In a previous post, The Forgotton Now, I wrote about the importance of living in the present. Oftentimes many of us focus so much on preparing for the future or thinking about the past, that we forget to focus on life right in front of us. It's important to realize when your mind has begun to drift away from the present, and take action so that you can be there as you continue to live your life.
But the question remains once you've identified your mind's tendency to drift away from the present, what do you do to actively refocus?
I asked this question last week on Facebook and got a good number of great responses.
I'm not an expert on life, and I'm certainly not an expert on focus. In fact, I get caught up thinking about the future and missing life in front of me all the time, just like you. I'm just one humble traveler sharing his steps along the journey of life, and struggling to learn a new lesson every day. With that in mind, I'd like to offer some tips from my personal experience, combined with feedback from my followers, to provide some direction so that you can begin to refocus on the present and live your life to the fullest.
- Find beauty in your surroundings
When Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinists in the US, played violin masterpieces for more than 40 minutes in a Washington D.C. Metro Stop in 2007, almost no one even paused to listen. How often do you or I miss something beautiful around us by focusing on where we need to go, or what we need to do, without pausing to take in our surroundings? Take a moment to acknowledge your surroundings, and find beauty within it. You may not have a virtuoso performance going on right next to you, but there may be a sunset on the horizon, a butterfly landing on a nearby flower, or a smile on a loved one's lips that you'd otherwise miss.
- Engage your mind
Often the reason your mind drifts away from the present is because it doesn't feel engaged. Your mind needs sustenance, and you need to be intentional about providing it with exactly what it needs. Whenever I'm caught up with some tedious activity, I try to find something to engage my mind. I enjoy listening to podcasts, I also often use audiobooks or music. If you can't do something sound-based, engage your mind in critical thinking, exploration, and wonder. It may sound a bit odd, but this is the best time to ponder the great questions of life (such as philosophy, theology, and morality or ethics). Sometimes you have to discover a question alone before you can seek out the answer from sources you respect.
- Practice Stillness
This is crucial, but it's also one of the hardest practices for me. I often feel like I need to be constantly on the go, and I used to never make time to just be still throughout my day. Now that I do this every morning, I feel mentally healthier, emotionally calmer, and spiritually more at peace. If you feel like your mind is racing all over the place, and you realize that you're caught up in everything but the present, take a moment to practice stillness. Sit still, and focus on the absence of thought or a specific aspect of your surroundings. Calm your mind and your emotions, even just for a minute, and you'll find clarity of thought comes naturally.
As a Christian, this is a necessary part of my daily routine. If it's not part of your daily routine, I strongly encourage you to make time for a few minutes of prayer every day. I'm a big fan of structured, written prayers, at least for the basis of my routine (I usually add some impromptu personal prayers, as well). If you don't have a prayer book of your own, there are free apps for Android and the iPhone that you can use. If prayer is already a part of your daily routine, don't feel obligated to pray only during designated times (e.g. in the morning and evening). If you find your mind wandering at any point during your day, or if you just feel restless, take a moment to say a quick prayer or simply make the sign of the cross. Monastics and many Christian Church Fathers for centuries have encouraged the practice of unceasing prayer or “Arrow prayers.” Usually, a short phrase is silently repeated throughout the day until it becomes as natural as breathing. This is a great way to constantly refocus your mind and heart on what matters most; the most common arrow prayer among Orthodox Christians is that of
Oh Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, the sinner.
Question: What methods do you use to refocus your mind on the present?