Mindfulness 101: Being Present

This month, we’re covering the basics of mindfulness so you can build a simple mindfulness practice from the ground up. Every Monday, we’ll discuss a key element that can work on its own or build upon last week’s element. Last Monday we covered deep breathing, which can help you focus on your breath as a way to relieve stress. This week, we’ll discuss being present, which is an important part of mindfulness that can also reduce stress and ease anxiety. You can even use deep breathing as a way to begin!

Being present, or “living in the moment,” is a challenge when there are so many things to think about: deadlines at work, an argument on social media, or even a crazy news story. Existing in the present seeks to block out all of those sources of stress. The idea of “present moment awareness” can help you disengage from your numerous concerns that don’t necessarily affect you right now. For example, the deadline you’re worried about – unless that deadline is right now, it’s not a part of the present moment. It’s something that exists in the future, when you’re finished with the project that is due. This isn’t a suggestion to put a project off until the very last minute, but it is an opportunity to exist in a moment – just a short one! – that does not include that project.

One way to achieve present moment awareness is by noting your surroundings. It may sound mundane, but while you’re sitting quietly, begin noting your feelings and surroundings. Rather than latching onto all of them, move on immediately to the next thing you notice. Why move on so quickly? Because once you’ve thought of it, it’s in the past. It’s time for the next moment and the next thing to acknowledge. If you hear a sound, let it pass by. If you have a sensation of pain or an emotion starts bubbling up, note it, accept it, then let it pass by. Deep breathing is always a good place to start, acknowledging every breath you take and how your body feels as air fills and leaves your lungs.

By noting everything you observe in the present moment, you can escape worrying about things that are not of immediate concern. When you finish being present for a few minutes, you can re-enter the world refreshed and prepared to approach your responsibilities with a clear head.

If you need help noting, an audio meditation can help guide your thoughts back to the present. If you’re new to mindfulness, try enlisting an experience “sherpa” who knows how to lead your thoughts to a more positive, relaxing place. As you practice, you’ll be able to achieve this on your own.