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8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment

8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment
Image by visualpanic.

As humans we tend to spend a lot of time in the past or the future. We spend much time thinking about what was and what could have been. And we spend much time projecting into the future and wondering about what may happen.

This way of thinking is indeed a great way to make much of your life a lot more miserable and limited than necessary. The key to solving this problem is of course to live as much as you can in the only moment that you ever really live in and control. This moment right now. The moment that is all there ever was and – probably :) – will be.

There are more advantages to being in the moment besides being able to decrease mindmade suffering. Some of those advantages are:

  • Clarity. When you are in the moment you have a much better focus and things flow naturally out of you. This is very useful in conversations, at work, while writing or while on the tennis court.
  • Calmness. You feel centred, relaxed and whatever you do you do more easily. Since you are not projecting into a possible future or reflecting on previous experiences there is very little fear holding you back.

Now, that sounds nice and useful.

But how can you step away from the thought loops that whirl back and forth through your memories and fantasies?

How do you actually return to the present moment?

Here are 7 ways. But before we get to them I’d just like to add that this is a skill. You will slip back into involuntarily thinking about the future/past. But the more time and effort you spend connecting with the moment the easier it gets reconnecting with it. And staying there longer.

1. Focus on what’s right in front of you.

Or around you. Or on you. Use your senses. Just look at what’s right in front of you right now. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the fabric of your clothes and focus on how they feel. For the last three days the dark winter seems to have left us here in Sweden. It’s been clear skies and sunshine all the time. So I have been using the unexpected light and warmth of the sunshine on my skin to reconnect with the moment.

2. Focus on your breathing.

Take a couple of dozen belly breaths and just focus your mind on your inhaling and exhaling. This will align you with the present moment once again. You can learn more about belly breathing in this article.

3. Focus on your inner body.

This is a bit similar to focusing on your breathing. In both examples you focus on what’s inside you rather than the outside. What is the inner body? Well, I guess you could say it is energy inside of your body. How your body feels from the inside.

A practical way to do this just to focus on your hand. To just put your focus there and feel how the hand feels to you and how the energy is flowing through it. Yeah, this suggestion may sound a bit weird to the mind. But if you actually try it a few times you’ll probably find that inner energy within your hand.

4. Pick up the vibe from present people.

If you know someone that is more present than most people then you can pick his/her vibe of presence (just like you can pick up positivity or enthusiasm from people). If you don’t know someone like that I recommend listening to/watching cds/dvds by Eckhart Tolle. His books work too. But cds/dvds are better than books for picking up someone’s vibe since the biggest part of communication is voice tonality and body language.

5. Surrender to the emotion that is already there.

It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of old memories. You may want to move away from them but there is a feeling there that brings them back over and over. So you need to decrease the power that feeling has over you. And you don’t do it by fighting it. You do it by surrendering to it.

The feeling is a loop within your mind that you are feeding with more energy by resisting it. When you accept the feeling then you stop feeding it and it vanishes.

Here’s how you it:

Say yes to the feeling.

Surrender and let it in. Observe the feeling in your mind and body without labelling or judging it. If you let it in – for me the feeling then often seems to physically locate itself to the middle of my chest – and just observe it for maybe a minute or two the feeling just vanishes.

As you can see, this way is similar to ones above. They are all about observing.

6. See things as for the first time.

This one pretty similar to the first way. But it can be useful when you have a hard time just observing your surroundings.

That’s when you can look at things as for the first time. Imagine it like that, take that role. Like someone who has never experienced this before. Like a child or someone who has never been here before. I like this one and I have been doing it from time to time for years (although back then I didn’t really understand why it felts nice when I did it).

Note: These last two ways are certainly not the best ways to reconnect with the moment and I’m not really recommending them. They aren’t that healthy (especially in the long run). But they work to some degree. It’s up to you if you want to try them.

7. Punch your leg.

Try punching your leg. Or pinching your arm. Or have someone else do it. And focus on that sensation to quickly bring yourself back to the moment.

8. Drink a beer or two.

It’s Friday so I thought I’d include this one. This is probably the most common way to connect to the moment (at least over the weekend). You may have said or heard that it’s nice to grab a beer or two after work to “take edge off”. What is this edge? I think it’s the clutter of thoughts that can run around in your mind after a long and busy week at work.

The alcohol quiets down these thoughts (and the decreases the number of thoughts in your mind). And you feel more relaxed. You don’t think about the past or future as much. You just enjoy your beer and the company. You enjoy the moment.

Drinking a couple of beers – or getting really drunk – can remove the past or future from your mind. It can add calmness and positive feelings. However, it throws the clarity out the window. :)

So besides the health aspects of drinking, this isn’t exactly an ideal way to be in the present moment. Use it at your own risk. Or just try out a few of the more healthy and effective techniques.

What other ways can you use to return to the present moment?

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  • Karen J. June 7, 2008, 2:59 am

    Dear NervousNellie ~

    Good luck to you in your new job! It’s been a month – how’s it going?
    Keep in mind the difference between the “learning” and the actual “experiences” and the reasons that you have bad memories about them. The important parts of your history are the lessons. As David said, don’t DWELL on the negative situations themselves.
    ~~~~
    Dear Henrik ~

    Another great post! I think of #6 as the Buddhist “Beginner Mind”, and #8 as definitely temporary, but sometimes VERY useful. Thanks for including both 7 and 8.

    Hope it’s getting to be Spring by you – in Chicago, it’s definitely Summer!

    Bright Blessings!
    Karen J.

  • Angie June 11, 2008, 5:18 pm

    LOVE IT ,HERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO STAY IN THE PRESENT MOMENT…….GET COMFORTABLE THAN CLOSE YOUR EYES DO A FEW DEEP BREATHS THAN COUNT STARTING WITH 5 USEING ALL YOUR SENSES START WITH…. CLOSING YOUR EYES AND PAY ATTENTION TO 5 THINGS YOU CAN HEAR THAN OPEN YOUR EYES AND PAY ATTENTION TO 5 THING YOU CAN SEE,THAN 5 THINGS YOUR TASTE IS EXPERIENCING,5 THINGS YOU CAN FEEL THAN GO TO 4 THINGS 3,2AND1.wHEN YOU ARE FINISHED ANY FEELING YOU WERE EXPERIENCING WITH TRIGGERS FROM YOUR PAST OR WORRIES ABOUT THE FUTURE WILL HAVE VANISHED.yOU ARE NOW IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.FEELS GOOD DOESN,T IT.IF 5 IS TO MUCH START AT A LOWER NUMBER.TAKE CARE IT REALLY DOES WORK

  • mavis June 21, 2008, 10:28 am

    being calm, clear, and positive at the moment is something i find so damn hard to achieve! i’m naturally pessimistic, and i find myself getting bored, pissed off, and restless most of the time.

    i guess i need hell lot more practice…

    “The alcohol quiets down these thoughts (and the decreases the number of thoughts in your mind).” you’ve got that right. things just lighten up and seem suddenly humorous after a few beers…

    great article!

  • Ernest June 27, 2008, 9:24 am

    Thank you for this article, and for your blog; I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from reading it, and always enjoy your perspective. I felt a need to weigh in on the beer one, though, like a lot of other folks. On the one hand, I think I know exactly what you mean — alcohol often seems to take the edge off, and put me in a more receptive place where I can just take the moment as it comes. But something Eckhart Tolle said in “A New Earth” stuck with me; he makes a distinction between going “above” thinking (being truly present) and dropping down “below” thinking with TV or alcohol or exhaustion. The effect feels similar on the surface, but in the long run it’s the “above” that we’re shooting for, isn’t it? The thing that I like best about the beer-free version is that I can access it (sometimes, anyway) when a beer wouldn’t exactly be appropriate :-)

    Thanks again for your writing — it always gives me a lift!

  • tabi July 11, 2008, 4:54 pm

    Good advice, up to the end.
    Alcohol is probably the biggest impediment to spiritual advancement and living in the present that exists in the world. If you don’t believe it, ask an alcoholic or the friend or family member of one. You can find one easily in every family. I don’t get why you include that.

  • jaybird August 29, 2008, 6:56 pm

    nothing will train you or bring you into the present more than being the parent of a young child: you face your past, hold hopes for the future, but if you don’t bring yourself into every moment and be there with your child in a real way, all is lost.

  • Anonymous September 9, 2008, 6:36 am

    it’s greate article.This is very useful

  • anonymous 2 September 27, 2008, 12:17 am

    dear jaybird,

    it’s great that you have found that the way to remain in the present moment is by becoming a parent. however, i hope that everyone understands it’s not like that for everyone!! sometimes, it’s not so easy to stay in the present moment so you can’t get to the point of “being there with your child in a real way”. although that would be an ideal goal, having a child isn’t the solution.

  • Claudia November 15, 2008, 9:06 pm

    Those are great ways to come back to the present moment. But for some people it may be a bit harder to do, a lot of people under the influence of drug or alcohol are completely cut off from reality and can’t exactly concentrate on what’s in front of them. Thankfully, there are some great ways to solve this problem now. Many drug rehab centers are available for the public and can help them get back up to present moment and make the most out of their lives.

  • Dylan February 1, 2009, 10:43 pm

    There are a few great tips here. I really agree with focusing on the things around you and focusing on deep breathing. You can relax alot by just breathing deeply. The GREATEST technique I have found that works for me however, is to think of it this way.
    -Look around in your present surroundings and think to yourself all the things you can do and ways you can interact. Not even doin those things but just knowing you can do anything you want right now is a really “mind-freeing” experience. Sometimes we get too caught up in our daily routines and the things we do. We get drifted into a kind of cruise-control mode. Thinking of all the interactions you can do in your current situations helps this and helps you get back on touch with the present. I also believe religion and faith help alot in building self-esteem, positive attitude, and enjoyment of life as well

  • DAnny March 7, 2009, 4:25 pm

    The way I like to return to the present moment very easily is by listening to the song “New Slang” by the shins.
    Anyway, I subscribed. Love all your articles.

  • rahul March 9, 2009, 10:02 am

    thanks sir

  • Bill March 18, 2009, 1:19 am

    Drinking alcohol is really bad advice.

  • jimmydeeee April 20, 2009, 6:12 am

    While Tolle describes the use of alcohol as bringing one to a “lower” level of consciousness, as opposed to the “higher” level which is preferred, I have found that drinking a few beers or a glass of wine has helped me experience a mind-less state nonetheless, which I feel can be used as a stepping stone to the preferred higher state.

    Listening to music also seems to stem the automatic flow of thoughts, unless the songs initiate past memories.

    Nice post.

  • Smerdis June 3, 2009, 10:54 pm

    great one! Thanks

  • Jay November 1, 2009, 11:22 am

    Great article. I’m reading New Earth by Eckhart Tolle now & this article is really relevant.

    Tip #8 cracked me up though. That was exactly what I did last Friday at an event I had to attend. I get pretty jittery and uptight when I’m in large crowds & I just had to have a beer to calm my nerves a little. The voices in my head quietened.. but I wouldn’t recommend it to people who can’t stop at one. One glass too many & we might start acting goofy in an important event. That’ll give us more things to regret & think about the next day!

  • paspartu November 16, 2009, 1:57 pm

    ah, easier said than done!

    everywhere, but everywhere in the internet, everyone talks about “living now”!

    hey people, dont fake it, dont pretend to have it!

    besides that, it cannot be done following instructions! forget it!

    it becomes a business to talk about “the now”.. dont try to get it! as long as you do, you wont get it, anyway!

    cheers!

    • nm September 1, 2010, 3:07 am

      what paspartu says is exactly true. you’re not going to be present by thinking present. it’s a state of mind….and if you’re thinking about it…you’re not really in it.

      when you are really present, you don’t even care about this stuff lol.