Anchoring to the Present Moment
How to pull yourself back to shores of presence when lost at sea
Imagine you’re sitting in a boat, relaxing and enjoying the calm waves on a beautiful sunny day.
You lose track of time, and in your relaxation drift off to sleep.
Next thing you know you wake up, but suddenly the shore is no longer in sight. You’ve drifted out to sea.
Luckily, you have your paddles with you…but now it’s going to take a lot of time, energy, and effort to get your ass back home.
How could we have prevented this from happening in the first place?
Yes, the simple act of putting an anchor down could have prevented you from drifting out to sea. If your boat began to drift, the anchor would have caught you and saved you all the time and energy of having to get back to shore.
Similarly in life, I believe that when the storms of life make us drift out to sea, we can use anchors to return back to the shores of presence.
We can use positive habits of presence, mindfulness, and gratitude as the anchors that bring us back to ourselves when we have gotten lost in the seas of our mind.
If you have ever tried to meditate, you are probably familiar with what is widely called the “monkey mind” — a mind that constantly jumps from thought to thought while you’re trying to be aware of your breathing.
And if you’re familiar with this, it means you’re familiar with being lost in your own mind. Wrapped up in the stories and thoughts and ideas that seem to flow in a never ending stream of consciousness.
In meditation when the mind is lost like this, the practice is to notice that you are lost in thought, and then return back to the breath.
Attention to breath>mind wanders>mind notices it has wandered>bring it back to the breath.
In this scenario, the breath becomes an anchor to your present moment. When you’re lost in the sea of your mind, the breath becomes an anchor to return home to shore.
Similarly, we can use the breath as an anchor throughout our day — away from the meditation cushion and in our natural daily stress (and joy!) filled lives.
Someone aggravates you at work and you’re lost in a sea of rage? Take a deep breath and try to get control over your boat.
Someone says something to you that hurts and leaves you in a spiral of depression? Take a deep breath and try to get control over your boat.
Keep in mind however that depending on how far you have drifted out to sea, it will take that much more effort to get back.
If you’ve only been lost at sea momentarily, within one breath you could be quickly back to shore.
If you’ve been swirling in the seas of insanity for some time, you’re probably going to need a lot of breaths. You might make some progress getting home, and then drift back out again. Two steps forward, one step back kind of thing.
And that’s fine! As long as the anchor is doing what it needs to, as long as the anchor is pulling you back home, it’s doing it’s job.
Other forms of Anchoring:
Anchoring is not limited to the breath. In meditation there are a variety of techniques you can use to anchor yourself to the present moment. Some of the most common ones include the breath, feelings in the body, and sounds around you.
Anchors can come in many forms, and you can have as many of them as you want!
Here are some of my favorite examples…
Pause! Stop whatever you are doing, take a few deep breaths, and give yourself a break for a few minutes. (No, that doesn’t mean check social media) Go outside, take a few deep breaths. Pay attention to your mood and how you’re feeling. Stare up at the sky. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you.
By taking a pause in our day we give ourselves the opportunity to let go of what recently happened and create space for what is yet to come. We come back to the present moment for a brief second.
It allows us to escape the seas that we have been swimming in all day and get a breath of fresh air. To stop, recognize how you’re feeling, take a deep breath, and re-calibrate your energy before you go back into your work.
I personally find that the best way to get out of my head is to get into my body. To reconnect with my feelings and the energy flowing inside of me. That’s why, one of my favorite anchors to the present moment is the physical connection to the body.
How can we apply this? The most basic form is exercise of some kind. Something to get your heart pumping quickly, but not enough to qualify as a full workout. For me this usually means a few pushups, jumping jacks, running in place for a minute, or some light stretching.
The point here is to pay attention to how your body feels. The more you can feel your body and make that “mind-muscle connection”, the better you will be at getting outside of your head and returning back to the present moment.
Gratitude and appreciation
Out of all the things I’ve learned throughout my journey of meditation, gratitude and appreciation seem to be the holy grail of all spiritual practices. When life has you spinning — anchor yourself to the things that you are most grateful for in life.
I always like to start with my health, as I find it’s the thing we most often take for granted. Thank your lungs for breathing constantly so that you don’t have to. Thank your heart for pumping blood throughout your body and keeping you alive.Thank your mind for solving problems for you and giving you a computer inside of your brain that provides you with the ability to do work in the first place!
Another exercise I like is to think of a specific memory that brings a smile to your face. Think of a time when you were at your happiest. Visualize it. FEEL it. Feel the emotions it brings to you. Visualize all of the events that took place as if you’re watching a movie and the scenes are flying by one by one.
I can’t stress this one enough. Of all the anchors, gratitude is hands down the most powerful. Anchor yourself in gratitude and appreciation and it’s unlikely that the seas of life will ever take you off course.
Let’s say that you’ve drifted out to sea because of something that another PERSON did to you. Maybe it was a boss, a co-worker, a family member — regardless of who the person is…they did something and now you are upset.
In times like these, similar to the above point of gratitude, are there any positive memories that you have shared with this person? Are there any ways that they have made you a stronger, tougher person?
If you can, try to anchor yourself to those positive memories that you have shared together. Try to remember how this person has helped you become a better version of yourself. Try to get away from the situation that made you upset, and remember that this is another human being with emotions just like you, and we’re all sometimes victim of drifting out to sea.
If this doesn’t work — try to use the Dhalai Lama analogy of “is this person 100% bad?”
Are their eyes bad? Their hair? Their feet?!
Sounds ridiculous, but in the moment it’s easy to get wrapped up and think that every aspect of this person is bad or evil….but they aren’t. They are a person too. Sometimes it helps to remember that they are not a bad person, they might just have some bad qualities.
Initially these anchors help you to RETURN to yourself. To find yourself once again. To return back to the present moment when you have been lost in your own mind.
The beauty of this technique however, is that over time these anchors PREVENT you from drifting out to sea in the first place.
Anchoring can become a stable, foundational practice that keeps you tied to the present moment. Keeps you here in the now. Prevents you from getting lost at sea.
Anchor yourself to your breath, to your bodily feelings, to appreciation and gratitude, and to positive memories with the people you love who have helped you to become who you are today.
Anchor yourself to love. Love for yourself. Love for the people around you. And love for the entire universe that brought you into existence.
Anchor yourself to the now for a beautiful life where you can peacefully enjoy the seas at ease :)
Originally published at Troy Erstling.