The mindfulness movement’s mantra “be here now” is gloriously simple to grasp but far from easy to do. Yet the benefits of present-moment living are myriad. What’s the secret to being here now?
Floating on the stream of consciousness
Sitting in an interminable but, I must admit, important meeting this week, the full meaning of the expression “be here now” really hit home. For about an hour, I had been an active and fully present participant in discussions; however, when the topic turned to matters that concerned my work less directly, I found myself drifting off and planning my evening activities. I had to pass by the supermarket, needed to do some laundry and also place a long-overdue phone call to a friend who had just had a baby. Ah, yes, the baby – I really must think about a good Christmas present. Hmm – must book Eurostar tickets home for Christmas before December when they get expensive. Beloved’s birthday is in December, what shall I get him – will he want to have a party or a simple dinner? Mmmm, dinner, I’m hungry… maybe I’ll make mince pies this year and take some into work…
Where am I?
And just like that, I was far, far away from my meeting (two months away, to be exact) and already planning my holiday-season baking. It was then that I had one of those “snap back to reality” moments as the room and the faces of my chatting colleagues came sharply back into focus and I remembered where I was. At work, with colleagues, discussing – well, I don’t know what they were discussing as I had been away for at least 10 minutes and had lost the train of the conversation. Which is when it hit me that by letting my mind drift away like that, it was if I had stepped away from my present life for a moment in order to spend time in my future life (this evening, this December…). But the time spent in the future in my head was in no way real or productive. It was, in fact, a waste of time.
No man’s land
It occurred to me that time spent outside of the here and now is not time spent anywhere real. I hadn’t actually made any progress with the list of chores I was planning for after work. Nor had I actually booked train tickets or found a birthday present for the Beloved. I couldn’t even say I had made a to-do list. What I had done was take a leave of absence from the matters at hand and from the present moment. The irony, of course, if that later that day while I was actually talking to my friend with the new baby, my thoughts drifted back to the meeting and a couple of interesting points the company’s consultant had made. The baby’s crying in the background of the call brought me back to the present. I was doing it again! In the meeting, I’m elsewhere, on the phone, I’m elsewhere. I’d neither made the most of the time in the meeting, nor was I fully enjoying the time spent talking to a dear friend. Wouldn’t it be better to just be here, now?
Easier said than done
“Be here now” is one of those self-help mindfulness mantras that’s so easy to say yet devilishly difficult to put into practice. We spend our lives wishing we were somewhere else, or at least thinking about some elsewhere, other time. In the shower, I’m planning what I’ll wear today; having a drink with friends, I’m pondering the next day’s workload; walking in the woods, I’m thinking about the next article I’ll write. Isn’t it possible simply to enjoy the hot shower, really listen to friends, and contemplate the colours of the trees? And, I’m not even going to think about the times when we’re actively worrying about the future (or worse, brooding over the past), which is when the tendency not to be here now is most virulent. The classic case of that is when work isn’t going well and Sunday evenings are spoiled worrying about the next day. The today is sacrificed to the tomorrow.
The path back to the here and now
I wish I could offer some easy way to implement a “be here now” solution, but I’m afraid that still eludes me. My own strategy is no more elaborate than simply to make a conscious and concerted effort to focus. Lists help. Keeping a to-do list frees my mind from having to make “I really must remember to” lists while I’m supposed to be having a meal or watching a play. The endless source of wisdom that is my mother suggested giving special meaning to a bracelet or some other piece of jewellery so that every time I look at it, it will remind me of my intention to be here now. That has worked well. In the end, though, it’s all in the mind. The more I train myself to notice my thoughts wandering and gently to steer myself back to where I really am, the easier it gets and the more I naturally stay in the moment. Awareness is 80% of the battle, actually; because, half the time we don’t even notice ourselves drifting. Think about it for a minute – where were you at dinner last night, during the cinema trip last weekend, or even for the time it took you to read this article? Can you honestly say your mind was really here, now?