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Mindfulness Practice: Learning to Live in the Moment

Curved cedar wood bench in garden

Are you moving through the day on autopilot? Do you sometimes feel as if life is passing you by? Do you find yourself reacting to situations, events, and people with anger and frustration? If you responded yes to any of these questions you’re not alone.

Many of us will face challenging situations in our lives that make us want to retreat from life or lash out at the world. Some of these situations will be life changing, and some of it will be the small stuff.

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I actually experienced living on autopilot last week as I was driving to the office. I was coasting along, following my normal route while listening to the radio and eventually drifted off into thoughts. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but that morning I almost had a terrible accident. I was going up the ramp to get off the expressway, when the driver in front of me suddenly swerved into the other lane. As I looked up I felt my heart stop! Sitting in the middle of the road was a plastic chair and I was headed straight for it. Luckily, my reflexes were quick and I was able to swerve into the other lane. It was a drastic way to come into the present moment and I was thankful to be alive! This scary experience made me reflect on how many times in past days, weeks, and hours I’d moved through life without really being present. When I shared this story with my clients they were able to relate and share similar experiences.

It’s normal to have some moments of disconnection. We’ve all experienced moments where we lose connection to the present and get lost in thoughts, stories, and judgment. However, when this becomes our habitual response to life, we may end up feeling as if life is passing us by.

Living Mindfully Through Awareness is What Helps Us Connect with Life

Before going further, I’d like to ask that you take a moment to reflect back on your day and answer the following questions:

  • How did you feel at the start of the day? Did you rush through your daily morning activities or did you take time to relax?
  • Did you notice the rhythm and pace of your breath at different points throughout the day? Was your breathing shallow or deep?
  • As the day went on was your body tense or relaxed?
  • What were your surroundings like? (e.g., sunny day, outdoors surrounded by flowers, or indoors in a room with no windows).
  • What did you have for lunch today? How did it taste? Was it salty or sweet?
  • Did you face any stressful situations today? If you so, how did you respond? What did you feel as you went through this situation?

If your day went by in a blur and you can’t remember what you did, felt, or ate you’re not alone. Many of us go through life as if we’re in a race against time, trying to get things done with little time to take breaks from our busy schedules. We’re like the hamster on a wheel, constantly running and never getting anywhere!

Living Life on Auto Pilot

Living on auto pilot keeps us from experiencing life. When we coast through life without being able to connect with ourselves, others, and the world, life feels painful. We feel isolated, alone, and separate. This feeling of separation is what creates suffering. As we lose touch with our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs we become less able to connect with the beauty and love that exists in the world. This is detrimental to our health!

For example, if we are depleted of energy, any small frustration can trigger big reactions, and as our anger builds we may become reactive towards life and others. This can have many negative consequences to our physical, mental, and emotional health, and it can stop us from thriving in life, love, and relationships.

Learning to Reconnect and Respond to Life

In practicing mindfulness, we learn to become aware of when we’re reacting to life and begin to slow down so that we can bring our attention inwards. We do this by using an anchor such as the breath, bodily sensations, or by connecting with our surroundings. Mindfulness meditation teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach calls it finding our way back home. As we become aware of the stories and judgment that may be fueling the reactivity, we begin to notice that this additional layer of reactivity is creating suffering. With a deep awareness, we can choose to respond to our own pain or frustration with understanding, compassion, and kindness. This compassionate response helps us reconnect with the life that is right here.

This slowing down is what Tara calls the Sacred Pause. We come into this sacred pause any time that there is a need to reconnect with life in a healing way. Our ability to pause in order to connect with life is the precious gift of opening our heart so that we can allow life to move through us. In that moment we are fully connected to the world and our aliveness.

Living mindfully can help us:

  • See what is actually happening in the present moment without judging our experience
  • Allow feelings, sensations, and thoughts to pass through our awareness
  • Develop self-compassion when we’re going through a challenging situation or event
  • Connect with the joys and sorrows that are a natural part of life
  • Develop loving kindness, which helps us connect with our suffering and the suffering of others
  • Develop the willingness to heal past trauma by recognizing when past hurts are being triggered in the present moment and respond with compassion toward these wounded parts
  • Live connected to our body, sensations, emotions, and thoughts with present-moment awareness

I encourage you to reflect on ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Whether you take 5-minute breaks during the day to breathe and stretch, sit in meditation for an hour, or cuddle up with your family, it’s important that you find ways to connect with life. Doing so will grant many benefits and rewards for your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Most of all, it is an acknowledgement of your own importance and a way of honoring life.

May you have moments of peace.

© Copyright 2012 by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, therapist in Coral Springs, Florida. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Mama G March 2nd, 2012 at 4:18 PM #1

    Living life on autpilot is missing out on so much that life has to offer! Aren’t you afraid that you are going to wake up from this trance one day and be so sad about everything that you lost? Why not take the time to experience anything and everything and be happy with life and happy to learn from even the bad parts when it gets you down. I don’t wat to live with any regrets about anything that I could have missed out on. I see so many people unhappy and I know that it is because they are not savoring the beautiful moments around them.

  • Simone March 2nd, 2012 at 5:10 PM #2

    Living in the moment is so hard for many because they have chosen to live in the past. When you can’t look forward for looking to the past it kind of gets in the way of your ability to enjoy life. It is much better to be aware of the things happening today and coming up with positive ways that those hings can make a positive impact on your life yoday, in the here and now. Don’t compare it to what may have happened to you in the past.

  • terrell childs March 3rd, 2012 at 1:43 PM #3

    It is easier to get by than to really live, that is what many think today. Just do your job, do the things you are expected to do at home and forget about the real experiences. I think that maybe some people do this as a defense mechanism, a way to protect themselves from whatever.

  • steve maleh March 3rd, 2012 at 2:24 PM #4

    One of the ways I find myself being present is to frequently take time no matter wherei am during the day to notice the movement of the trees, and leaves.. there are always trees around us moving ever so slightly with the wind.. being able to momentarily focus on those movements helps me stay in the moment, and it is a wonderful enlighting feeling… It brings peace, tranquility, and a level of grounding.. may you be able to find it to…

  • sheheen March 4th, 2012 at 5:26 AM #5

    Learning to live in the moment is just that, an opportunity for life learning. It is not something that happens but takes practice over time.

  • boyce March 5th, 2012 at 5:30 PM #6

    To live in the moment and break free of the past is what I yearn to do, but don’t find that I have either the strength or the courage to let the past go.

  • jarett March 5th, 2012 at 11:37 PM #7

    wake up,get ready and rush for work,slog there for hours and get back home tired.this is the story for many of us and it just doesn’t let us pay attention to the present moment.

    most of us are tuned to this,most of us are always on auto-pilot.I just hope each one of us can find the energy and the resolve to break free from this.

  • Viki March 6th, 2012 at 4:12 PM #8

    In a fast paced society sometimes we, literally, forget to stop and smell the roses. I like to take a few moments every day, sit outside and just enjoy everything around me. I feel such a sense of peace and can focus better.

  • Cindy Ricardo March 11th, 2012 at 12:36 PM #9

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies. So much of what you shared is true…this is a fast paced and challenging world we live in and making the time whether it’s 5 minutes or longer to take breaks throughout the day and connect with ourselves, others and life is what helps and heals all of us! Most of all what’s really important is to find ways to connect with what makes you feel most alive, to open your heart to both joy and sorrow and practice kindness towards yourself and others.

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