Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Happiness Tips: Focusing on Now

What will I make for tea? What will my career be? What if it all goes wrong? What if the world comes to an end?

Did I make a mistake at work today? What did he mean when he said that? Have all of my relationships been like this? Could it have started during my childhood?

If you really stop and examine your thoughts, I'm willing to bet that most of them refer to the past or the future.

It seems almost strange to think about right now, this very moment, because even as you do it, your mind will draw comparisons from the past, references to pop culture, thoughts of the future. Try it now. Look around the room and try not to think about the past or the future at all.

I find that 90% of my thoughts concern one or the other. I replay scenes from the past, I imagine future scenarios. I worry about what my life will be, whether I'll be able to pay the bills and raise children, whether this world will be in a fit state to accommodate my children (and theirs). And I know you do it, too.

Not everyone focuses as much on the future and the past as each other, but I want you to try something today. It's a meditation of sorts. It's Buddhism, perhaps, or what Eckhart Tohle calls the Power of Now, what some call mindfulness. Awareness of the present moment without judgement.

Clear a space, perhaps play some meditation music, although you can do this in a public space, too. Just look at what there is, here and now. Don't think about where those people are going and who they are, just look at them until they're out of your sight. Listen to the sounds that are there, here and now. Experience the smells, look at the tiniest details. Feel yourself in your own body, present and aware. Try to notice the thoughts that pass through your brain, but watch them as if they are just there. Let them fly past, whether they're songs looping, clips of previous conversations, thoughts of the future. The more you try to ignore your thoughts, the harder they'll push. Don't fight them, just let them sweep over you without adding any more to them than you have to, the way you might let images consume you as you drift to sleep.

What about judgement? I'm not just talking about the negative things you might think of people who walk by, although that counts, too. Learn to think "oh, there's a large man" rather than "how disgustingly overweight he is... how can people eat so much when so many are starving in the world?" (or something similarly likely to make you feel tense inside). This refers to issues in your own life, too. Don't judge things as being bad, or disappointing, or painful, or hopeless. Just look at what is, with no judgement or blame.

What problems do you have, right here and now? Things are scarier and more overwhelming when you try to step further and further back and look at the big picture, and make you feel worse the more anger and blame you hold toward them. It's hard to handle a forest, but individual trees are manageable. Big problems won't be helped by worrying about whose fault it is and what might happen - what can you do, here and now, to make the situation better?

Of course we need to be aware of the future in order to live our lives, but the idea is not to focus on them when we don't need to. If you need to pay a bill or apply for a job or clean the house, do it, and be present in that moment even while you do it. Problems mount up when we can't face the magnitude of them. But remember - what's in the past, is in the past. We don't know what the future holds. Both only really exist in your mind. What you can see, taste and touch right now, this second, is all that's real.

What if we've got it all wrong? What if life isn't about trying to be happy in the future, but about being happy now? I'm not talking about hedonism, living with no regard for the consequences - that kind of excessive lifestyle isn't born out of real, deep happiness, anyway. I know somebody who always told me to stop worrying, stop obsessing, and to just try being. I never really understood that at the time.

To start with, try this. Just for a short amount of time. Think to yourself - just for now, this is all there is. Just for now, I am happy. You are not ignoring or putting off your problems. You are putting yourself in a powerful place, from where you will be better equipped to deal with those problems. When you only look at what exists now, there are no problems, of course. There are things you have to do, but by looking only at what you can do right now (and then doing it), you find that things are far more easy to handle. You find that life becomes richer, more vibrant, more colourful.

One thing I like to do is to do this while eating. Don't distract yourself from your food with TV, a book, even conversation. Eat alone, and focus on every bite, every flavour and texture, every moment of eating. It's something beautiful, something that makes you appreciate your food a lot more and something that will make you feel more alive.

I am running one-on-one sessions (over Skype) during September, focusing on how you can make the most of your life, make your experiences riches, your relationships better and your problems less daunting, all through using this technique. If you'd like to work with me on this, then contact me.
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  1. Hi Gwynnie,

    Thanks for writing this blog. It's really helpful and well written. Sorry to sound like a stalker but I've sort of been following your life for a few years now! I came across your Japan blog in 2010 when I was doing research for my first JET application. Your articles were really funny and gave a great insight into Japan.

    I've subsequently never got into JET (currently a reserve candidate) and just jumped onto the Interac bandwagon (got my phone interview next week) so your Interac blog will be invaluable!

    Anyway, just thought I'd say hi as I've never posted before. I hope everything is going well for you in Prague. It was brave to move out there with no job set up, and you're a great inspiration. :-)

    Ruth, Derbyshire, UK

  2. Hi Ruth!

    Thank you for the lovely comment. I'm glad to be able to help. Interac was fine, and I'm sure you'll have a great time! Let me know how it goes! :)