I’m pretty sure my head is set on a swivel, at least as far as my firstborn is concerned. Four steps this way, four steps back again, all the while gesticulating wildly while proclaiming the minutiae of his latest creation in Minecraft or invention of a recess game. Not being even fractionally as invested in any of said details, I sit in front of him until I suddenly realize I have no idea what he’s saying because I’ve fallen into meal-planning or thinking about tomorrow or worrying about something in the future…or even just daydreaming about the latest book I’m reading (Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, an excellent read, in case you’re interested).
Being an engaged mother is the ultimate moment-by-moment practice. It’s saying to my children, “I’m with you, right here and right now. All of me. You’re worth it.” There’s nothing I want more as a mother than to build that sense of worthiness–and the security and confidence that comes from it–into them.
Of course, when I don’t engage well, it’s not because they’re not worth it. It’s because my “living in the moment” skills flounder. Oh, I’m super experienced at planning for/fretting over/worrying about the future. I also excel in obsessing over past events. In fact, I use these two skills so much, there’s hardly time to practice the whole “living in the present” thing. 😉
The good news is the ability to live in the present is a skill that can be developed. I know this not because I’ve had great success in this regard, but because when we were deep in the throes of infertility, my counselor told me so. Basically, you can skip that session of counseling, and I just saved you $150. You’re welcome!
I’ve been toying with this concept off-and-on ever since, and have realized I can’t be the mother, wife or woman I want to be unless I grow my ability to be fully present in the moment. Here are four approaches I’ve been using:
Cultivate Mindfulness || conscious breathing, meditation, purposeful movement…Mindfulness practices can encompass a variety of activities, but this study presents a bottom-line definition:
Although scientists have yet to agree on a precise definition, the most commonly cited one belongs to pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, who defined it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
Research demonstrates that mindfulness practices improve attention, decrease rumination, and enhance our emotional intelligence. Mindfulness is associated with lower rates of depression, decreased stress arousal, and improved high blood pressure. It even appears mindfulness slows down a portion of the biological aging process, telomere shortening, which sounds like a horridly boring scientific concept, but was introduced beautifully in this episode of On Being about stem cells where Krista Tippett interviews Dr. Doris Taylor.
Mindfulness is the silver bullet if you want to improve your ability to stay present in the moment.
Practice Gratitude || popular culture is full of references to the power of gratitude, but scientific studies support many of those notable claims. Being thankful for what I have brings me back to the current moment because it makes me take stock of the present; while I’m observing the good things from the present, it’s much harder for me to stew over the past or fret about the future.
Engage Your Senses || the enticement of a fresh-baked loaf of bread, the chill of a cold lake dancing around your hot summer ankles, magic of a rainbow stretched wide and bright across a storm-laden sky. Nothing can snap me into the present like a compelling sensory experience. This summer, I read about walking meditations, and I experimented with them myself and with the kids while we walked. Isla likes color ones. While we walk, we go through the colors of the rainbow, finding something around us for each color–a red stop sign, an orange flower, a yellow line painted on the street. More challenging for me was the sensory one, where I assign myself a number and work my way through the senses, finding that many things in each sense category– say, three sights I can see/hear/smell/touch/taste.
Create Something || It was a trick I learned during the throes of infertility, the gist being that childbearing is one of a woman’s ultimate forms of creativity, and when that creativity is squelched, tremendous heartache ensues. While many women try to manage the pain by forcing the outcome with various fertility treatments, tapping into that creative energy in other avenues can channel some of the struggle more positively.
I can’t remember where I read it, but the thought resonated with me, so I dreamed up some small creative projects, took a trip to Hobby Lobby for supplies, and started creating. I think my first project was a wreath? And that wreath, oh! How it helped!
I don’t believe creative projects healed my infertility, but I do know that engaging in creative projects freed up some emotional space in me that was otherwise congested by longing and hopelessness. Along the way, I found that I entered a rejuvenating state of flow while I was doing them, fully present with the tiny details, an immersive sensory experience.
You don’t have to make wreaths; perhaps creativity to you is an artfully prepared meal full of compelling and thoughtful flavor combinations. Maybe you delight in a carefully worded short story or handwritten note. Perhaps your art is the way you organize and work with numbers. Whatever it is, tapping into that creativity can open up space in your mind for the charms of the present.
How about you? If you try one of these, let me know how it goes! Do you feel like it improved your ability to stay present in the moment?