“Accept, then act. Whatever the present moment contains, embrace it as if you had chosen it. This will miraculously change your whole life.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Being present. It sounds so simple, right?
But too often we are taken out of the present moment. Our heads get cluttered with the mind chatter of yesterday, broken memories, and anxieties and fears of what’s to come; all the while, we look past the beauty and simplicity of the present—this moment, right now.
It’s taken me years to learn how to live presently. My childhood was traumatic; my mother passed away when I was ten years old. I remember the days when I’d visit her at the hospital, naively believing that everything would be okay.
When she passed on, my whole world crumbled. For years I lost myself in grief, isolating myself to try to understand what I was feeling. I felt like no one understood me and feared the emptiness I felt would consume me until it became a normal, everyday feeling.
I grew up with my father and six brothers, and it was both a blessing and a curse. Although we’re a close-knit family, being the only girl with no motherly influence made it difficult for me to embrace my femininity, feel empowered, build confidence, and love myself fully.
I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching and learning through other people and experiences in order to understand who I am and where I’m going.
Because of the intense experiences and emotions from my past, it was easy for me to slip back into old ways of being, repeat similar experiences in my life, go around in circles—and essentially miss the present.
Learning to accept myself and my past and embrace my present and what’s to come instead of fearing it has been a continuous but fruitful journey for me thus far.
So here are some tips I’ve gathered along my path, to hopefully help and inspire you to live more holistically and presently.
1. See the past for what it was.
Learning to accept your past is a process, and isn’t always easy, particularly if it was traumatic or heartbreaking. First, you need to allow yourself to see your past for what it was. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, without judgment; there is no wrong or right way to do this.
As you unravel all there is to see and learn from your past, you may want to curl up in a ball and store it all away again; this is normal. Remember that accepting your past is not about wanting to change or forget about it; it’s about altering your perception of it so that you can live more freely.
When I did this, I had to accept that my mother wasn’t coming back. Although that was difficult for me, this initial step helped free me.
Since then, I’ve realized I still feel her around energetically, even though I cannot see her physically, and this is the most important thing for me. However, I could only experience that after I accepted her passing for what it was, and that took a good couple of years.
The moment you begin to accept the past is the moment you begin your healing journey. This is the start of letting go, moving on, and living more for the present. Give yourself time. Remember that this is a process, not a race or a competition.
2. Tune in to your emotions.
I can’t express enough how important it is to allow yourself to feel openly and freely, on a regular basis. Harboring your emotions, particularly the negative ones, only brings more emotional turmoil and keeps you stuck in the past.
When my mother passed away, I often felt lonely and would hold on to that loneliness as a way of feeling closer to her. But I see in hindsight that this pulled me away from others and kept me stuck in a cycle of sadness and unrealistic expectations.
Share how you’re feeling with someone close to you, whether it’s a friend, family member, partner, or therapist; and if you don’t have anyone close enough to do this with, let your emotions out through a non-verbal means.
This could mean picking up your guitar and playing some of your favorite songs, painting a picture, or writing a poem. Being creative is an exceptional and cathartic way of releasing anything that’s stuck inside.
I did a combination of these things throughout my childhood, and each one helped me become aware of my feelings, understand them, and let them go.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Being mindful means being aware of your inner world (your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, breathing), and your outer world (your surroundings/environment, actions toward others) so that you can live more presently.
You can start a simple mindfulness exercise by focusing solely on your breathing; breathe for four seconds in, and four seconds out, and do this for about five minutes (you can do this for longer if you have more time).
This is a quick and fantastic way to calm or stop the chatter in your head and relax your body. And most importantly, it’s a great way to bring you back to the present moment.
Observing your thoughts (and how they’re making you feel) is another great mindfulness exercise.
Our mind can conjure up so many different thoughts within seconds. Some of these thoughts can be positive, others can be negative; but most of the time our thoughts are past or future-oriented.
Our thoughts create our reality. The more you think a particular thought, the more it becomes an ingrained belief, so it’s important to be aware of your thoughts so that you manifest a positive reality, not one that’s full of struggle.
For me, emotional pain manifested in health issues, and I enhanced my struggle by telling myself I couldn't get better. Through mindfulness, I learned to quiet these negatives thoughts. While medical treatment helped improve my health, I know my mental state played a significant role in both my sickness and healing.
Being in nature can also pull you back to the present moment. Take half an hour out of your day to go for a walk or sit outside to be amongst the trees or your garden.
Observe the sounds you hear—the rustling of the wind in the trees, the crunching sound of leaf litter, birds chirping, insects buzzing in harmony. Noting these things and the feelings or thoughts that come with these sounds can help you remember the beauty and simplicity of the present.
When I go for walks, I remind myself of these things: the ground is my soul, the trees are my natural beauty, and the sun is my inner radiance. Nature is a perfect reflection of who you are. Immersing yourself in it can be a confidence booster, as well as a beautiful reminder of how amazing you are.
How Living Presently Can Ensure A Bright Future
Now that you have an idea of how you can live presently, it’s about practicing these things regularly so that you can ensure your future is full of light rather than fear and old patterns.
They say that the present moment is all we have, and while our past and future are very real concepts, they are just other aspects of this now. Feeling fear and anxiety toward our future comes from neglecting our present and holding onto our past—so in order to enjoy our future, we must first learn to enjoy our present!
You are exactly who you need to be and where you need to be in this moment. Wishing or trying to be someone else or somewhere else only creates resistance to the present.
So allow yourself time to accept your past, feel openly and freely, and practice mindfulness—and know that by doing so, you’re not only living presently, you’re also creating the best possible future for yourself.
Buddha at sunset image via Shutterstock