One Monday morning I awoke before my alarm, and my mind proceeded to go over all the activities of each day of the coming week. I identified all the client sessions, the classes I was going to teach, my volunteer commitments, get-togethers with friends, the errands I needed to run, deskwork that I had to do, and all the little things that needed to be done that week. “I’m so busy!” I said to myself. I could feel my heart beating faster and my breath becoming shallow.
Then I caught myself. “Are you busy right now – this very moment?” I asked myself. Hmmm…no…I am just lying in bed. “That’s right.” I could hear myself say, “In this moment you are not busy. It is only your mind that is making you feel this way. This week, you need to stay focused on the task at hand and stay in the present moment. Don’t look at all the activities you have yet to do. Take your day and your week one moment at a time.”
All week long, when I noticed myself thinking, “I’m so busy!” I stopped and asked myself if I was actually feeling busy in that very moment. Every time the answer was “No.” During a client session I didn’t feel busy, while teaching I didn’t feel busy, when out with my friends I didn’t feel busy, while at my desk I didn’t feel busy. I was engaged in what I was doing. It was only when I thought about all the tasks left to do that I felt busy. While I was actually doing those tasks, I didn’t feel busy. When I focused my mind on what I was actually doing – in the present moment – and not jumping ahead to all the things I was going to do next, I felt engaged, joyful, and at peace. It was only when I leaped ahead to the “to-do” list that I started to feel busy and overwhelmed. I practiced staying in the present moment all week and ended up really enjoying all my activities. I had a relaxed, joyful, and productive week.
How do I practice staying in the present moment? First, I need to pay attention to what I am thinking. I’m like an observer of my own thoughts. Even if I can observe my thoughts just five percent of the time, I can learn something. When I notice myself thinking, “I’m so busy!” I know that I am looking ahead at my list of things to do. I then put my mind on what it is I am doing in the moment…like washing dishes, driving, or chatting with a neighbor. Sometimes I can only stay in the present moment for a second or two, then my mind wanders (or runs) off to all the other things I need to do. I pull my mind back to the present moment again. Then “whoosh” my mind is off again. And so it goes. Instead of getting frustrated with myself, I like to think of this interplay as building a habit. It is already a habit to NOT be in the present moment – to look ahead at all there is to do. So I am training myself to do just the opposite – to keep my mind on the here and now. The more I practice being aware of my thoughts and putting my mind on the present moment, the less my mind will wander off. The more my mind is in the present moment, the more relaxed I can be, and I can actually enjoy my life by being present for every moment of it.