7 Ways to Enjoy Your Life and Live in the Moment
I am at the computer with a mug of coffee when my husband leaves for work. He kisses the top of my head and I say a quick "bye" over my shoulder as I scan the headlines, the weather forecast, the e-mails that have multiplied overnight like mold spores. It's not until I look out the window and see him climbing into the car that I realize what's missing. And what's missing is me -- my attention, my presence, my here-and-now connection with the love of my life. "Wait!" I yell, and he looks up and smiles. I run out in my bathrobe, throw my arms around him, kiss his mouth and cheek. "Good-bye!" I say, and he laughs and kisses me back. "Good-bye."
It's the condition of modern life: hurrying, multitasking and, ironically, making connections so constantly that we don't realize how disconnected we've become. I watch people text-messaging during their dinner dates. What are they doing? Setting up the next dinner date? Is there a perfect future pie-in-the-sky dinner date that it's all leading up to? I don't think so.
"We need to slow down and pay attention to what we're experiencing, while we're experiencing it," says Chris Germer, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. However frantic or distracted you may feel, remind yourself that this is it, in that corny Life-Is-Not-a-Dress-Rehearsal way. You're playing Candy Land with your kids; you're eating breakfast with your husband; you're walking home through the summer twilight; you're washing dishes at the sink. Your life is really only a series of these very moments, and to hurtle through them on autopilot means you're in danger of missing the whole thing.
The practice of keeping your focus on the present moment -- which, of course, is where your life is actually happening -- is often referred to as "mindfulness." Although its roots are in Buddhist philosophy and formal meditation, mindfulness has recently become popular among a growing number of therapists and doctors. Hundreds of studies suggest that its effects, both emotional and psychological, are significant and far reaching: from increased immune function and improved memory to steadier moods, greater concentration, and pain tolerance, says clinical psychologist Paul Fulton, EdD, president of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. Mindfulness has been used to treat conditions ranging from insomnia and depression to ADD and compulsive eating, and it has been shown to fight the detrimental effects of stress, anxiety, and aging. "Recent studies show that for some, mindfulness can be as effective as medication in dealing with depression and anxiety," explains Susan Pollak, EdD, a Boston-area psychologist who teaches mindfulness to Harvard medical students. "It really speaks to the power of the mind and body to truly, deeply heal itself."
So what's the catch? Nothing, except that mindfulness is a practice that requires, well, practice. But don't worry. You don't need to meditate deeply while your patchouli-scented mind drains itself of all thought. You don't need to contort yourself into a lotus position while the plinky-planky music plays, or smile serenely while someone rear-ends you on the freeway. And you don't need to be perfectly enlightened. You just need to pay attention. Get started, this moment, with our seven-step plan.