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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stewart

5 Fool proof ways to Stay Present and Let Go of Stress in Today's Fast-Paced World

It is a fact that most of us spend more than 50 percent of the time we are awake not thinking about what we are doing, and not fully engaged in the present moment. Whether it be driving to work, sitting in a meeting, eating lunch, or even spending time with loved ones, our minds tend to wander off to a different time or place. More often than not we find ourselves dwelling on past events or worrying about future ones while we are supposed to be focussed on something else. It’s also no wonder that many of our thoughts are negative as we continually replay past mistakes (things we perhaps said or did), or anticipate potential problems that will likely never happen (money, job, relationships). I know, I do it…a lot.

This habit of mind not only robs us of the present moment but can also have negative effects on our mental and emotional well-being. It can cause us to feel anxious, stressed, or even depressed, as we become consumed by our thoughts. We all know this happens more than we would like.

In my younger days, it seemed the people who understood these things and were often into practices such as yoga and meditation were either committed hippies, actively followed an eastern religion, or were in the Beatles. It wasn’t something ‘normal’ people thought about much. But in recent years none of us can have failed to notice the increased interest in meditation and ‘mindfulness’ across our western culture as a way of dealing with stress and anxiety. It’s everywhere nowadays with hundreds, if not thousands of books, YouTube videos and classes on how to meditate, be ‘mindful’, ‘stay in the present’ and promote calmness.

If I’m honest, I’ve always fancied the thought of meditating and getting into that blissful state of Zen. I’ve tried it of course as I’m up for trying most things, but it never lasted long. I watched a couple of videos and went to a class on meditation once, I even bought a special pair of baggy jogging pants and a baggy shirt for the occasion. Sadly though, I found there were always too many distractions, my mind was constantly racing, I was never sufficiently flexible to sit on the floor long enough for anything to happen before the cramp started, and it all seemed just a little embarrassing. I figured at the time that it was obviously not for me and quickly gave up.

The past few years however, especially with the challenges we have all faced (and the daily aches and pains from my now not so young body), have brought home to me the importance of looking after yourself, from a general health perspective of course, but also perhaps more importantly, how critical it is to look after and maintain a healthy mind. So, with renewed vigour I began to look into the whole subject of mindfulness and meditation again, focussing on how this might fit in with a busy modern working lifestyle, and how it could become part of an everyday routine, rather than something that is bolted onto the side (and therefore the first thing that’s dropped as soon as any ‘crisis’ drops by).

So, what have I learned so far.

We know intuitively that by focusing on the present moment we can fully engage in our current experience, truly connect with others, and thereby enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Living in the present moment can also help us develop a sense of gratitude and appreciation for what we have, rather than focusing on what we lack or what we fear.

Moreover, when we live in the present moment, we are more likely to experience positive emotions and feel more content and fulfilled in our lives. Our minds become quieter, and we can experience a sense of inner peace and tranquillity. We can become more attuned to our surroundings, appreciating the beauty of nature, the warmth of the sun, or the sound of a bird chirping, and we can experience a sense of joy, contentment, and inner peace, which are the true essence of a fulfilling life.

Sounds like something we would all want to experience hey? So, in our busy modern lives, how do we teach ourselves to live in the present moment?

I’ve learned five very practical ways to enter the present moment that can easily be slipped into a daily routine. Whilst these are very simple tricks, they do still require discipline and constant practice to become proficient in them, but you should be able to fit most of these into your working day. It only requires 10-20 minutes of practice with each of the exercises. Schedule them into your diary, spread them out over the week if you need to, but make sure it’s regular. Remember, there are no targets to be met, there is no exam or pass mark for this, and you’ll benefit right from day one of your practice.

So, let’s get on with it:

1. Breath Meditation:

Ideally you would go and find a park bench for this one. However, if it’s raining or there’s nothing suitable nearby, you could just as easily go and sit in your car during your lunch break, that would work.

Breath meditation is an ancient technique that has been practiced for thousands of years, and it is one of the most popular and effective ways to calm the mind and find relief from overthinking. The practice of breath meditation involves sitting quietly in a comfortable position and focusing on the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the body. By focusing all of your attention on the breath, you are able to bring your mind into the present moment and let go of any distracting thoughts or worries. In the Buddhist tradition, breath meditation is known as Anapana Sati meditation, which translates to ‘mindfulness of breathing’. This practice was originally developed in ancient India and was later adopted and taught by Gautam Buddha, who believed that it was a powerful tool for developing mental clarity and cultivating inner peace.

Breath meditation is not the same as breathing exercises, which are focused on controlling the rhythm of the breath. Instead, in breath meditation the goal is to simply observe the breath as it naturally occurs, without trying to change or manipulate it in any way.

As you practice breath meditation, you will notice that your mind tends to wander and get caught up in thoughts or distractions. The key is to notice when your mind has wandered and gently bring your attention back to the breath. With daily practice, you will begin to develop greater focus and concentration, and you will find it easier to stay present and centered in the moment.

Ultimately, the practice of breath meditation can help you to develop greater self-awareness, reduce stress and anxiety, and experience a greater sense of calm and well-being. So, if you're looking for a simple yet powerful way to calm your mind and live in the present moment, give breath meditation a try.

2. Walking Meditation:

Walking meditation is a fantastic way for busy people to ground themselves and live in the present moment. In today's fast-paced world, walking meditation can help individuals slow down and be present in the moment. It is often said that the journey is just as important as the destination, and walking meditation helps us to fully experience the journey. This meditation can be practiced anywhere, whether it's walking around your house, in a park, on a beach, or even around your office, although you might get some strange looks with that one.

The practice of walking meditation originated in Buddhism, where it is known as Cankama Sutta. The practice traditionally involves walking barefoot, as this helps us to feel more connected to the earth and enhances our awareness. That might work really well at home or on the beach, but probably not while walking around the office car park, so just wear comfy shoes. While walking, we need to pay attention to each step we take and the sensations that come with it. We must be present with each footfall and feel the ground beneath us.

Walking meditation is not a race or competition, so we should not rush. Instead, we must take each step slowly and deliberately. It is crucial to focus solely on the task at hand and not allow our minds to wander. By being fully present with each step we take, we can gain a sense of calmness and inner peace.

One of the benefits of walking meditation is that it can be done anywhere, at any time. It doesn't require any special equipment, and it's free. Walking meditation is also an excellent exercise for the body, as it helps to improve circulation, balance, and flexibility. It can be a great way to connect with nature too and an opportunity to take a break from technology and other distractions.

3. Single-Tasking:

This might sound almost treasonous to suggest in our current world where multitasking is the norm, even expected. However, living in the present moment means giving your full attention to whatever you're doing. Nowadays, multitasking has become a trend, and people tend to divide their attention among various things they're doing. For instance, they keep scrolling on their phones while eating, listening to music while working, or watching TV while having a conversation with someone. Doing this results in a lack of focus and attention, and it ultimately affects the quality of what you are doing.

To live in the present moment, it's essential to focus on one thing at a time. When you're doing something, let your mind and body be fully involved in that task. It could be anything, like taking a shower, eating a meal, exercising, writing emails, or even doing household chores. While performing that task, make sure you're not distracted by your phone or any other device.

Initially, it might seem challenging to break the habit of multitasking, but with practice, you can retrain your mind to remain focused on one task at a time. You can start by setting aside some time each day to practice single-tasking. Gradually, you'll notice an improvement in your focus and concentration, and you'll feel more present and aware of your surroundings.

4. Waiting for the Next Thought:

This is another one where you might need that park bench, or at least find somewhere you can be alone. The practice of waiting for the next thought is a simple but powerful way to live in the present moment. When we become conscious of our thoughts and observe them without judgment, we begin to gain insight into our thought patterns and mental habits. By asking ourselves, "What will be my next thought?" we create a gap in our thinking that allows us to experience the present moment more fully.

Through this practice, we can learn to detach from our thoughts and emotions and cultivate a sense of inner calm and stillness. This awareness helps us to break free from our habitual patterns of thinking and reacting, and to become more fully present in our lives. We can observe our thoughts as they arise and let them pass without getting caught up in them.

This practice is particularly helpful when we are feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed. By taking a moment to pause and observe our thoughts, we can gain a sense of perspective and reduce the power that our thoughts have over us. This helps us to remain calm and focused, even in challenging situations.

To practice waiting for the next thought, find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably and without distraction. Begin to observe your thoughts as they arise, without trying to control or change them. Then, focus your attention on the space between your thoughts and ask yourself, "What will be my next thought?" Wait patiently for the answer to arise, and continue to observe your thoughts without judgment. With time and practice, you will find that this practice becomes easier and more natural, and that you are able to experience a greater sense of peace and presence in your daily life.

5. Silence:

My final method of practicing to live in the present moment is simply being aware of silence. In today's world, we are constantly surrounded by noise, and it's easy to forget what true silence sounds like. However, if we take the time to listen carefully, we will discover that the world is never truly silent. Even in a quiet place, we can still hear the subtle sounds of our own body, such as our breath or heartbeat.

When we become aware of these sounds, we can use them to focus our mind and bring it to the present moment. By paying attention to the silence around us, we can quiet our mind and become more aware of our surroundings. This awareness of silence is a form of meditation that can help us to find peace and calmness amidst the chaos of our daily lives.

To practice this method, find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and focus on the sounds around you. Listen carefully to the sounds of silence and notice the subtle sounds of your own body. Pay attention to the rise and fall of your breath and the beating of your heart. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the sounds around you.

With regular practice, you will start to become more aware of the silence around you, and your mind will become more focused and calmer. This practice can be done anytime, anywhere, and is a simple yet effective way to live in the present moment.

I hope one or two of these five practices will have inspired you to at least give it a try. Please do some research and find out more about each of the practices. There is so much information out there it can be a bit mind boggling, but in practice I think it best to keep it simple. These are simple methods and that is what they are designed to be.

I’m working on all five. It’s early days yet, but I am honestly thoroughly enjoying the experience and already feeling calmer and better able to face the stresses of daily life. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this, whether you have any experience of meditation already, and if not, whether you might give it a go?

Wishing you all much Peace and Kindness.

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