Over the past few years, you’ve probably heard calls to be more mindful and present within the moment. But what does that really mean; what does it look like? As it becomes easier to stay glued to our phones and overstimulated by feeds, information, and communication, we risk losing the ability to be present. Becoming more digitally connected has hindered us from being able to stay in the ‘here and now.’
Before we get into it, I think we need to start at the beginning. We need to ask ourselves what the notion of ‘presence’ means. We need to identify what to do in order to quiet the noise and show up for the moment.
The idea is to fully immerse ourselves in the act of what we’re doing. To calm and quiet our minds—hush the fleeting thoughts—so we can provide our undivided attention to the situation at hand. From cooking to catching up with friends to reading—it should feel like what we’re doing holds our concern and focus.
I’ve recently found myself struggling to be mentally present. Like so many others, the first thing I do when I wake up is reach for my phone. I can easily spend the first forty-five minutes of my day endlessly scrolling through social media and checking the news. Immediately, and in the sanctuary of my bed, I’m overloaded with information. At the very start of my day, my head is already cluttered with noise. When I catch up with friends, I find my mind wandering off to other thoughts, not fully grasping what they’re saying. Or when I’m reading a book, I find myself finishing a chapter and needing to re-read it because instead of comprehending the words I’m reliving a situation that happened earlier or making a mental list of things to do the next day.
Not being able to give my full attention to the people around me or properly digest information right in front of me was wearing me out. It’s unfulfilling to not really enjoy an experience you’re having. And who wants to be the friend that is just nodding their head when having a conversation? I wanted to be engaged with the moment and with the people around me.
Whenever I’m encouraged to be present, I consider it an opportunity to meditate. To allow myself to be completely free of common distractions. After all, the purpose of meditation is to train oneself to focus our thoughts, direct our attention and, quite literally, stay in the present. I have come to realize and acknowledge, though, that meditation is not for everyone. Specifically, I haven’t been able to find myself in a mental space where I’ve successfully practiced. Though I am aware it can look different for everyone—and it’s a skill that gets easier the more you do it.
For those of us who find it difficult to meditate, there are certain exercises that offer similar benefits. For one, breathwork (the act of focusing on our breath). It sounds simple, but it still requires discipline to concentrate carefully on counts and ascend to a state of conscious control. I use it as a tool to help me release unwanted energy and achieve a sense of calm within a moment.
Lately, when in conversation with a friend, face-to-face, I try to adopt the habit of completely putting my phone away or having it in another room. The same goes for reading. Eliminating any physical distractions altogether has helped me account for my attention. And while cooking has always been something that has helped get my mind off things, I’m now honing in on each thing I’m doing—cutting the vegetables, heating the water—reminding myself that this food will nourish my body. This intention plays a part in showing gratitude while I’m actually eating.
This year, we have all faced tremendous stress and anxiety. Our daily routines have been abruptly upended, and we’ve all had to reassess our values, priorities, and time. When we are unable to predict the future, we tend to feel out of control, which makes forming healthy habits even more difficult than usual—especially in regard to self-care and mindfulness practices. Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to be mentally present. Once we allow ourselves to really devote the time and energy to our inner work, we will excel in other aspects of our lives. I try to allocate an hour in the morning to just spending time with my coffee and a book without my phone around. I take a little bit longer in the shower and with my skincare routine. I take walks when I can. However you achieve mindfulness, be it through meditation, breathwork, or your own methods, simply practicing is essential to staying mentally present.