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Stress Solving Secret #2: Experience the Present Moment

This is part three of an eight part article.

present momentMost of us are constantly thinking about the past or worried about the future. We are determined that our life should be different than it is. We fret over past decisions and experiences and fear for what the future might bring.  Unfortunately, as we remember bad things that happened in the past or we worry about possible bad things that might happen in the future, we induce in the present the same stress response that occurs when we are actually in a stressful situation.

What this simply means is that 99% of the anxiety, fear and stress we experience has nothing to do with what is happening in our lives right now.  In other words, the actual moment we are in probably has nothing stressful about it at all.  The stress response we're feeling is being induced by our mind dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

So, simply by returning our thoughts to the present moment we can dissolve about 99% of our stress.  Now, that's any easy thing for me to say, but how do you actually do it?

Well, for starters, just do the deep breathing exercise I've already shared with you.  Deep breathing helps pull you back into the present moment, because you can't breathe in the past or the future. You can only breathe right now.

And, therein lies the secret to brining your mind back to the present.  Just turn your attention to anything which can only be done in the present moment.  Here are some practical suggestions.

Use Your Senses

First, your senses only operate in the present moment.  Unless you have some paranormal ability that I don't have, your eyes can only see what is in the present, your ears can only hear what is in the present and you can only touch what is present.  (Yes, you can remember sensory input or imagine potential sensory input, but you can only experience sensory input in the present moment.)

smelling-a-roseSo, after you've taken your deep breaths, open your eyes (not just physically, but mentally).  Look at your surroundings.  Listen to the sounds around you.  Notice your body.  Feel the sensations of your clothing against your skin. You can also involve your smell and taste.  Don't let your brain analyze and dismiss what is around you.  Instead, just open up your senses and experience it.

Wise men and women though the ages have noted that most of us go through life as if we are sleep walking.  We are blind to what is all around us all the time.

An interesting proof of this was a social experiment using one of the world's greatest violinists, Joshua Bell.  He dressed in ordinary clothes and played some of the world's most beautiful music on his multi-million dollar violin in a Washington, DC subway station as if he were a street performer.  The whole thing was video taped.  The story and video are online.

Almost no one stopped to listen.  Even people who waited in line for five minutes to buy a lottery ticket a few feet away didn't turn their heads to listen to the music.  But, here's the most amazing thing.  Every child who passed him, tried to listen!  They were, of course, scurried along by parents, but all the children turned their heads towards the music.  Only a handful of adults even turned their heads, let alone stopped to listen.

Ever noticed how the world is full of wonder for children? They can find delight in the simplest things.  What happened to us?  We fell asleep.  We became so engaged with our past and our planning for our future that our head completely took over our heart and our body and we lost touch with the present moment.  If you re-engage your senses, you'll rediscover what made you so delighted as a child.

Tune into Your Feelings

Here's another tip for returning to the present.  Stop and ask yourself, what am I feeling?  That's another thing that can only happen in the present moment.  You can only feel something right now.  Yes, you can create feelings by rehashing events of the past or projecting possible futures, but the feelings are happening right now.

hands-on-heartSo, tune into them.  Maybe you are unhappy right now, so your brain is searching your past for explanations or someone to blame, or racing forward to some future “salvation” from your unhappiness. (In my experience, women are more likely to do the former, men more likely to do the later.)

But here again, I've learned a great secret.  Instead of resisting what you're feeling and trying to place blame or make it go away, just experience it.  I know this is hard, but trust me, it works.  Most of us are constantly resisting or saying no to what we feel.  Instead, acknowledge what you feel and turn your awareness on to observe what that feeling, well, feels like.  Say to yourself, “Yes, I'm feeling _____.  What does that feel like (in my body)?” You'll find that doing this returns you to present moment awareness and helps you move through the feeling instead of running away from it.

To learn more about how to understand your emotions, check out my book The Heart's Key to Health, Happiness and Success. It will help you master this “present moment” skill of listening to your feelings.

The two techniques described above help you reconnect with your heart and body, which helps to make you whole again.  Only your mind can live in the past or the future.  Your body, and your emotions, only exist in the present.  I could write a lot more about this topic, but space doesn't permit, so I need to move on to my third, and final suggestion for returning to the present moment.

Ask, "What in this Moment is Lacking?"

This exercise is one I learned from Eckhart Tolle's book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.  He suggests that you should ask yourself this question, “What in this moment is lacking?”  Try it, right now as you read this article. Stop, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, “What, in this moment is lacking?”  Maybe a bill is due tomorrow that you don't have the money to pay and you're worried about your utilities being shut off. But, how is everything right now, this very instant?

The truth is that 99% of the time, nothing is wrong in the present moment.  We just allow the 1% bad moments to overshadow our lives by constantly rehashing them or trying to figure out how we can never let them happen again.  This is an awfully stressful way to live. We should heed the teaching of Jesus in this matter.  He said, “Take no thought for the morrow...sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  In other words, today we can only deal with the problems of today. 

What is past is past and what is done is done.  We can't change it. And, tomorrow we can deal with tomorrow's problems. Focus on today, or more importantly on the task right in front of your face, and you'll find that 99% of your stress will disappear.

Next: Stress Solving Secret #3: Focus on Solutions, Not on Problems