Read an Excerpt
Present Moment Awareness
A Simple, Step-By-Step Guide to Living in the Now
By Shannon Duncan
New World LibraryCopyright © 2003 Shannon Duncan
All rights reserved.
PRESENT MOMENT AWARENESS
If you have picked up this book, then odds are that in some way you feel dissatisfied with your life. You are not alone. Most of us have a gnawing sense that we are missing out on something more. We just can't put our finger on what it is. Many strive to do more, to attain more, to be more, yet we are left feeling empty. What do any of us really want? It usually boils down to the following: to be noticed, understood, respected, and loved. If examined closely, most of our efforts are pointed toward these basic needs. In essence, we want to be valued as human beings. For many of us, our discontent comes from believing, deep down inside, that we aren't.
So what does any of this have to do with present moment awareness? Everything, really. Being present in the moment, you have the opportunity to see beyond what your fears and insecurities tell you and open yourself to a nearly limitless array of new choices. In learning to live in the present, you discover how to set aside emotional baggage from the past, and worries about the future, in order to appreciate the opportunities you have available to you, right here and right now.
This can enable you to:
Stay sharp and focused at work or school
Cease to pointlessly wrestle with circumstances beyond your control
Discover your dreams and make them real
Quit worrying and start living
Let your real self shine and draw others to you
Improve your relationships
Be a better parent
Do work you enjoy and enjoy your work
Improve communication with others
Experience the joy that comes from living fully
The primary requirements for success in this effort are intent and honesty. If you sincerely intend to be honest with yourself and make positive changes wherever you feel it is pertinent, then you have the ability to grow and attain the happiness you've been searching for.
Does this seem too good to be true? It isn't! With heart-felt time and effort, these positive changes in your life can begin to happen naturally. Learning to live in the present moment brings about a shift in our perception, rather than a mere change in our behavior. This is an incredibly powerful and life-altering experience. Remember when you first realized your sexuality? In one fell swoop, your thoughts and behavior pertaining to nearly every aspect of your life changed for all time. This is the same principle — when your perspective on life shifts, changes in your feelings and behavior will naturally follow suit. Your life can become less of a struggle and more of a pleasure when you learn what it means to be present in the moment.
There are four phases to this process; each is a chapter in this book:
1. THE POWER OF THIS MOMENT
The first phase is becoming aware of the present moment through "being" in our body. Learning to pay attention to our senses is the crucial first step in learning to experience the present moment as opposed to being lost in daydreams or worries. We will hopefully come away from this section with a solid grasp on what it really means to be present in the moment.
2. THE ILLUSION OF LIMITATIONS
The second phase is exploring the ways in which our very own thoughts can limit our choices and effectively eliminate opportunities, leaving us frustrated, fearful, and feeling powerless to manifest our dreams. The goal of this section is to begin questioning our own self-limiting beliefs.
3. EMOTIONAL PRESENCE
The third phase is learning to be present with our emotions. We will explore the idea that our emotions do not have to be an overwhelming or all-consuming force, even though for many of us they are exactly that. Learning to experience our emotions in the present moment is gaining the ability to not let what we feel overwhelm and ultimately control us.
4. REACTIVITY ROLLER COASTER
The fourth and final phase is being present with our emotional reactivity and discovering the origins of our discontent. As we will learn, our reactivity is one of the primary reasons we do not live in the present moment and therefore suffer in our lives.
A "Focus Tool" is simply something a person can use to help remind them to practice living in the moment. It is easy to relax in a favorite chair, read a book, and nod in agreement with what we are reading. It is something else to actually take those concepts and apply them during the stresses of our everyday lives. The Focus Tool acts as a waking alarm clock, a reminder to be aware of the life happening all around us and to participate in it. Very simply, the Focus Tool repeatedly reminds us to stop and smell the roses. Within the framework of this book, it is to be used while practicing the exercises until the application of the principles becomes second nature. I offer a specially designed Focus Tool in the back of this book. This compact electronic device alerts you randomly throughout your day to bring your attention back to the present. However, telephones, pagers, cell phones, car alarms, doorbells, flashing lights, etc., can all serve as Focus Tools, reminders to bring ourselves out of our daydreams and back into the present.
Little else needs to be said about the Focus Tool other than to use it. The kind of awareness we hope to encourage can become a permanent change in how we live. Because it takes some perseverance in the beginning, we should not hesitate to rely on the Focus Tool continuously when practicing the exercises in this book. With sincere intentions for positive change and a little effort, we will eventually begin to find ourselves already in the moment each time the tool alerts us.
GETTING THE MOST FROM THIS BOOK
This book, while making a lot of statements, is really a book of questions. After reading each topic, stop and ask yourself how it might apply to your own life. To find new answers, we must first open ourselves to new questions. Even if nothing comes to mind right away, you might be surprised at what will occur to you later because you took a little time to ponder what you read.
This material becomes even more useful by simply paying attention to how you feel about everything you read. By observing what emotions and reactions are stirred up as you are reading, or later pondering what you've read, you can gain a great deal of insight into yourself. Becoming anxious or frustrated while reading is a great indicator that our buttons are being pushed. Instead of allowing these feelings to stop your progress, simply accept them as indicators that you are moving in the right direction. Sometimes, truly, the only way out of the dissatisfaction we have with our lives is to pass right through it.
This book contains three different kinds of exercises. They are "Try This," "Ponder This," and "Homework." It is important to do the "Try This" and "Ponder This" exercises as you read them because understanding their concepts is important to understanding the overall ideas being presented. You should perform the "Homework" exercises throughout each day in an effort to apply the concepts being taught and to learn what it means to be present in the moment.
Each "Ponder This" exercise should be contemplated quietly. This doesn't really mean thinking, but rather a quiet mulling over. As you ponder, you should sit or lie quietly in a relaxed and comfortable position and, for at least a few moments, let your tension and worries go and simply consider the idea that has been presented or the questions that have been asked. You don't need to reach any real conclusions necessarily; you only need to consider the ideas within the context of your own life and experiences.
Imagine possessing a level of knowing, relaxed confidence that illuminates your path through life with amazing clarity. Try to envision a state of being that is not influenced by the burden of past pain or the worry of an uncertain future. This pursuit begins and ends in our awareness of the present moment. But these ideas do require an open mind. You can always decide later that all of this Present Moment Awareness stuff is a bunch of garbage and that you don't believe it will help you. For now just keep an open mind and give it a whirl. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
With that being said, why don't we begin? After all, there is no time like the present ...CHAPTER 2
THE POWER OF THIS MOMENT
He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past.
— Henry David Thoreau
I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.
— Albert Einstein
Living in the present moment is the full awareness and appreciation of the life we have, right here and right now. Present moment awareness is being aware of what is happening in ourselves and our world instead of being lost in random fears from the past and uncertainties, hopes, and expectations for the future. In the absence of those fantasies we have the opportunity to enjoy our day-to-day living.
To get started, we need to gain a sense of what it feels like to be present. The ideas and exercises in this first section may seem simplistic, but they are crucial to understanding the deeper concepts that come later in the book. Like the layers of an onion, we are peeling away the causes of our discontent, starting with the most easily recognized symptoms.
Right Here, Right Now
When we are living in the present moment, we are using our bodies for the purpose for which they were designed — to feel the raw, uncontaminated reality of life. By learning to be deeply aware of our physical senses, our thoughts, and our emotions, we can greatly increase the clarity of that experience. In making this effort to be present with ourselves, we are fostering the opportunity to grow.
Most of us carry a great deal of fear over what is yet to come, which leads us to react blindly to the inevitable obstacles that appear from time to time in our lives. In being so absorbed in our worries, we miss out on the only real life we have — the one happening right here and right now in the present moment. Because so many of us are not used to simply "being" with ourselves, without some kind of distraction, it is not uncommon to find the barriers of anxiousness or restlessness blocking our way. This is completely normal and should not be allowed to distract or dissuade us from our efforts here. As we shall explore later, these can be some of the greatest inhibitors to the enjoyment of our lives.
A Glimpse of the Present Moment
When we are present in the moment, we are not thinking about our environment. We are simply experiencing it. The goal is to observe without judgment, analysis, or thought.
Take some time to notice what you are experiencing in this moment. To do this you should pay attention to all of your senses. What is the temperature? How bright is the lighting? Are your hands cold? Feet warm? What do you smell? Do you notice random thoughts floating through your mind? Are you feeling any specific emotions? Are you relaxed or tense? How does it feel to be supported by your chair? How does this book feel in your hands? What sounds can you hear?
For example, if your cat's litter box is a little rank, don't consume yourself with thoughts of changing it. Simply experience the smell "as it is," and allow any thought of changing the litter to float by. Notice how you can be aware of something, such as a stinky litter box, without having to conduct a mental dialog about it. You can be aware of what needs to be done without having to think about it. This excess thinking is mental static, a noise in your mind that distracts you from the reality of the present moment.
Close the book now and take this opportunity to glimpse the present moment. When you feel comfortable with this exercise, please continue.
* * *
Welcome back. In doing this exercise, you may have experienced a few moments of being present in the here and now. Usually most of us only become truly present during moments of breathtaking beauty that defy analysis. An amazing sunset or holding a newborn baby can leave us in awed silence as we simply absorb the experience. Our efforts here are to become aware of how often we allow ourselves to become absorbed in mental static instead of appreciating the endless opportunities to really enjoy our lives that present themselves all the time.
During this exercise, you were present if you were aware of yourself and your environment. If you did in fact notice the smell of your cat's litter box, for example, you simply allowed yourself to be aware of it. You then experienced the unpleasant way it affected your sense of smell. Being present means that when the thought to clean it appeared, you simply acknowledged your awareness of the thought and allowed it to float by. If thoughts such as "When am I going to do it?" or "Why haven't I done it yet?" entered your mind, you simply let them pass in and out of your awareness.
Using Your Time
This exercise is a simple illustration of your powerful ability to choose and to be at peace with your choices. This exercise is meant to deepen your idea of what it means to be in the moment and to get you thinking in terms of how being present can give you some objective distance from needless worry and negative thoughts.
What was the last task you "beat yourself up" for not doing? How did this thought process make you feel? What if instead of becoming lost in your mental static about it, you had just given yourself three simple choices?
1. Do the task now.
2. Do the task later.
3. Do not do the task.
Could you ever see yourself selecting one of these options and letting it go at that? Can you see how much time and energy you would free up in doing so? How many times a week do you become absorbed in needless mental static about a task?
* * *
There Are No Ordinary Moments
I came up with the idea for the Focus Tool while mowing my lawn. It had become clear through that experience that a tool to periodically remind me to come back into this moment could be very powerful in my quest to live a more joyful and peaceful life.
My pager had gone off several times while I was mowing. The first time, I noticed that I was thinking about getting the oil changed in my car. For a while I paid attention to mowing the lawn and then my mind must have wandered, because the next time it went off, I was planning next week's schedule. To bring myself back, I noticed the smell of freshly cut grass. That's how it went for the rest of the time I was mowing.
When I finished, I realized that every time my pager went off, I was thinking about something that might happen in the future. When I was concentrating on mowing the lawn, I was enjoying the sun, the breeze, the time to myself, the smell of freshly cut grass, the feel of the exercise as it tested my body, and my sense of accomplishment. When I was distracted, I was thinking of things like the fact that I had to take my daughter to the doctor on Monday. I realized that this thought actually made me anxious because she can sometimes carry on in the doctor's office — especially if she needs a shot. My thoughts and anxiety floated away all by themselves each time I was truly in tune with my immediate task and surroundings. I learned that being in the present and paying attention to something as ordinary as mowing the lawn was much more enjoyable than worrying or obsessing about the future.
I realized that much of my anxiety, unhappiness, frustration, and discontent in life stemmed from reliving past experiences or creating new ones in my head. By staying present while doing something as commonplace as mowing the lawn, I saw clearly that I could decrease my inner turbulence. This left me with a sense of peace, allowing me to actually enjoy those ordinary moments I would have otherwise completely missed.
Doing Something Ordinary
The previous exercises should have introduced you to what being in the present moment really means. Now, instead of being present while doing nothing, try to be present while carrying out an ordinary activity such as cleaning your home, shopping, eating, or anything else that you do regularly. This is an excellent opportunity to develop your awareness of how we tend to drift off while engaged in habitual activities.
Any simple activity, like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes, will do. During these ordinary tasks, you can easily fade into thought-filled daydreams or worries. Suppose you decide to brush your teeth. You might begin by being aware of picking up the toothbrush and squeezing out toothpaste on the bristles. You might notice how it feels to squeeze the tube of toothpaste or how the brush feels in your hand. Is the floor cold on your feet? How does your body feel supporting your weight as you stand there? How does the toothpaste taste? How does it smell? What does it feel like to brush each of your teeth? If you are washing the dishes, concentrate on the smell of the dish soap or the temperature of the water.
Excerpted from Present Moment Awareness by Shannon Duncan. Copyright © 2003 Shannon Duncan. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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