“My mind’s like a galloping horse. I can’t focus. I’m worried. I can’t sleep.” These are common complaints many of us express.
What’s at the root of these ailments? It’s our minds that continue to wander long after our bodies have shut down.
Our thoughts race into the future—worried about what we have to do or what might happen later.
Then our thinking ping pongs to the past—we recall someone or something that hurt us or we desire to return to a more carefree time.
If we don’t find a way out of this adult mind-trap, we can become anxious, conflicted. A nagging sense that something’s wrong with us creeps in.
Guilt. Depression. Sleeplessness. Even anxiety disorders can soon become an inner battle, taking away the beauty of the moment.
The Spirituality and Psychology of Living in the Present Moment
Much has been written about living in the present moment. Most major faith traditions, including Buddhism and Christianity, describe it as a virtue.
Being present to the moment allows us to connect with God and our deeper selves. Be still and know I am God is an often-cited Psalm that quiets our minds and brings us back to present-moment awareness.
Living in the present isn’t just a spiritual concept. It’s also a vital part of mental health and emotional well-being. It’s a psychological remedy for those of us who struggle with anxiety and stress.
According to an article in Positive Psychology by Courtney Ackerman:
“Being in the present moment, or the ‘here and now,’ means that we are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. We are not distracted by ruminations on the past or worries about the future, but centered in the here and now. All of our attention is focused on the present moment . . . .
“Being present minded is the key to staying healthy and happy. It helps you fight anxiety, cut down on your worrying and rumination, and keeps you grounded and connected to yourself and everything around you . . . .
“Being present and exerting our ability to be mindful not only makes us happier, it can also help us deal with pain more effectively, reduce our stress and decrease its impact on our health, and improve our ability to cope with negative emotions like fear and anger.”
This is How We Do It
Wouldn’t it be great if we could flip a switch and instantly pull ourselves back into the present moment?
Maybe we can.
Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing, writes that God’s given us three receptors connected through our hearts with which we’re invited to experience the Creator in the present moment: the mind, the emotions, and the body.
When we use all three of our sensors together, we connect with ourselves and God. We awaken to the gift of each moment in a real and experiential way.
Unfortunately, our brains want to take over the process. They clutter our thoughts with worry about the future and grumbling about the past. Our bodies and emotions don’t get to experience the “now” of this moment because we’re distracted by swatting the buzzing mosquitoes in our heads.
According to Bourgeault, our minds can think only one thought at a time. So, if we focus on our bodies—the quickest way to quiet our thoughts—the mind stops its constant chatter.
Find Your Feet
At Bourgeault’s Wisdom School retreats, she invites her participants to engage in a simple practice called, “Find Your Feet.” It teaches how to live in the present moment through focusing on the body.
The group begins outside, raking leaves. After a few minutes, the leader calls out, “Stop. Find your feet.” The participants then stop raking, focus on the sensations in their feet, and express out loud a simple word or emotion they notice.
A buddy and I experienced the find-your-feet practice at a recent Bourgeault retreat.
At first, my mind raced back and forth as we raked leaves. But, when the leader called out, “Find your feet,” I noticed a strong sensation of warmth and tingling in my feet. I felt connected to the earth. Rooted. There was an inner strength and peace that flowed from the ground, into my feet, and through the rest of my body. I uttered the word “grounded” to describe what I was experiencing.
My mind stopped chattering as I focused on my body and emotions. I lifted my nose and sniffed the air, rich with the smell of autumn leaves. I stood awestruck eyeing the kaleidoscope of colors that carpeted the ground. Nature embraced me.
During the weeks after the retreat, my buddy and I integrated this practice into our daily lives. Whenever we noticed the other one fretting about the future or grousing about the past, we gently said, “Find your feet.” This simple practice pulled us back into the present moment. It invited us to return to the awareness that God is here and now.
The find-your-feet practice can be extended to other ways of quieting your mind through focusing on the body. Here’s a few ideas.
Place your hands on your chest over your heart. Feel your heart’s gentle beat, the warmth glowing within you.
Notice the heart’s deep abiding presence. Its peace.
Feel your stress release as you remind yourself with every heartbeat, “You’re safe. Alive.”
Noticing your breath is another way to return to the beauty of the present moment. When you notice stress building, simply stop and take several slow, deep breaths.
Filling your lungs with life-giving oxygen nourishes the cells in the blood and enriches the brain with oxytocin—the calming hormone. (Click on this LiveScience link to learn more).
The ancient Greek word for “breath” is pneuma, which refers to the spirit or soul. Hence, the breath is understood by some faith traditions as the spirit of God moving in and through our lungs.
As you breathe in and out, imagine God’s pneuma—the Creator’s Spirit—flowing in and through you. Notice what it feels like to breathe in the breath of heaven.
Wash Your Hands
When you feel overwhelmed or get splattered with negative energy from another person or situation, place your hands under a faucet and wash your fingers with warm water.
Feel the water rinse off negativity.
Let this gentle baptism return you to your natural state of calm and positivity.
Practice Living in the Present Moment
Stress is part of our modern culture. Its anxiety constantly drags us into the future and back to the past, distracting us from the gift of the present moment.
By practicing being present to our bodies—both during quiet times of meditation and during the active part of our day—we learn how to stay connected to God and our deeper selves. We return to the awareness that God is with us here and now in each moment.
All we have to do is find our feet.
—brian j plachtabrianplachta.net