Being in the Present Moment Using Mindfulness
by Darian Slayton Fleming
This series is about the meaning of mindfulness and how to apply it in your life. The first article defined mindfulness emphasizing the importance of being aware. The second discussed how taking deliberate action gives you a greater sense of control. This piece focuses on what it means to be in the present moment.
First let’s discuss what present moment awareness is not. Focusing on past hurts and regrets is known as rumination. When you think about something that happened in your past, this is a thought, not the actual event. Dwelling on incidents that happened in the past provides little relief from emotional pain.
Anxiety expert Reid Wilson, PhD., explains that worry is equally unhelpful. When you cannot do anything about a problem, he refers to it as noise. If you can take some sort of action, he calls this a signal. If your assessment is that you can take action, he encourages you to act.
The third part of the mindfulness process involves being in the present moment or in the here and now. The increased ability to savor present moments is directly associated with successfully rewiring the brain to default to positivity.
When you determine that there is action you can take, you bring yourself back to the present moment. In the present moment you can analyze your situation, identify problems, determine next steps, and make plans for moving forward. Focus on your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Ask yourself what is true about yourself in this moment. How else can I think about this that would be helpful? What is one thing I can do right now that would be helpful? The answers to these questions suggest present moment responses.
It is helpful to identify the physical sensations your body experiences when your emotions are triggered. Do you clench your jaw or grit your teeth? Does your chest become tight? Do you feel short of breath? Do the muscles in your neck or shoulders get tense? Noticing that your body is reacting to unwanted stimuli is the first step to regulating your emotions. Learn to notice these sensations and to choose appropriate responses rather than automatic reactions.
Grounding exercises are especially helpful during moments of heightened anxiety. When you realize that your emotion has been triggered, slow down the process by taking a pause. Think of this as like counting to ten. Taking a pause gives you mental space to clarify your thoughts.
Now take some relaxing breaths. Diaphragmatic breathing is the most complete version of this process. Practice this by placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. When you inhale, you should feel your belly expand. On the exhale your belly will contract. Relaxation breathing increases the oxygen flow to the brain and calms the mind and body.
Another grounding exercise is to get in touch with where you are in the here and now. Start with the relaxation breathing to calm yourself. Then notice, and even name out loud if possible, five things in your environment you can see; four you can hear; three you can touch; two you can smell and one you can touch. Alternatively, notice and name what you know about where you are in your environment. Feel the seat under you, the back of the chair supporting you and the feel of the floor beneath your feet. Grounding exercises put you in the present moment.
Problem solving and planning are present moment activities. With problem solving, you generate solutions that may be implemented. Planning involves identifying next steps and building in timelines and evaluation criteria. This present moment thinking helps you organize your thoughts and prepare to take action.
Let’s explore this idea in greater depth. While having a conversation with your wife about overspending, she interrupts and accuses you of being stingy. You notice your chest getting tight and your shoulders growing tense. Using present moment awareness, you deliberately take a pause and some relaxing breaths. You determine you are feeling worried and you want to ask your wife to participate in a problem solving discussion. Now you are calmer. Using an “I Message” you tell her about your worry and ask for her help to generate solutions. She agrees to sit down with paper and pencil for a brain storming session. Your outcome is mutually satisfying. This is due, in large part, to your ability to approach the situation with calm and forethought.
Finally, present moment awareness is akin to “noticing what you’re noticing”, a concept of being aware and intentionally using this information to inform your responses.
Basking in present moments increases your happiness set point and rewires your brain for more positivity. Intentionally look for ways to respond appropriately to challenges. Savor the meaningful moments and deepen your appreciation of life.
About the Author
Darian Slayton Fleming is a licensed clinical social worker and certified rehabilitation counselor. She is a passionate disability rights advocate and member of the American Council of the Blind. She lives in Gresham, Oregon, near her beloved son and family. Darian has been published in “Dialogue Magazine” and author of Speak Up For Yourself: Get What You Need and Feel Good About It. She is featured in The Community Book Project: Celebrating 365 Days of Gratitude. These books may be found on Amazon. She is producing a documentary about her late husband who was a blind skydiver. Check out blindjohnmovie.com.