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Living in the Present Moment

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

~by Sue Staropoli, August 2023

Have you ever had the experience of being in a situation and noticing that your mind was somewhere else?

Your body is right here but your mind was thinking about the shopping you need to do, or a troublesome conversation you had earlier?

Or you might be rushing so fast that you aren’t even seeing what’s right around you. Just trying to get where you want to go.

What I’ve been realizing recently is that the only moment I really have is now– but my attention is too often elsewhere, and I miss the gifts of the present moment.

And I’ve realized that taking time to be consciously in the present can provide clarity of thinking and grounding that can inform my actions in the world. The Pachamama Alliance’s mission is to bring sustainability and equity into our world. That action can be nourished by being in the present, helping us assess our relationship to the world and discern more clearly “what is mine to do.”

As I began to reflect on the potential of living in the present moment, I realized that I had several patterns that presented obstacles to this goal. See if any of these patterns are familiar to you.

  1. As I mentioned, I find that many times I am moving so fast, and thinking about where I want to go, that I miss what’s all along the way. When I was growing up, I learned early on that I received positive attention from my actions and achievements, so I focused much of my life on keeping busy and earning approval through many activities. I worked tirelessly to achieve the many goals I set and keeping busy was almost like a badge of honor. I only lived in one speed – fast – and seldom slowed down to really enjoy the gift of the life I was creating.

  2. A second pattern I recognized was that I seldom took time for personal reflection. I was so busy looking outside myself for approval that I failed to look within myself for grounding, affirmation, answers and direction. Many years ago, I was invited into a process of introspection, listening to the voice within me and claiming my own gifts, apart from what others thought of me. This journey was transforming: it slowed me down and opened my heart to a new way of being.

  3. I also began to realize how much time I spent in my head/my mind – thinking thoughts – without noticing the gifts of the present moment. I was thinking about things rather than experiencing them in the moment! For example, I would be walking on a path in the woods, and I would notice that my mind was wandering, thinking of a myriad of things – but not taking in the beauty around me. And, I have noticed that when I would be listening to someone, I would be thinking about what I want to say in response instead of being fully present to the person in front of me.

I heard a concept that really awakened me – “We live two lives: we live life in our thoughts and we live life as our experience of the present moment. Freedom comes as our life in thoughts diminishes and our experience of the present moment predominates.”

Stress can come from thinking. I have discovered the grace that living in the moment can bring, as I experience the world around me as it happens without injecting thought or judgment into it. And I have learned that having my attention on words and thoughts or having my attention on what’s happening around me is a choice I make. When I live in the present, I am free of the judgment of thoughts. It allows me to experience inner peace, and a sense of calm, which makes life exciting, beautiful, and free.

But old habits die hard, and it is an ongoing challenge for me to slow down enough (both externally and in my busy mind) to notice what is right in front of me – sometimes it’s great beauty and sometimes it’s deep pain. The world is full of both wonder and suffering, and when I’m rushing and full of thoughts, I miss it all. I’m living in the past or the future and miss the only moment I have – the present. Sometimes I simply ask myself the question – where am I? In my body or in my mind? Am I really noticing what is right in front of me? Or am I in my mind in the past or future somewhere else? Or am I in my mind judging what’s in front of me?

Here is a practice that I have begun to implement: noticing when I’m in my mind and thoughts and choosing to pay attention to the life around me, using my senses to be really present. And here is my reminder: Live your life one breath at a time. Take a moment to dance in the rain, laugh loudly, and love with every inch of your heart. Tomorrow is an unknown future, but today is a beautiful gift to be enjoyed.

Here are some quotes by one of the greatest spiritual teachers—Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn—to guide you in exploring the concept of living in the present moment.

  • Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.

  • We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we'll also have a lot more joy in living.

  • Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

  • “Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.”

  • Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”

You are invited to explore this topic – living in the present moment – what it means as you seek to live your life fully and intentionally, embracing both the joys and pains of life, and especially to listen to what resonates within you and your experience.

Here are a few ways to practice being in the present moment. Consider whether there are any habits or mental expectations of yourself that keep you from living in the present moment. Think about what might attract you to a lifestyle of living in the present moment and whether any of these practices might be meaningful for you. Finally, think about one step you might take to move forward on a journey of living in the present moment.

  • Practice meditation – taking at least a few moments a day (preferably in the morning) to ground yourself before launching into your activities) to quiet your body and mind (there are many forms to explore if this is new to you). You are not your thoughts, so rest in the quiet place within.

  • Make a practice of slowing down and noticing what is right in front of you, what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing in your senses - especially moments of joy, wonder, awe, even moments of grief. Notice more of the small things and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

  • Practice Mindfulness - being mindful of every action you take. E.g., mindful walking and eating – stopping “automatic pilot” living and paying attention.

  • Eat mindfully - When was the last time you carefully savored the taste of your food? Many people eat so quickly that they miss out on the flavors swirling in their mouths as they eat. And appreciate the earth and all the people who brought your food to your table.

  • Do things that make you happy and bring joy! That’s what living in the present moment is all about! Singing, dancing, painting, gardening, yoga, whatever you get lost in, so you’re absorbed in delight outside your head!

  • Do things that you’re passionate about! Any cause, interest, hobby, recreation, exercise, etc.

  • Calm the mind – do right-brain activities, using your imagination and creativity.

  • Be kind - One of the easiest ways to live in the moment is to be kind. When being kind, our right brain is activated as compassion is a right-brain activity.

  • Breathe (throughout the day -especially when you’re feeling stress) – slowing down your body and mind as you notice each inhale and exhale.

  • Seek Therapy (uncover old patterns and wounds that might be part of a healing journey)

  • Go for a nature walk – this is where you can connect easily with the awe and wonder of the beauty in life! You might notice leaves falling, spiders walking around your feet, the coolness of the breeze, or the difficulty of climbing uphill. It’s all about the lived experience.

  • Add music to your life – music can take us out of thoughts into another realm of presence.

  • Journal/remembering – at the end of each day take time to recall the moments you notice throughout the day – joy, awe, grief, connection with someone or another creature or life – celebrating the gifts of those present moments.

You may find that meditating, noticing, doing things you enjoy, getting into a flow state, and having fun are all ways to live in the moment naturally.

Each Moment Is Precious

Live in the moment,

Just take it all in.

Pay attention to everything,

Right there and right then.

Don't let your mind wander

To what's coming next.

Cherish this moment

And give it your best.

Don't let tomorrow

Make you rush through today,

Or too many great moments

Will just go to waste.

And the person you're with,

In that moment you share,

Give them all of your focus;

Be totally there.

Laugh till it hurts,

Let the tears drop.

Fill up each moment

With all that you've got.

Don't miss the details;

The lesson is there.

Don't get complacent;

Stay sharp and aware.

It can take but a moment

To change your life's path.

And once it ticks by,

There is no going back.

In just 60 seconds,

You may make a new friend.

Find your true love,

Or see a life start or end.

You become who you are

In those moments you live.

And the growth's not in taking

But in how much you give.

Life is just moments,

So precious and few.

Whether valued or squandered, It’s all up to you!

~ Patricia A Fleming


1 Comment

Sue says this more beautifully than I ever could. I need to hear this so much.

Carol Crosse

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