“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” ~Oprah Winfrey
In 2012, during my community college years, I began to experience mild anxiety.
I assume it was the stress and fear that came with maintaining a good GPA in hope of transferring to a well-known university, alongside deciding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Or perhaps it was because of the time I knew I’d wasted slacking in high school to fit in with what I was surrounded by and to preserve my loud-mouthed drama-seeking status.
The next few years, I thought about the past and future a lot, cried, and grasped for many breaths during anxiety attacks near the campus pond.
In late 2016 I faced my first severe anxiety attack in the laundry room of my parents’ home while sitting against the washing machine and holding onto my legs curled up against my chest.
For the first time ever, I felt a heavy pain in the core of my body as if there were rocks piling up all the way to my throat and closing my airway to breathe. I had never felt so disheartened, lost, empty, and hopeless.
Soon, my anxiety attacks got to the point where I faced numbing and tingling sensations in my head, face, hands, and feet.
It wasn’t until countless severe anxiety attacks in that I had a glimpse of awareness behind my ongoing stream of thoughts. I found that I was experiencing stress and fear about what had happened in the past or would happen in the future and realized that I’d lost the present moment.
Many of us face day-to-day suffering through anxiety. We worry about progressing in our careers, getting an education, making a decent income, being there for our families, putting food on the table, and always working toward a means to an end.
I realized that many of us are constantly on the run to the future trying to be certain about what’s next, and if we slip and fall along the way, we worry about why it happened, which takes us into the past—eventually emerging from an egoic-state of fears, wants, needs, and expectations. That was me.
There’s always going to be something new that we’ll want, need, and expect while trying to stay up to par with the people and situations that surround us. We’ll spend a lot of time sulking over setbacks, failures, and loss. Ultimately, suffering from stress and anxiety will bury what we’re meant to experience, learn, and grow from in this moment, the present moment. Because we can’t fully immerse ourselves in this moment if we’re worrying about the next or regretting the one prior.
I’ve spent the last few years exploring, reading, learning, and practicing how to heal stress and anxiety with the simple, yet profound practice of being present, conscious, and aware.
With this practice, I’ve strengthened my ability to acknowledge and allow suffering to take its course when facing life’s inevitable difficulties and challenges.
The following are a handful of ways I practice presence, which has not only dissolved my anxiety, but also awakened my gratitude for the great joy and peace we can experience once we become conscious and aware in this moment.
4 Ways to Practice Presence
1. Practice non-judgment, non-attachment, and non-resistance.
You can lose yourself into the past and future when you’re judging, getting attached to, and resisting what is. This is because we become fixated on our wants, needs, and expectations of the moment instead of fully experiencing it. If we want to minimize our suffering, we need to be here in the present moment and allow what is to be and pass.
I know this practice is easier said than done.
I’ve had days where I was over the moon with immense joy during moments of achievements, when sharing laughs with family, and while celebrating milestones like my wedding. I also became attached, wanting the moments to last forever and feeling saddened that they had to come to an end.
On the contrary, I’ve also had days where I felt gutted and devastated over the loss of my dad, and I couldn’t help but judge and resist the experience of losing him. I had expected him to be around for future milestones and heartfelt moments.
Yet, I’ve learned that moments are undeniably and inevitably temporary. Joy doesn’t last forever, but neither does pain. Allow the painful moments to be and pass and truly savor the good ones with your presence and full attention.
Practice being and experiencing this moment as it is without judgment, attachment, and resistance. Enjoy the good moments and learn and grow from the ones that aren’t that great.
This will allow you to surrender to and accept the process and flow of life, which is the key to decreasing your suffering.
2. Focus on your breath.
Realize that you have no control over your past or future breath, only the one in this moment right now. Similarly, you have no control over what happened in the past and can never be certain of the future.
In many experiences in life, from meditation, yoga, exercise regimes, and sports to childbirth and even suffering, we’re always reminded to just breathe. It’s the breath that guides us into the present moment where the actual being and doing is.
Try your best to concentrate on the inhaling and exhaling momentum at a gentle and patient pace throughout your day. It’s a form of meditation that can be done anywhere and anytime to dissolve any stress and anxiety you face.
I practice this throughout my day all the time whether I’m at work or on the couch, just to redirect my focus into the now, especially when I become aware of nonstop thoughts, which can set the stage for suffering.
This practice brings you out of your head and into your body and allows you to immediately shift your focus away from your worries, fears, and regrets.
3. Immerse yourself in nature.
Have you ever felt immense peace while looking at the sunrise or sunset and a calmness when around trees, flowers, plants, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls?
When you’re with nature, you instantly become connected to its stillness, silence, and simplicity.
Even during the roughest storms, nature reminds us to become in sync with what is to allow the storm to take its course and pass.
To be in nature, you don’t have to go far. Step into the backyard or take a walk around the block. Pay attention to the beauty of the flowers or the rustling wind in the trees and embrace the peace and joy that arises from it.
You’ll find that nature truly has a way of reconnecting you to this moment.
4. Be grateful and trust what is.
So grateful, I whispered to myself as I stood outside in the backyard watching my puppy Oakley running back and forth on the grass, my husband playing with him and the sun setting.
It would have been easy to lose myself to thoughts about what’s next and why I still at times feel lost and hopeless, but those thoughts never resolve how I feel and only ignite my anxiety. I decided to instead be grateful for the blessings in that moment, trust that what’s next will get here when it does, and for now, practice being present with what is.
Be grateful for what is right now, even if you’re going through challenging times. Let your trust for the process be bigger than your fear, stress, and anxiety. When you trust the process, you tell life that you are one with its flow and allow the experience to make you stronger, teach you something new, and guide you onto a path of growth.
Take a breath to recenter yourself into this moment and look around to see what you can appreciate. Perhaps it’s this blog, a family member, your pet, a plant, a cup of coffee, or a meal. Maybe it’s the sun or rain.
It’s easier to let go of the past and stop trying to control the future when you’re fully immersed in the now. Whatever your life entails in this moment, be present with it, because that is the ultimate path to healing and finding your power in life.