential matter. Despite this, past and future are powerfully compelling components of your personal and collective lives. So much so that an enormous amount of your attention is spent ruminating on the past or anticipating the future.
By contrast, timeless awareness exists in a third temporal domain: the present moment. Nestled in an infinite realm between the past and future is this moment. In the present, there is no past or future to focus on; it just is. Present-moment awareness transcends time, with each new moment flowing into the next. Like a ship on the ocean, the present moment slices into the probability waves of the future, leaving a wake of manifested experiences into the past.
The world’s great wisdom traditions extol the virtues of living a life established in present-moment awareness. It is your seat of power; it provides clarity, enhances your understanding, enables you to Be Here Now, and it is the doorway to the realm of pure spirit.
However, living in the moment or the Now isn’t without its challenges. In the hectic modern world, you are under continuous assault of attention-thieves that drag your awareness into the past or future. Staying anchored in the here and now can feel like a herculean task. Fortunately, there are several tools that can help you figure out how to live in the present moment, helping you maintain your connection to where you are and what you’re doing.
Beyond the well-established bounty of mind, body, and spiritual benefits of a regular meditation practice, meditation cultivates the mental attribute of mindfulness—the ability to remain centered in the present moment, accepting of whatever happens and simply be-ing. The more regularly you meditate, the more you create a nervous system and psychological environment that is comfortable, familiar, and content with just being in the moment, both during meditation as well as during your other daily activities.
Meditation is a deliberate act of doing just one thing, and that thing, whether it’s observing your breath, staring at a candle flame, or repeating a mantra takes place at this moment. However you choose, it only takes a matter of minutes to practice meditation. The more skillful you become at returning your attention to the present moment during meditation, the more like home the moment will feel even when you aren’t meditating.
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Breath awareness is perhaps one of the most profound and overlooked mind-body goldmines you have at your disposal for mastering the present moment. The breath is a unique activity in that it literally bridges the mind and body to each moment. In every single moment, you are either inhaling, retaining, exhaling, or pausing during your breathing cycle. There really isn’t a better anchor to the moment than your breath.
While numerous pranayama techniques exist to help control or manage your life-force energy, simply witnessing your breath is a habit that pulls your awareness out of the past or future and into right here, right now. With each breath that you attend to, there is only the present. The breath doesn’t exist in the past or the future, only in each moment. As Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das reminds us of mindful breathing: “With every breath, the old moment is lost; a new moment arrives. We exhale and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In doing so, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming.”
3. Try Mantras
Another powerful tool for maintaining present-moment awareness is a mantra. While mantras are frequently used during a seated or formal meditation practice, you may also use a mantra during any daily activity that doesn’t require a great deal of focused attention. The gentle repetition of a mantra helps to settle turbulent mental activity while loosening the grip of memories or anticipations. It sets up a soothing resonance that softly interrupts discursive thoughts rooted in the past or future and helps link your awareness to the present moment.
Try repeating the Sanskrit mantra Ah-Hum (meaning I AM) while performing simple tasks such as washing the dishes or folding laundry and be aware of how the mantra’s background vibration interrupts your normal thought patterns, allowing you to remain settled in the present moment.
4. Increase Your Body Awareness
Your body is the gateway for an immeasurable amount of sensory information flowing into you at both conscious and unconscious levels of awareness every second. This unending data stream provides an incredible opportunity to cultivate present-moment awareness. Right now, as you read these words, shift your attention to notice the vast storehouse of sensations within your realm of awareness. The temperature of the air on your skin, the weight of your body in your chair or on your feet, the colors in your visual field, the sounds in your environment, odors, tastes in your mouth, or a breeze across your face all form an incredible palate that colors each moment with unique details that have never been sampled in just this combination ever before. Tuning into the details of your senses provides you with an in-body experience helping you to recognize the vast universe contained in each moment.
5. Pay Attention to Details
If you pay attention, you’ll discover that each moment contains a rich and infinite collection of details; layers upon layers of information and energy waiting to be discovered with your awareness. The beauty of attention is that like a beam of light: it can flood a space illuminating the gross surface levels or, confined to a narrow beam, it can penetrate deep into the threads of reality’s tapestry.
Wherever you look in each moment, you can use your second attention (or more refined levels of awareness) to probe into the subtle networks of energy and information. For example, reflect upon how whatever object you look upon is comprised of molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and waves of energy and information, interacting within a living universe, behaving according to finely tuned scientific laws, all strung together in a web of consciousness extending into infinity. Each moment, filled with these unlimited details, can be a powerful reminder to celebrate the fact that, as personal development author Dan Millman says, “There are no ordinary moments.”
6. Practice Non-Judgmental Witnessing Awareness
Whenever your thoughts and emotions are caught up in the time-bound awareness of the past or future, the present moment becomes an unsatisfactory toll booth on the highway of time; there’s always somewhere else you’d rather be or something else you’d rather be doing. Your dissatisfaction is further deepened by judging and evaluating your experiences.
Judgment uses past experiences or future expectations as a measuring stick; it compares the present moment to more favorable times in the past or anticipated opportunities in the future. Judging, therefore, dooms you to an eternity of unhappiness in the here and now. However, by practicing non-judgmental witnessing awareness, the comparisons and evaluations fall away, leaving you with the perfection of this moment. Stop for a second and ask yourself: At the moment, is anything ever truly wrong?
If you look closely, you’ll eventually come to the conclusion that something can only be “wrong” when measured against something else. In the lack of comparison, judgment, or evaluation, this moment is exactly as it should be. Even experiences of physical or emotional pain, when viewed in this light reveal that our suffering arises out of a resistance to what is as compared to something else. By practicing non-judgmental witnessing, you simply observe what is happening in each moment without attachment. Each experience, thought, emotion, or sensation comes and goes through the eternity of each present moment.
If you want to learn how to live in the moment, commit to cultivating these, and with practice you’ll recognize experientially as well as intellectually that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to become; simply allow yourself to be, and the gift of the present will unwrap itself for you.