They say worry looks ahead, guilt looks backward and peace is in the present. So why do so many of us look everywhere except right where we're standing? We're caught up living in nostalgia and the bittersweet love of what once was or we're blasting through days counting down to the next big trip or life stage. There's nothing overtly wrong with reminiscing upon a good memory or sitting in excitement, but they call it "anxiously waiting" for a reason.
If you think about some of the calmest, most content people you know, chances are they're living in the now. And you can too, but it's going to take some practice.
Physical and Mental Presence
Being present in a place physically isn't that difficult. Simply put, you just show up. Keep your word. Be on time. Go to the event or responsibility you said you'd handle. It may require some shifting of schedules or sacrificing a few wants for needs here and there, but physical presence is far and away the easiest part of the equation (unless you're dating long distance, traveling for work, serving overseas, etc. - in which case, physical presence may understandably be ridiculously complicated).
Mental presence, on the other hand, requires a quieting of the mind to embrace crystal clear focus and participation with whatever's at hand. Mental presence is the trick to living in the now no matter where you're living or passing through and there are a few ways to go about it:
Disclaimer: we'll use a few terms like meditation, visualization, contemplation, etc. that may be new to you. If it makes it easier, replace any of them with "the act of intentionally deactivating your mind when it gets clouded with anything other than what's immediately before you.
1) Control the story you're telling yourself
This is, perhaps, one of the most liberating activities you can do. If you catch yourself waiting on the raise (anxious for the future), being the victim of a breakup (lingering on the past) or otherwise narrating your life from a place other than gratitude and eager observation, it may be time to shift.
Meditate on a better version of the story, visualize its outcome and live it.
2) Delay judgment
It's easy to navigate life with an ongoing rollercoaster of kneejerk reactions. In fact, most people operate from this reactionary posture. An alternative path requires the ability to delay immediate judgment for later reflection as not to disrupt the momentum of your day thus far. Example: If you're having a terrific morning but you spill coffee on your pants before going into a meeting you're likely going to respond with frustration, anger, embarrassment or other negativity from the inconvenience. But you could momentarily shrug it off and continue your awesome morning and crush the presentation.
Sure, later that night you may still have to deal with the inconvenience of getting the coffee stain out, but you can do so when the pressures of the day and your presence has not been compromised. This approach is not about compartmentalizing and refusing to deal with reality. It's about dealing with reality when the timing is better.
Nuance, sure, but powerful.
3) Observe more
Sit back and listen. Watch and learn - and not just in the cliche way. Truly watch those around you and learn. If you can focus on your surroundings and engage your senses: sight, taste, touch, sound, smell...you'll inevitably find yourself infinitely more connected to the world around you.
Turn off your phone and plug into life.
4) Use what you have, love what you have
The desire for more things and longing for what's gone can tarnish everything you have. Practice gratitude and be thankful for your time, your health, your relationships, your creativity, your patience, your knowledge, your humor - whatever it is that you do have can far outweigh what you don't.
May you wake up one day and realize it's the best day of your life. And then may you wake up and do it all over again.
P.S. Tell those you love that you love them. Thank those who help you. Encourage those who need it. Now is all you ever have. Don't miss your chance.