A Little PR for the Present Moment

January 13, 2022


Our attention is a hot commodity. We’ve got a million and one things vying for it at any given moment: media calling out from every device, the ever-fascinating past to inspect and analyze, and the oh-so-shiny future to fantasize about (I mean, isn’t the future grass always so much greener than our current yard??). With our focus pulled in so many directions, finding the present moment is needle-in-a-haystack hard. Staying there? A herculean feat.

And in truth, the present moment is a tough sell. I mean, if you could be enjoying a nice mental stroll through your fantasy future instead of plowing through a stack of emails, why not? Or updating your ‘to-do’ list instead of focusing on a monotonous Zoom call, what’s the harm?

I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot lately, as we seem to be taking a step back into the COVID mire. With every closing and cancellation–school, sports, playdates–I seem to be unwittingly sliding back into pandemic mode–an unpleasant mix of fuzzy-brained and disorganized, with a wholly unpleasant undercurrent of nervous buzzyness. Which is to say, the present and I are having more of a long-distance relationship these days.

As I struggle to get back into the pre-COVID groove, I’m wondering, was the present moment eve really that great? It’s been so long I can hardly remember. Was I more productive there? Calmer? More fulfilled? I’m coming at it from every angle lately but just can’t seem to find the entry point. When I sit and try to focus on my breathing, I feel myself getting agitated, and have some version of “This is such a waste of time, I have so much else to do!” running through my head. Yes, there is always something to do, but is it really more important than settling into the here & now? 

Here’s the short answer: Yes. Here & now is where life happens. Whether you’re present to it or not, this is where the action is. And we’re either ‘in’ it or not (okay, there is some gray area in there too but for simplicity’s sake, I'll stick with ‘in’ or ‘out’). I know this intuitively–I think we all kinda do. So how did I come around to this awareness?

I decided to try an experiment where I spent three days–three seeming like a nice doable number–giving myself as many opportunities to sit (or stand) without any push to do or think anything and focus on the in and out of my breath. Nothing fancy, just pausing to notice my breath for as long as was comfortable–whether that was 30 seconds or 5. That’s it. Whenever I thought of it, I would just pause and breathe. I could be doing the laundry, walking from one room to the next, or doing a midday stretch break. 

The trick was, not putting any pressure on myself. And if thoughts crept in, as they inevitably do, I would imagine inhaling into them, and exhaling them out. The result? At first I would get these intense pangs of boredom–something like a super-charged whirlwind of simultaneous exhaustion and restlessness. Sounds odd I know! I wouldn’t give in to the feeling though, instead, just breathing through it til I got to the other side. And on the other side? A little patch of calm. Sometimes a big patch, sometimes small. But both so welcome. And the good news? Each time I did it, it got a little easier. 

This is all to say that the present moment, elusive gem that it is, is well worth the effort!

And for an added dose of calming, this is a breathing technique I discovered that's great to do before bed, or anytime you're experiencing symptoms of stress or dysregulation:

  • Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four (through your nose if possible)
  • Hold for a count of seven, being sure to keep your body relaxed as you do
  • Exhale for a count of eight
  • Repeat a minimum of 10 times

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