Being present--aware and intentional--is the ultimate "good life meta-skill."
What do I mean by that? Most of us fill each day trapped in the past or spinning the future. This is pure suffering. Once you've learned from your past, responded to what's happened and integrated what you've discovered, there is no purpose in continuing to dwell there.
Similarly, while anticipating joyful things can add to your present-moment joy, that's not what most of us do. We end up fretting about bad outcomes that may or may not happen, regardless of whether we have any control over them.
Along the way, we destroy the space and opportunity to be here now, to enjoy the moment, to feel engaged, lit-up, and sparked by what we're doing, and deeply connected to those we're with.
So, what do we do about it? I have two thoughts:
- Practice mindfulness daily. Cultivate a daily sitting mindfulness practice. Over time, this trains you to become both more present and aware, and also to more readily notice and then drop those useless storylines. Tara Brach has a wonderful weekly podcast that guides you through a 25-minute practice. Check out a local meditation studio or download a guided audio track to get started. This is also something I talk about in detail in How to Live a Good Life, which includes guided audio segments of different lengths.
- Set "awareness triggers." Turn connected technology from an awareness destroyer into a source of presence and mindfulness. Take your mobile device and set vibration alerts to go off every hour or so throughout the day. When you feel them, pause for a moment, notice where your mind is, and bring it back to the present moment, to what you are doing and who you are with. Notice the sounds, sights, and sensations. Over time, the process begins to become more automatic and you don't need prompts anymore.
Most importantly, breathe. It's a gentle process that takes time. So let go of the need to become instantly present and aware, and ease your way into it.
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