From my own experience, becoming present is most effectively achieved by immersing myself in a series of activities that I really enjoy doing. I’ve wrote quite a lot on hobbies recently and there’s a very important reason for why I’ve done so. I’m sure you already know that doing the things we enjoy offer great stress relief. They allow us to escape from the thoughts which we perceive to be troubling.
So not only do hobbies pull our attention away from our minds activity, they’re also a great way to focus our awareness on what’s going on in the here and now. Where we really should be, unlike being caught up in our past and future thoughts. This is not to say that being caught up in our minds activity of thoughts is a bad thing. Whatever we resist and label as bad will have more power over us. We have to allow our thoughts to be. Without wishing them to be gone. This has a transcendental effect where we come to a place of healing and peace. Instead of keeping the inner disturbances alive through fighting our inner state.
Anyway… back to the topic of discussion…. By focusing our attention away from thoughts and onto something else, we can become intensely present. That ‘something else’ is what I refer to as activity immersion. This is when our mind is so absorbed in something like painting or reading a gripping novel that we forget our inner world of troubling thoughts and feelings, if only for a little while. The more we practice this, the more our brains recognise this as a normal and consistent pattern. This means that new neural pathways are being built. It’s the same with practicing anything in life. Even when we practice acceptance of our internal state, we are building new neural pathways in our mind and replacing the old neural pathways of resistance.
TV doesn’t really offer us a chance to experience this deep immersion, unless we’re watching something that fully engages our attention. TV shows on Netflix and movies can help us experience this state which is commonly known as flow. However, the activities which are highly effective at keeping our attention in the now are things like writing, intense exercise, walking in nature, action packed video games, learning/playing a musical instrument, drawing, painting, doing puzzles, reading a gripping novel or a fascinating non-fiction book.
Trying to control our mind and stop thoughts actually requires far more effort. And the worst thing about this approach is that it never works in the long run. We don’t really have that much control over our consciousness, definitely a lot less than we’d like to believe.
Do you know what the awesome thing about activity immersion is? It forces our mind to be present. We become present without even trying to. Instead of painfully attempting to quieten our minds and become present through mindfulness, we can make it effortless by focusing on what we really enjoy doing – our hobbies.
Why I’ve stopped meditation
The reason why I’ve stopped practicing meditation and mindfulness is because it doesn’t really bring me into the moment. As weird as it sounds, these practices actually take me away from the present because I’m trying too hard to be present when I do them. It’s kind of a paradox. The more effort we expend into becoming present, the less present we become. Life has a funny way of working. There’s really nothing we have to do to become present. It’s just that immersing ourselves in a activity that brings us into the flow state is much more easier than trying to become present through force.
When we stop trying to become present and just focus our attention on an enjoyable activity, we effortlessly find our awareness in the present moment. Present moment awareness just happens as a natural by-product. It isn’t something we have to achieve by hours of dedicated meditation practice.
While I think paying attention to the sights, sounds and smells of our environment is a useful practice, I don’t recommend we force ourselves to do this. Why? Because like I’ve already said, forcing ourselves to become present backfires. If anything, we just add more thought to our minds by the very attempt of trying to become present. I used to do this when I was really into mindfulness. I would really make an effort to become present. I would read all the books on mindfulness and try out the exercises. Most of the time I felt stressed whilst doing them. I think this was because I was gritting my teeth and hoping to become present. We can practice present moment awareness until we are blue in the face, but it won’t be an enjoyable experience. Like Yoda said, do or do not, there is no try. We can apply Yoda’s piece of wisdom by doing an enjoyable and a sensory engaging activity. This will force our awareness into the now without any effort.
So to sum up, any attempt to become present just stimulates the minds thought chatter which ultimately stops us from becoming present. The effortless path to becoming present is to flood our senses in the world around us. This can be done by focusing on the objects of our environment and/or immersing our minds into fun and engaging activity. Don’t make any effort to quieten the minds chatter by force. Don’t make any attempt to become present. That’s really the way to become present. We can never not be present. The only thing which can wonder away from the now is our awareness. This awareness of ours usually gets lost in thought about the past and future. But trying to stop thinking is an impossible task. At least it is by trying to stop thinking. Does this make sense? We can stop the minds incessant chatter only by taking our attention away from it, not by focusing on controlling it.
My purpose with this post was to make you feel at ease. Feeling at ease will naturally and effortlessly bring you to the present moment.