How to Practice Being Present
Part 2 of a Five Part series on Techniques You Can Use to Start Practicing Mindfulness
Let’s talk about ways to practice being present.
What does it mean to be present and how can we even remember to practice being present when we get caught up in a whirl of thoughts and activities? How can we learn to be present for ourselves and for the important people in our lives? How can we be present for the world?
Being present is the gift we give ourselves and the gift we can give to anyone. It’s very valuable and in today’s world, it’s a rare thing. When we are present with someone else we are telling them that they matter to us and that they are seen.
Drop Into the Body
The physical plane is where we connect most readily with the present moment. That’s because the body exists only now, in the present. The mind can move “sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways and squareways, and front ways, and any other ways that you can think of” just like Willie Wonka’s Wonkavator. But your physical manifestation can only be where it is. Which is where you are.
One of the easiest ways to practice being present is to connect with the breath. Meditation is a specialized time when we sit and connect with our breath, but one of the goals of meditating is to be able to drop into our meditative state or access its focus on the breath in our everyday life.
You can use methods ranging from focusing on the feeling of your breath rising and falling to counting breaths. Whatever brings you back into your body and reminds you that you can observe your thoughts rather than letting them run amok.
Check In With Your Senses
You can use your senses to help reinforce that you are, indeed, here now. For example, take a moment to allow yourself to notice the sounds that you can hear around you. No matter where you are there are ambient sounds that will reveal themselves if you just take a moment to notice. Don’t try to interpret or form any kind of judgement about the sounds (such as ‘I wish the neighbor would turn that music down’). Just notice them and allow them to be.
You can do the same with smells, or textures or tastes. I feel like I often lose touch with the information my senses are feeding me. There is a thrum of sensory data that comes in regularly, but because so much of it is nothing out of the ordinary I fail to notice things that aren’t either noticeably painful (cramping hamstring) or pleasurable (taste of blueberry danish).
What about a light movement of air on your face as you walk along or the way that the sunlight hits a certain tree at the moment that you are walking by? These things are unfolding around you all the time, but so much escapes notice because we are living in an unreal world dominated by our random thoughts.
Be the Observer
When you realize that you are carried away with your thoughts and plans you can simply jump on board the train or you can turn the beat around by observing your mind and your thoughts. Just as in meditation, the goal in being present isn’t to stop your thoughts (not really possible) but to allow you to hold space for what’s happening now, and that includes your thoughts.
If you are remembering something, don’t tell your mind not to think about your first kiss or the t ime you caught that ball and ended the game in Little League. Instead, see yourself remembering and notice how it affects you physically–your breathing, your body–and how your memory affects your emotions and your overall mental state. Is it a happy memory? Does it turn melancholy and why?
Being fully present to the memory and to your thoughts can be very revealing and is a good way to practice being present.
Being Present With Others
Once you develop your muscles a bit by practicing remaining in the present during your daily life, you might think about how you can be more present with the important others in your life. Working from your closest circle (spouse, family, closest friends) outward (casual friends, coworkers) you can learn to give others the gift of your presence.
This is without a doubt the #1 thing that any of us can do to truly be present with another person, yet its a skill that so many of us have never been taught and that we practice very poorly. How often do you hear someone say that they ‘are not being heard’? Not feeling heard
or seen suggests a feeling of powerlessness and of insignificance, and I think we can all agree that we don’t generally want those closest to us to feel that way.
Listening to someone tells them that they do exist and that they are important to you. When you give your undivided attention you are giving something that is very valuable to others and increasing the level of understanding and happiness in the world.
- Mirror what people are saying When someone is telling you something, step back periodically and repeat back to them the important points that you heard them say. This tells them you are listening and also helps prevent you from misunderstanding them.
- Let silence be your default Of course you should give verbal and visual cues that your are paying attention to what is being said, but don’t let it become an automated reaction. Most important don’t allow your mind to wander into formulating your response to what is being said. Focus on simply understanding what the other person is saying. Resist the urge to speak or react until you’ve had time to hear the other person out.
- Don’t do anything else Communication is a single tasking activity. You cannot communicate with someone or be present with them if you are doing something else. So there is no multitasking–none–while someone is telling you something. It may not be something you consider important, but it may be important to them. But most of all, you signal that they are important to you, outside of anything they may be telling you.
- You don’t have to have the answers When you listen carefully you can discern between whether the person you are listening to wants an answer to their question or difficulty or if they are looking for support. Very often people want support and empathy, to feel like they are heard by someone outside their own head. Trying to solve their problem just comes across as more about you than about them. Assume that if they want your input on handling the issue, they will ask for it.
We can all use work on our listening habits. This article quickly outlines some active listening techniques, both verbal and non-verbal.