I have been thinking about how “present moment awareness” was a foreign concept for most of my life until recent years. The more I study mindfulness, the more I realize this. I was one of those people who always looked for “the next big thing” in order to be happy: When I graduate high school, I will be happy. When I graduate from college, I will be happy. When I get X job, I will be happy. When I get in this type of a relationship, I will be happy. When I get out of this relationship, I will be happy. When I have been cancer-free 5 years, I will be happy. You get the picture.
Part of this is also “can’t wait” mode. I have spent a lot of time and energy thinking, “I can’t wait till I’m done with X, because then things will be better.” Whenever I’m doing something difficult (like a particular type of job, for example), I have thought, “I can’t wait until I’m done with this.” Always living for the future.
Then there came a time when I realized that I wasn’t necessarily any happier when I got to that next big thing, or got done with that difficult thing. For example, I was not automatically “happy” when I got done with cancer treatment.
Since I have been practicing mindfulness and present moment awareness in earnest, I haven’t been thinking about the next big thing. Wait, scratch that. I have been thinking about the next thing I want to do, but I haven’t been thinking that I will be happier when that next big thing happens, than I am right now in this moment. I have been able to notice and be aware of just how happy I am in this moment. (Or “content,” actually, since “happy” naturally comes and goes.)
I have to say, the practice of mindfulness has enriched my life to a tremendous degree. It is certainly a practice. Nobody is perfect at it. But that sort of takes the pressure off. You’re not striving to be good at it, you’re just striving to do it.
There are always tons of pithy quotes passed around on Facebook, as an example, that talk about the importance of living in the present, appreciating the moment, and people read them and think it sounds like a good idea. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present,” and all of that. I happen to love quotes, but what I’ve realized is you can’t just say, “OK, now I’m going to live in the moment,” and then suddenly you are doing it regularly. It is a practice and there are a number of ways to develop a practice. It’s the practice of paying attention to what’s going on right now, inside of you and outside of you, that makes a difference in your life…instead of always being lost in thought about the past or the future.
A wise friend of mine gave me a book as a gift years ago called The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh and told me, “This stuff can change your life, if you let it.” She was right.
If you’re someone who already practices present moment awareness or any mindfulness skills, how has it enriched your life? If you have not practiced this, where can you start? Comment below or email me if you need ideas!
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