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As I lay on my back, this intense dread washed over me.
I had this realisation that I was racing through my life toward some kind of pinnacle.
I had certain things to achieve by my 30th birthday and I needed to grind to make them happen, fast. But one afternoon with my back flattening into my yoga mat and music pouring into my ears, I visualised myself as an 80-year-old woman having rushed through my entire life.
I felt immense sorrow.
My hectic routine left hardly any room to breathe, and it dawned on me that I didn’t want to grow old with regret—not the kind of regret that’s related to achieving our dreams. Just the idea made me sad. The idea that I would achieve all of this stuff, but miss the entire journey—the everyday beauties, the parts of life that are in the slow lane.
My mission to become someone was costing me the present moment. What use would it be becoming this ideal version I had imagined but missing my actual life?
Think about those days when you are on the go and barely remember the day—when the week passes by and you wonder, “Where did the time go?” How about when you drive somewhere and don’t recall the drive because you’re on autopilot? I used to live this way, and honestly, I knew no better…until I started recognising that I was missing so much of the now.
We read books and hear about being more present and may put it on our to-do list. But there’s a lot more to living presently than purely enjoying the moment or appreciating life as it is.
My journey to practising stillness and being in the now actually showed me that the path I was on was destructive—unnecessarily painful and unhealthy. It kept me from connecting with myself, my life, and others on a deeper level. Simply, everything was surface-deep.
On the outside, it seemed as though I had it together. On the inside, I was rushing through my life because I was letting my ego run the show.
I came to the conclusion that I would feel regret if I continued to live this way. I didn’t want to grow old without making time to soak in the present moment, making space for being rather than always doing. I wanted to slow down and cherish each day instead of wishing I was further ahead.
This dreaded feeling of regret motivated my desire to connect to the present moment, daily.
As I started practicing, it became apparent that my relentless drive toward success was actually anxiety coated as impatience.
Being in the moment became a journey of healing the part of myself that needed validation, approval, and external success. In a sense, the little girl within was craving fulfillment, and I thought I was filling that void by chasing some idea of “success” and accomplishment.
Developing stillness has not only led to enjoying life daily, but it has also been part of tuning into myself and not worrying about being someone.
Slowing down has meant that my work and lifestyle have become more fulfilling because it’s about giving value and not about who I am or what I achieve. Focusing on the now has also quietened anxious thinking, worry, and fretfulness. It has allowed beautiful experiences and people to come into my life without me having to go out and chase them.
As we live in the present, we allow more space into our minds, hearts, and lives. This is important as it helps us to hear our inner guidance and be open to receiving what is intended for us.
Here are my six tips to cultivating living in the present:
1. Never rush to lock the front door.
Every time I lock my front door, I pause. As I turn the key, I pay full attention to what I am doing. After locking, I hold the handle and say something like, “Thank you for the day,” “God is good,” or simply, “1-2-3-4, I locked the door!” I try not to reuse sayings so that I don’t go into autopilot.
The reason I started doing this is that I would often rush about, and after leaving the house I would worry, “Did I lock the front door?” Taking the time to be present with something as simple as this can teach us not to rush and to ensure we move with grace and calmness.
2. Enjoy doing your chores.
Chores are one of my go-to mindfulness practices, especially when I need to unwind or get in tune with my body. I view cleaning the home, vacuuming, washing clothing, and gardening as cleansing and therapeutic practices. No matter how busy life becomes, or how much we achieve, the humble act of cleaning can bring us back into the present moment.
While I am doing these activities, I focus on them entirely. The way we think about what we do can help us become more present and slow down. If we view chores as a drain, we’ll want to speed through and “just get it done.” But if we change our self-talk about what we are doing, we’re more likely to become immersed in tidying and enjoy the process.
Cleaning is symbolic and it is an opportunity to refresh on a regular basis. To wash, cleanse, and dust is a time to appreciate what we have and remember how useful our things and home is to our everyday life.
3. Listen to people more than speaking.
It is an act of love, respect, and appreciation to give our undivided attention when connecting with others. I have found that by really listening to people rather than being too concerned with what I want to say, I feel present with my connections. I’m there—fully.
Think about the times when someone is distracted or on their phone while you are talking. We can feel ignored, unappreciated, and unfortunately, we don’t see that person in the best light during those moments. When someone really listens, we’re more likely to walk away feeling good. Learning to listen to people can be challenging especially if we like talking or sharing. But it is a useful skill to develop that also brings us into the present moment, and teaches us not to take anyone for granted.
4. Walk daily.
In most of my writing, I advocate walking as it is an activity that crosses off so many boxes. Spending 30 minutes or more walking daily is a simple way to practice being present without much mental effort. My biggest suggestion: don’t use the phone at all during this time unless you are listening to music.
Walking at a consistent pace can bring us into a rhythm that allows the mind to declutter and calm down. This momentum can bring us into awareness of what is around us—the trees, other people walking by, interesting surroundings, beautiful homes, and gardens.
We miss the beauty in every day when we are rushing from task to task and caught up in our mental chatter.
5. Sit outside on the grass.
This has been one of my favourite activities to practice over the years because it was challenging for me at first. I used to believe there was no time to just sit on the grass and be. But during a time when I was maxed out with study and work, I made a conscious decision to sit outside for 15-30minutes each day. With no shoes on, I loved the feeling of connecting my feet to the earth. On rainy days, I’d take the time to watch the rain and appreciate the dark clouds.
In these restful states of simply being, I find my mind becomes refreshed and ideas flow to me easily—a great way to invite solutions.
6. Let yourself be bored.
One of the practices I have been developing recently is learning not to reach for my phone when I am in a situation where I am not doing anything. For example, waiting for an appointment. The next time you go to the doctor’s or waiting in a queue, take note of those who are not on their phones. It is generally elder people. I love how they sit in absolute stillness and patience. It has taught me to just sit and wonder, and embrace the boredom. By practising this, the desire to constantly check my phone or mindlessly scroll has dramatically lessened.
When we are used to filling up our time it can be strange to just sit and wait, but I have found that waiting strengthens patience and the mental muscle of stillness.
When we start practicing becoming more present in our everyday lives, it may bring up anxiety, discomfort, or guilt. As a recovered overachieving perfectionist who really struggled to unwind, I understand the challenge of learning to embrace the moment when you have a list of things you need to do.
As we practice, even if it’s 15-30 minutes a day, it builds the muscle of “being in the now.”
These practices are not groundbreaking or always exciting. Some days, I really don’t feel like going for a walk. It would be easier to rush through tasks, just to get them done. In the long haul, that only leads to feeling ungrounded, anxious, and out of touch with the now.
Start with where you are, and be gentle with yourself.