People talk a lot about staying in the moment. So, I sat down to add my voice to this topic. I thought about a letterman style Top-10 list on how to stay mindful, present and in the moment. After all, lists can go viral, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone read my stuff, other than my mom?
I set about writing my list when it occurred to me; the number one reason I cannot, personally, stay mindful, present and in the moment . . . Lists! Of course, there are other distractions, not the least of which is being afflicted with infinite SQUIRREL . . . Sorry, infinite curiosity! I am easily distracted. Additionally, I tend to drift from three zones of consciousness; Focused Overwhelmed and Lost.
When I’m focused, everything is clicking, personal projects, health, work, relationships, etc. Next comes, Overwhelmed, when I know what has to be done, but I can’t seem to find the will to make a plan or execute on anything. Lastly, there is Lost. Lost is a feeling of sadness and most disheartening of feelings. It is when feeling overwhelmed turns into a feeling of hopelessness and not knowing where to start.
“Lost,” is not to be confused with the pleasant, Buddhist-like nothingness of enlightenment. It is more akin to “The Nothing” that Atreyu and Bastian had to battle in the Never-Ending Story; a darkness that destroys everything that it touches. Fortunately, it usually passes within a day or two and when I am lucky I can feel it coming on and warn those around me.
Any of these feelings can lead to being unable to fully be present. In even the best of situations, I can find myself drifting off in thought. I’ve read countless books, listened to numerous recordings; burned incense, lit candles, taken baths, and even attempted to actually act on the advice of friends; all encouraging me to simply turn my brain off. Easier said than done.
When I did stop long enough to reflect on when I have truly felt present, I was shocked at the answer. Unlike, the gurus suggested, my “Happy Place” wasn’t on a beach, hiking in the woods, or any other magical locale. It was often during the lowest points in my life.
Tragedy, the great Equalizer
I learned that no matter, how busy I thought I was, when tragedy strikes the world stops. If you, or someone close to you has a traumatic event, everything else ceases to be a priority.
When my dad was unexpectedly killed, my world stopped for nearly two months. Not slowed. It stopped. No amount of dirty laundry, overflowing cat litter boxes, or work assignments mattered. Grief had come and it held my full attention.
A few years later, doctors accidentally triggered, upon my wife, a completely healthy woman, not one, but two strokes. A routine operation, turned into an induced coma, followed by months of rehab. She eventually made a full recovery, but during that time the world ceased to exist. My entire focus was on her.
Not long after both events, the realities of life came knocking; suitcases in hand. My mistake was accepting the baggage. Soon after, business as usual, again, took center stage. My ability to be present took a back seat to thousands of thoughts competing for my attention.
Tragedy has a way of creating a blitzkrieg of what we think are our priorities. With everything removed, we are left with a singular important focus. Mindfulness and being present is about being able to call on that focus. To do that, we must clear away the clutter.
For me, these two events, woke me up. It led to me quitting my career, after nearly 20 years. Followed by completely changing my approach to work, play and family. I made efforts to take care of my own interests in order to reduce distraction. In turn, I became more engaged and present for others.
De-clutter and your mind will follow
The trick to being present and mindful, is not to do more in the moment. It is to organize your thoughts, ahead of time. This frees you to be more in the moment. Unaddressed items, carry an immense amount of weight. Whether you are consciously or unconsciously thinking about these things, they are taking up space. You don’t need to go all minimalist; but, it doesn’t hurt to try to trim some of the extra physical and psychological interferences.
I have a habit of collecting books next to my bed. Eventually, it towers higher than my nightstand. Every time I go to bed, I am reminded that these books are waiting to be read. It creates a sense of incompleteness. A lack of fulfillment that carries over into my interactions with others. When it starts to fall over, it is a physical reminder, that it is time to simplify.
Mindfulness and being present isn’t a course that you attend, get a certificate and move on. It is an on-going intentional act, that requires practice and patience. If you are not accustomed to making lists and organizing your daily schedule, it is worth a try. Getting things out of your head and onto paper can be immensely liberating.
At first, time boxing, can feel constricting, but often, it has the opposite impact. It is important that you honor your own time. In the same way, that you would honor an appointment with a family member, friend or co-worker, you need to do this with the time that you set aside for yourself.
Even if you are not big on planning your whole day, it is best to start with a morning routine. It’s a great way to kick start your day and insure that you feel fulfilled and clearheaded, later in the day.
My Aspirational 40-minute morning routine was adapted from Hal Elrod’s, The Miracle Moring. If you feel guilty about taking time for yourself, I have one more bit of advice, that has worked for me. I get up early, before the rest of my family. It sucks, but, it gives me enough alone time to get right with day, without taking time away from them. Then, when everyone wakes up, I can be more present.
No matter how you approach your day, the key to being present and mindful is making time for yourself, so you can be available to others. Take care of yourself, remove the distractions and the rest will follow.
You can get a copy of My Personal Morning Routine, courtesy of the Good Men Project, by clicking here.
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