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“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

~ The Teaching of Buddha

I’m sure you have heard the admonition that “the present is a gift.”  It’s a great play on words and always brings a knowing smile to my face. Yet, I know how often I lose sight of the present when day-to-day life gets the better of me.

I’m guilty of waiting impatiently in the check-out line, becoming more and more perturbed as the person at the register goes about their work. I have felt that he or she was disorganized, or too chatty, or just plain slow. I know I have grimaced or glared in an attempt to hurry things along. I have taken out my feelings of stress on an innocent check-out clerk just doing their job the best way they know how.

When I take a hard look at myself in those moments, I realize that I am not fully present. While physically in the checkout line, I am mentally somewhere else. Sound familiar?

The stresses and distractions of our daily lives make it difficult for all of us to live in the present. I am no exception. There’s always something in the future to worry about, or something in the past to obsess over. We often drift from the past to the future, dragging mistakes or painful memories from the past along with us, allowing them to color our future with doubt, skipping right over the present.

Whether in the check-out line, in the office, or in the kitchen at home, living in the past or future often has a negative impact on the present. The baggage we carry from our past can condemn us to repeat it — as in the case of the salesman whose one failure weakens his confidence and undermines future sales, or the husband and wife whose minor disagreement becomes a recurring fight because one or both can’t let go. Likewise, if our head is always in the future, we are likely to rush through the present and miss the important little moments and connections that feed our soul.

How to Cultivate “Present Consciousness”

But what would our world look like if we awakened to live exclusively in the present? How can we do this? There are many sources of inspiration on how to live in the present. Here are four ideas that really speak to me as I grow my “present-ness.”

1) Meditate 

This was the subject of my last blog post. Meditation can provide in-the-moment stress relief and relaxation, but at its full potential it is a teaching tool that allows me to examine and release unhealthy ties to my past and anxieties about my future. Finding a quiet moment to look inward helps me create a habitual and ongoing sense of peace with my present.

2) Pay Attention to Your Breath

The word “inspire” means both “to motivate” and “to inhale,” and there is nothing more in-the-moment than our breath. When I find myself caught up in stress about the future or regret about my past, I let those thoughts drift away as I focus only on inhaling and exhaling, deeply and fully. I have noticed that my panic causes short, sharp breaths that contribute to feeling overwhelmed, and that slower, deeper breathing helps that panic dissipate and empowers me with inspiration.

3) Make It New

Our daily routines at home and at work make it easy to live in the past. We can become trapped by the cyclical nature of repetitive tasks. In order to break into the present, I try making small changes in my routine. A blog post on BodhiPaksa.com advises taking a repetitive task and making it “new in subtle ways, delivering it in a way you’ve never done before. Rather than performing it by rote, take a risk and try something different.” By breaking my pattern, I find newness and create interest where there was only boredom before.

4) Mind the Gap

Another great piece of advice from BodhiPaksa:

Whenever you find yourself waiting—for the checkout line to move, for the traffic light to change, for the Web page to load—get present. Instead of being impatient and wishing things would go faster, be grateful for the gift of a respite—for the 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes during which you have no obligations. Take the opportunity to mindfully breathe in, breathe out, and savor the moment.

These four simple ways to bring our consciousness into the present moment have the power to release anxiety, deepen our connections, create excitement in our lives, and cultivate gratitude. I know that when I am able to exist fully in the present, I am my best self, both for me and for others.

With these tips in mind, imagine the difference we can make for the checkout clerk who is greeted with smiles rather than grimaces! Please join me in making these shifts and let me know how they are influencing how you live in the present. Comment or Tweet @ace7wagner!

“Why do we have to take care of the present moment? It is where all the wonder is possible. You cannot go to the past and drink a cup of tea. You cannot go to the future to drink a cup of tea. But now, we are drinking a cup of tea.”

~ Brother Phap Huy