Are You Living in the Present or the Past?
Living fully with aliveness.
Do you often find yourself deep in thought, brooding, ruminating, or analyzing? Are you feeling unhappy and sour much of the day, though you can’t pinpoint what it is that is bothering you?
It might very well be that you have a string of unhappy thoughts running through your head all day long. I know this very well because I did this pretty much all my life until I found a different way. My thoughts were running my life.
There were replays of the past looping over and over in my head along with “what should’ve been/could’ve been,” followed by worries and hopes of what’s to come in the future. I was mostly either living in the past or the future and very much in my head, AND I was sublimely unhappy.
Then one day, it got to a point where living in the past was too painful to bear and thinking about the future too exhausting.
Only thing I wanted to do was yoga, which I had just taken up. The practice of yoga was so welcoming and refreshing because it only asked that I be present with my body and mind in each moment. There was no past or future but only now.
For the first time in my life, I started to live in the present moment. I fell in love with the practice of yoga.
Thanks to my yoga practice along with insights I gained from many wonderful teachers (yoga and non-yoga teachers), I eventually recognized this eternal truth: there is only NOW. When I started to live this truth, my life began to transform.
If you’re unhappy like I was, it might be that you are mostly in your head thinking about the past or the future and not living the present moment.
Living in the present moment may seem to you like some lofty esoteric principle, but there are some simple things you can do to bring yourself back to the NOW if you’re deep in thought about the past or the future.
Here are 3 really simple practical things you can do when you catch yourself in those moments. Try them and see how they work for you.
1. Look up.
Literally look up. When you’re deep in thought, your eyes are most likely casting downward. Shift your gaze upward. Look at the sky. Look at the tree branches. This will immediately create a shift in your perception and “break the spell” of your own thoughts. Notice what’s around you. Notice the details. Take it all in even just for a moment.
When you can shift from “thinking” to “experiencing” with all your senses — by seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting — you enter into a state of expanded awareness. Time slows down and things become more engaging and magical.
2. Notice your thoughts.
When you actually start to notice your thoughts instead of being fully immersed in them, you begin to become an observer. Then, you are able to step back and recognize the patterns and tendencies of your own thinking.
Ask yourself this throughout the day: Are you ruminating, analyzing, catastrophizing, fantasizing, or regretting? Categorizing your thoughts in this way will help you detach from the thoughts and notice what’s actually happening in your mind as an observer.
3. Feel your body.
When was the last time you felt your toes? When was the last time you noticed your breath? When was the last time you tuned into the signals of your body — subtle messages and wisdom your body is offering you? Many of us turn away from our bodies instead of tuning in because we’re so used to avoiding pain and discomfort (and even pleasure for fear that something bad will happen if we enjoy it), and we do this by using food, drugs (illegal or legal), activities, and all sorts of other distractions.
There’s nothing like the body that can bring us into the present moment if we choose to dive into it.
I admit, it can be scary and painful. But I’ve learned that the pain is very much part of living fully alive because life comes with pain, pleasure, beauty, sorrow, joy — all of it. To be truly alive, we must embrace it all. When we have the capacity to embrace pain, we also have the capacity for joy.
Try yoga, try hiking, try activities that would help you become in tune with your body. There’s more in us than just our thoughts. Allow yourself to be fully alive in every way.
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