While driving, have you ever been in a situation where a thought came along and you found yourself fully engaged with that thought, having possibly evolved it into many other webs of stories? Suddenly you realize that you’ve missed your exit ramp. Or worse, that you’ve gotten yourself into an accident!
How about the time when you had decided to go to bed but rather than falling asleep, you thought of something you had been concerned about. The worrying consumed your mind like an uninvited guest who had decided to overstay. As you tossed and turned, you knew a restful night’s sleep was not going to happen. The next morning, you woke up tired. Despite your will, you could not concentrate at work and wished you were in bed instead. In the meantime, that concern of yours still remained unresolved.
When the mind wanders, it’s usually to a past event, filling you with regret or sadness, or to a future event, filling you with worry and concern. More often, it could simply be a thought that plays in our heads like a broken record, quite boring and repetitive. A Harvard study shows that the average person spends 47% of their time with their minds wandering. This means that almost half of our lives are spent somewhere else other than in the present moment! This study further asserts that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind because it engages in past events or future events that have not happened or may never happen – creating negative emotions.
To be here now, is the only time to be happy.
Many traditions teach that the only time to live is in the present moment. That the experience of being here now is the only opportunity to be truly happy. But how does one cultivate the habit of being present?
Know that being present is inherent within us. Just watch how babies or young toddlers fully engage in the present moment. A toddler would marvel at a flower, curiously smelling its fragrance and feeling its petal’s texture. When walking in the park, a toddler would slow down to intimately appreciate the grass, how it feels to crawl and play in nature’s carpet (as opposed to an adult, who would rather speed up and get going). That toddler used to be us. Somehow, in some point in our lives, we have moved away from anything but being present.
Being present is inherent within us.
To renew mindfulness of the present moment, there are three things I learned from Brother David Steindahl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, who gives a very simple formula:
Stop. Create stop signs in our lives to simply pause and slow down. When we rush, we inevitably becomes less aware of the present moment.
Look. As we slow down, we look inward and feel our breath. Notice if it’s deep and slow, allowing both body and mind to relax. Realize that our breath is a gift. We have not done anything to earn it and yet, we have been gifted this breath at this moment.
Go. As with any gift, it is upon us to be grateful. We go and seize the opportunity to be grateful for this present moment… for this breath, for this second, for this life.
One sure path to happiness is gratitude. It is only in the present moment where we can express gratitude. “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that makes us happy,” Brother Steindahl-Rast says.
Cultivating the habit of being present is not rocket science. Being present provides the opportunity to be happy, by simply being grateful. Simple does not mean easy. Easy becomes easy, the more we practice. Every second we breathe, we are given an opportunity to seize.
How about starting this very second?