Post written by Leo Babauta.
How can you bring calm and peace to the middle of a stress-ful, chaotic day?
The answer is simple, though not always so easy to put into practice: learn to be present.
No matter how out-of-control your day is, no matter how stressful your job or life becomes, the act of being present can become an oasis. It can change your life, and it’s incredibly simple.
When I asked people what things prevent them from having a peaceful day, some of the responses:
- Work, the internet, my own lizard brain.
- Social media and other digital distractions.
- For me it’s too many things coming at me all at once. Whether it’s news, or decisions, or work to be done.
- My four children.
- Dishes, Laundry, Kids.
- Needless interruptions.
- Lack of control. I work in IT, and often “urgent” things will come up that need to be investigated/fixed right away (their definition, not necessarily mine).
- My own monkey mind.
The amazing thing: all of these problems can be solved by one technique. Being Present.
How Being Present Solves Problems
When you look at all of the problems above, you can see if you look closely that the problems are entirely in the mind. Sure, there are external forces at work: an uncontrollable job, the stress of kids and chores and interruptions and digital distractions. But it’s how our mind handles those external forces that is the problem.
If you are completely present, the external forces are no longer a problem, because there is only you and that external force, in this moment, and not a million other things you need to worry about.
If your kid interrupts you, you can stress out because you have other things to worry about and now your kid is adding to your worries or interrupting your calm. Or you can be present, and there is then only you and the child. You can appreciate that child for who she is, and be grateful you have this moment with her.
If your job demands that you focus on an urgent task, you can stress out because you have a million other things to do and not enough time to do them. Or you can be present, and focus completely on that task, and now there is only that one task and you. When you’re done, you can move on to the next task.
Social media and other digital distractions don’t interrupt us if we close them and learn to pour ourselves completely into the present task. And if we need to do email, Twitter, or read blogs, we can set aside everything else and just be present with that one digital task.
Being present becomes, then, a way to handle any problem, any distraction, any stressor. It allows everything else to fade away, leaving only you and whatever you’re dealing with right now.
How to Practice Being Present
The method for being present is fairly simple, but it’s the practice that matters most.
Most people don’t learn to be present because they don’t practice, not because it’s so hard to do.
When you practice something regularly, you become good at it. It becomes more a mode of being rather than a task on your to-do or someday list.
Practice, practice, and being present will become natural.
Here’s how to do it: whatever you’re doing, right now, learn to focus completely on doing that one thing. Pay attention: to every aspect of what you’re doing, to your body, to the sensations, to your thoughts.
You will notice your thoughts, if you’re paying attention, jump to other things. That’s OK — you are not trying to force all other thoughts from your mind. But by becoming aware of that jumping around in your thoughts, you have found the tool for gently bringing yourself back to your present task. Just notice the jumping thoughts, and lovingly come back.
Do this once, then do it again. Don’t worry about how many times you must do it. Just do it now.
It can become tiring at first, if you’re not used to it. Don’t worry about that. Let yourself rest if you grow tired. Come back and practice again in a little while. It’s not meant to be exhausting — instead you should notice how your worries melt away and you enjoy your present task much more.
Be joyful in whatever you’re doing, grateful that you’re able to do that task, and fully appreciate every little movement and tactile sensation of the task. You’ll learn that anything can be an amazing experience, anything can be a miracle.
Practice throughout your day, every day. Little “mindfulness bells” are useful to remind you to come back to the present. Thich Nhat Hanh once recommended that stoplights be your mindfulness bell as you drive. You can find mindfulness bells everywhere: your child’s voice, your co-workers appearing before you, a regular event on your computer, the noise of traffic.
Meditation is a fantastic way to practice, only because it removes much of the complexity of the world and allows you to just learn to be aware of your mind, and to bring yourself back to the present moment. It’s not complicated: meditation can be done anywhere, anytime. A meditation teacher is useful if you can find one.
Practice, repeatedly, in small easy beautiful steps. Each step is a wonder in itself, and each practice helps you to find that calm in the middle of the traffic of your life.
‘Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.’ ~Thich Nhat Hanh