To be present.
What does that even mean?
On average we spend 40% of our day immersed in thoughts that have absolutely nothing to do with the moment we are actually in. We plan dinner. We plan for the weekend. We plan vacations. We make to-do lists of all the "stuff" we have to do. We daydream.
And our thoughts are not all future related.
We remember the past. We reminisce with favorite memories. We also, unfortunately, think about the stupid shit we've said and done. We replay conversations and we cringe at our own ineptitude...at our inability to articulate what we really wanted to say in a specific exchange. We re-imagine those same conversations over and over again. Sometimes the scenes end differently, better for us; and sometimes we just rewind and replay again and again with no changes, and we inevitably believe these interactions to be the representation of who we are.
We get caught up in loops of thought that provide us no real result other than to make us feel badly about things that are no longer in our control. The weird thing is that when we focus on the future we equally rob the present of our attention just as we do when we attach ourselves to the past.
So what about the now? How do we stay in the moment? How do we focus our attention on the present?
I realized while walking Leah today that she's an expert. Leah's goal when walking is the walk. She's not doing it for exercise (as far as she knows). She's not on a schedule. Most of the time she isn't in charge of the route. She's just there. Walking. Experiencing the outside. She's connecting.
If you've ever walked a dog before you probably have some idea of what I'm talking about. As soon as I get the leash out or even when I get my sneakers on, the pups are instantly excited. They know. And if I let them lead, our walk might just be down the street...but it could take hours. There are an infinite amount of spots to stop and sniff. Potty breaks. Other dogs to interact with. Bunnies and quail and lizards. So much to see. So much to do.
When do we do that?
Even when we're doing something we've waited months to do, how often do we find happiness in the moment as it is occurring?
When was the last time you gave yourself a chance to experience a moment with no expectations...no responsibilities...no distractions? Time without your phone. Time without your television. Time without a book or any other thing that could possibly distract you from the moment. Chances are this is rare.
It's not something most of us are taught as children. Until just recently, I hadn't considered how little I gave myself a break nor how little I let myself be in the moment.
Reddit had a post yesterday about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. One user, u/freshcap, described a detail he wished he was told before he set out to hike. He explained how there is plenty of advice about the gear, trail, distance per day, and stops; but that the idea of actually enjoying the hike as you are in it, is just not discussed. He mentioned his goals per day were always about the mileage, but suggested the importance that lies beyond the distance...in the trek itself.
His words, "after a multi-month long sufferfest, with weary feet and and wirey arms, you arrive. No applause from the crowd, no fireworks or streamers, and certainly no champagne- unless you pull it out of your own pack. It's just you standing there in the woods, thousands of miles from where you just started, wondering what the hell just happened".
He just coined the perfect metaphor for how most of us experience life. So many of us "thru-hike" through our daily lives simply counting the mileage as we go. And when we do that, we miss so much of the little stuff along the way.
Being present is hard. It takes time and practice to really be able to be in the moment. Luckily, I have my pups to show me the way. Andy Puddicombe's Ted Talk below also does a really nice job helping guide us in the right direction.
These two articles discuss being present and how to guide your mind into the present state:
How to Notice, Shift and Rewire your Brain
How to Settle the Mind (Being Present)