The most important thing I’ve learned this year—and probably in a long while—is how to just be in the present moment. It’s the simplest thing: we’re only ever right here, right now. And yet, once I started trying to do this, I began to realize just how rarely I was paying attention to what was happening here and now. Instead, I spend a lot of free time reading about things someone else did somewhere else, or worrying about scary things that might happen in the future. Even on my bike ride to and from Lesson.ly, I’d typically be thinking about what I was going to do that day on the ride in and all the things I didn’t get to on the ride home—rarely noticing the mist rising from the newly-woken earth or the fiery purply-orange hue of the sky. Life is not the things we didn’t do or are going to do. Life is the things we’re doing right now, and I was missing a lot of it.
I’ve tried and failed at meditation a few times in my life, but what finally stuck for me was a blog post, “It’s okay to be here”, and some of the related articles. The author, David Cain, takes a no-nonsense approach to being in the present moment: there are no mantras, no One Weird Tricks. Just pick something you do regularly—starting your car, brushing your teeth—and try to remember to pay attention to what it feels, sounds, and even smells like to do it. By paying attention to the torrent of sensory data you’re always exposed to, it gives your mind something to do besides tour the past or hypothetical future. If you’re as chronically distracted as I am, it may feel unnatural at first. But the more I stop and just be where I am, fully do whatever it is I’m doing, the more I find myself accidentally doing the same.
And I’ve found enormous benefits from this habit. Pretty much anything is made better by fully experiencing it. If I’m having a good time, say, cooking dinner with my wife, stopping to listen to the sounds of simmering, picking out the individual smells in our kitchen, all this makes me appreciate the experience even more. And if I’m having a bad time, like sitting in traffic, just noticing the color of the sky, the comfy porch of the house across the street, or even the lady picking her nose in the car behind me so delightfully human…suddenly being where I am right now isn’t so bad. After all, there are no uncomfortable situations. Instead, it’s we who feel uncomfortable about situations and want to be somewhere else. And that’s at least something we can control.
Have a happy holiday season and 2016, which I hope we can both experience just a little bit more than usual. And wherever you find yourself, remember: it’s okay to be here.