By now, most of us know that now -- here -- is where we're supposed to be. We get it that we are not living our life fully if we are always lost in thought, tumbling through a story about the past or future. But how do we do this thing called being present? How do we actually bring ourselves into a state of here-ness, deposit ourselves into this moment, so that we can truly be in our own life?
What follows is a list of practices, tools, for being here. The fact is, we can't really ever be anywhere but where we are, but our attention, our mind, can indeed travel elsewhere. The tools that follow are designed to sync up your attention with your body, so that the two are in the same place, like a floating photograph that moves into its frame. The practices I offer can be used for as little or as long as you like at a stretch, and are meant to be practiced several or more times throughout the day. The practices are like gravity boots that pull you into now, and plant you in the place where you actually are.
When it comes to techniques, we are all made differently and what lights one person's world on fire might not even heat the embers under another's feet. Some of us respond to visualizations, some sounds, some felt senses, some ideas, and the list goes on. The important thing is to try out different practices, and notice what they do for and with your own presence. Notice which techniques hold the drop you out of your mind and into your body, ricochet you out of whatever story you are lost in. Once you know what works, you can create a now toolbox from which to draw. It is important to make such practices a habit, to schedule these techniques like you would important appointments, and initiate them before you have missed out on a whole day of nows, a whole day of your actual life. The real key is practice, for that there is no substitute, and no moment better than now -- to meet the now.
The Now Toolbox
1) "Am I here?"
At its core, to be here requires to NOT be somewhere else. The first tool therefore is to pay attention to where your attention actually is. Ask yourself, "Where am I right now?" or simply, "Am I here?" Make this simple but profound question a habit. Notice too where you go to check for the answer. The place that you consult is also the destination, presence itself!
The physical body is always in the present moment. The body cannot and does not seek to be anywhere but here, unlike the mind, which wants to be anywhere else. We can make use of the body's always-present nature, and use it as a vehicle to come back here. By dropping into the body, and experiencing it directly, we hitch a ride straight into now.
Tune into just the sounds that are happening around you right now. Don't go to the mind to name them or explain how you feel about them or why they're happening. No effort is needed. Just listen, allow your ears to receive, and pay attention to this.
3) Body Sensation
Feel the sensations that are happening inside your body right now. Again, don't name the sensations (twinges, anxiety, exhaustion, pain, etc.) and don't explain why they are happening. Just feel them directly as sensations. Notice too that they just happen, without effort.
There is an expression, "God is as close as the next breath." Similarly, we are always just a breath away from presence, and we can always catch a ride to here on our next breath, simply by paying attention to it. The tool then is to feel your breath, pay attention to the sensation of the breath moving through you. Notice that without doing anything, your body is breathing itself, breathing you. Pay attention to the gaps between breaths, and the space of waiting for the next breath to happen. Get intimate with the entire breathing miracle occurring within you.
5) Inside and Outside
Bring your attention to what you are seeing right now. Notice what is here in front of you. Next, add to your awareness what you are hearing, the sounds that are being received by your ears. Hold both at once. And, then, still maintaining awareness of your seeing and hearing, add in the sensations that are happening inside your body. Hold the awareness of all three simultaneously. Ask yourself, "Who is it that is aware of both the inside and outside?"
6) Paying Attention to Mind
Turn your lens back on itself. Pay attention to what your mind is doing right now, listen to the thoughts that it is generating, the chatter it is chattering. Do not get involved in or respond to the contents, just observe your own mind in action, without doing anything about it. Put yourself in the audience to your own show. Ask yourself, "To whom are these thoughts appearing?"
7) Widening Your View
Silence -- listen for the silence that sits under the noise of mind. Find the sound of universal silence out of which the noise arises.
Stillness -- feel for the stillness that exists behind the endless movements of mind -- thoughts, feelings and sensations. Experience this deep stillness, undisturbed by that which moves through it.
Spaciousness -- imagine that your thoughts and feelings are like weather appearing in a big sky of consciousness. Open your view wide, and wider still. Sense the infinite space in, around and behind the thoughts and feelings, the open sky through which the weather is passing. Shift your attention from the objects moving through your consciousness, to the vastness that contains them.
8) Feeling Presence
Close your eyes and feel the sensation of your own physical presence, your body's weight, and existence. Bring your attention to the feeling of your body being here, just being. Drop into the particular sensation that is, "I am," "I exist."
9) No Next
Remove next -- imagine that there is no next event, next task, next person or next anything to get to. Invite yourself to stop preparing or getting ready for something else to come. Deliberately remove all else. Meet now with nowhere and nothing else still to get to.
10) The End and the Beginning
Imagine that these are the last few moments of your life in this body, as you. Drop into that fundamental sense of you-ness. Feel the you that has always been here -- from a little child until now, still here. Dip into this unchanging feeling of being you, which has remained while all else -- thoughts, feelings, situations, body, beliefs etc. have passed. Feel the you that is immune to time and the very ground of being.
Each of these practices holds the power to boomerang us back into this present moment. Discover what works for you and then make these practices a part of your daily life! They are called practices because they are to be practiced! Even a few moments, consistently, can change your life. If we are not here, quite literally we are not here -- not in our life. We are missing in action, lost in a story that exists only in our own mind. The life we are living is already dead, a memory of something that already happened, or a fantasy of a hypothetical future. Without presence, we are in a life that doesn't actually exist.
Ironically, ours is a society obsessed with FOMO. And yet, many of us miss out on the most important thing of all, our own life. Seems we ought to be worrying less about missing the next party and more about missing existence. Every moment from which we are absent is a profound loss, particularly when you consider the brevity of our stay here. Build your now toolbox and practice, practice and then practice some more. The benefits of such a practice are nothing short of life itself.