If You Read This Blog, Then ...

Recently, I explored a few myths that are dangerous to our well-being and practice of presence. Another one of these is the “if …, then …” mentality. If only I had more money, then I could relax.

If I wasn’t alone, then I could feel lovable.

If my neighbor wasn’t such a jerk, then I could find peace.

By placing our attention on achieving or gaining something in the future, we lose sight of the beauty and importance of the present moment. This constant reaching for a thing, feeling or experience beyond what is happening now causes unnecessary stress in our life and is completely ineffective.

Instead of deceiving yourself with the thought “if …, then …” try “now …, and ….”

We can all achieve our “then” when we replace our “ifs” with “now.”reaching for something brighter

For many years, I fooled myself into believing that if my partner was more affirming, then I would feel loved; or if I got the promotion, then I would feel valued; or if I found a new partner, then I would feel complete. Then I experienced that none of this is true.

My ability to feel loved, valued and complete have absolutely nothing to do with anything or anyone else—it has only to do with me and what I am thinking, believing and focusing on in this moment.

"But shouldn't I strive to improve things for myself in the future?" 

Well, actually, here are a few reasons why that doesn't work.

It keeps us from taking responsibility for our lives.

There are very few things we can control in life. One thing we can control is how we respond to each situation. It is up to us to see situations as stressful and limiting or peaceful and opportunistic. To seek peace or opportunity in only certain situations places the responsibility of our reaction to external factors. When we do this, we delegate the one thing in our life that we can control—our attitude.

Only 10% of our satisfaction with life is based on circumstances.

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research has found that approximately 50% of our satisfaction with life is predetermined by our genetics and only 10% is determined by our circumstances—which is not very much. This means whether I am rich or poor, single or married, in a job I love or not does not make much of a difference. This leaves 40% to intentional activity and choices we make. One of the key ways to intentionally increase your satisfaction is to live in the present moment.

We have evolved to get used to things.

Another finding of Lyubomirsky’s work looks at hedonic adaptation—the fact that humans adapt to joys and sorrows with time. So long as we strive for things outside of ourselves to bring us peace or joy, we will eventually get used to it and be right back at where we started, seeking something else to help us feel that way again, and thus the cycle begins.

Dan Gilbert discovered that we are not very good at predicting what we will like or not like in the future. This affective forecasting is another reason our “if…, then…” mentality is futile—we inevitably adapt to the things we think will be amazing, and we typically bounce back from the things we think will be terrible much more quickly.

When we have a sincere attitude of gratitude and stay present by releasing judgment, resistance and attachment then our level of satisfaction with our life situation no longer depends on circumstances beyond our control.

What is one “then” you can achieve by replacing your “if” with “now”? Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

Life Is What Happens ...

A friend shared this quote with me the other day: "I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult." (E.B. White) While living a present-focused life, it can sometimes seem difficult to both live each and every moment fully and not stress over the "to-do" list or plans yet to be made. I wanted to resolve this predicament — "How do I remain present and stress-free in those moments when what I am currently doing is not what I think I 'should' be doing?"

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Recently, I have found myself struggling with being in the moment and not feeling anxious over how I am spending my time, especially now that I have a new job and a new partner and my time is no longer just mine to do with as I please. When I mentioned this to a friend, she offered some great advice. She said, "Fully commit to the moment and the choice you made. Some part of you chose to be there even if it wasn’t what you had 'planned'." This simple advice immediately helped me get a perspective on things and alleviate the anxiety I was causing in myself.

There are times when we need to make plans or schedule our time in a specific way, and even having a plan or intention can be very useful in life. And, many of us have responsibilities that require us to make choices with how we spend our time. However, sometimes we get so caught up in the planning and what we "should" be doing that we miss the very moment we are currently experiencing. This focus on something other than the Now can cause stress, anxiety and, sometimes, resentment.

Most of us have heard the song where John Lennon reminds us of an Allen Saunders' quote:

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

What recently clicked for me is that each moment we are making a choice — sometimes it is a choice we made to love someone or have a certain job or take a specific route to work one day or have children. Those choices might mean that we spend our time in some way other than how we want or think we "should." Rather than feeling anxious about that, remain present and commit to the choice you make in each moment.

I learned a mantra recently that reminds us "by letting go, it all gets done." Choosing not to commit to each moment is to resist what is. And, one truth I have discovered recently is that to resist causes suffering. Every person can feel less anxious and remain present by recognizing that each moment is a choice and committing to that choice 100%.

What do you do in those moments when you find yourself "should-ing" all over yourself to alleviate some of the stress or anxiety? Share your thoughts or tips by leaving a comment.

Moving from "Binges" to "Daily Doses" of Presence

Someone asked me the other day, “how do I recreate the energy and peace I feel after some sort of intense spiritual retreat or workshop each and every day?” This got me thinking about the simple (albeit not always easy) things I try to practice on a regular basis to bring about a more constant experience of ease and joy. While binging on spiritual or philosophical experiences or concepts can be fun, helpful and sometimes even necessary, it is important and possible for all of us to experience daily doses of presence by practicing a few simple techniques. Image I have been reading self-help books since I was in high school. As I read each one I was inspired and energized about my new possibilities and potential to experience life in a new way. And then a few days, weeks or months after I put the book back on the shelf, I returned to my old habits, ways of thinking, and struggled to maintain that “spiritual high” throughout my day-to-day existence.

Then, I learned a few concepts and practical tips that helped me experience this new way of life on a regular basis. After being asked that question the other day, I wanted to share with others the things I have found that work.

Being at peace, letting go, and experiencing ease and joy on a daily basis is really just as simple as making a choice. There are many great tools and workshops out there that help you understand why you feel the way you feel, why you experience things the way you experience them, and still it all comes down to releasing your hold on your past and choosing in each and every moment to be present — it's that simple.

Eckhart Tolle reminds us that the “how” is more important than the “what.” One of my biggest “ah ha” moments came after reading this and realizing that to live in the present does not mean we have to do crazy, amazing things — or even anything different than what we’re doing this very moment. It's all about HOW we do WHAT we do. Presence actually gives us the "ok" to enjoy the simple things (the “what") by accepting each and every moment and not feel pressure to CHANGE the moment (the “how”).

Now, this isn’t always easy for me to do and for those of us new to this concept, it may not sound that simple. So, here is a list of the things I try and practice on a daily basis, most of which comes from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of NowOnce I decided to accept these concepts and apply them, I couldn’t believe the shift that took place and the steady drip of ease and joy in my life.

  • Stay connected with your body as often as possible. Tolle says, “You cannot be in your body without being intensely present in the Now.” Paying attention to your body and your feelings does not mean you have to focus on or over-think them. It simply means that you can observe them, feel them, and accept them as they are.
  • Practice conscious breathing (which helps get you in touch with your body). “Become aware of your breathing. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body.… All that you ever have to deal with, cope with, in real life — as opposed to imaginary mind projections — is this moment." (Tolle)
  • "Flood" your body with consciousness (before falling asleep and when waking up). Bring attention to different parts of your body in a relaxed state.
  • Listen to the silence. Don’t force it, just pay attention to the silence between words, sounds and thoughts.
  • Practice mindfulness. Experience something as simple as eating an orange or looking at a flower in a state of complete alertness and as if for the first time.
  • Be grateful. Take time to express gratitude for even the simple things in life.
  • Accept, accept, accept. Ask yourself: Am I resisting this moment? Am I judging this moment? Am I attached to this moment?

While I still plan to read more books and attend inspirational workshops, I am practicing ways to bring a more steady stream of presence into my life. My goal is to bring presence to the masses through choice — and choice alone — on a daily basis. We tend to get bogged down in the "why" and the "what” — but it's really all about the “how." HOW do I show up in this moment? HOW do I choose to react/respond/feel in this moment? HOW can I be at peace with this moment? By asking these questions and practicing a few of these techniques throughout the day, we can all experience daily doses of ease and joy that last long after we finish the book or return back to our daily routines.

What is something you do on a regular basis to experience a daily dose of joy or peace in your life?

To accept or not to accept ...

Ever fret over what you should do tonight? Ever wish you hadn’t sent that text message? Ever think you should have gone on that trip? Ever spent hours’ worth of energy making a choice and then hours’ worth of energy afterwards regretting it? I find myself today struggling with this very thing. While I do my best to fully accept my current situation and my reality each and every day, I still struggle with this concept sometimes.

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One of my current goals is to do a better job listening to my feelings and trusting myself when I have a “gut” instinct about something. Recently, I made a decision not to go on a trip with someone after noticing that I was having some anxiety about the trip. When I tuned into that feeling and sat with it for a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that, in that moment, it was best for me not to go. And at the time, I felt at peace about my decision. It reminded me of something I read in The Power of Now where Eckhart Tolle says, “let [your decision] come not from reaction but from insight, from a clear realization of what is right or not right for you at that moment."

A few days later, I find myself dwelling on the choice I made and doubting if I made the “right” choice. This doubting is my current source of suffering and I am being reminded of the importance to surrender myself on a regular basis to accept the decisions I make about my life.

When we resist our reality — which includes the choices we make — we are suffering. Psychology Today’s article on “The Power of Acceptance” explores this very thing and explains how by resisting something ensuresImage that it will have a more negative effect, whereas accepting something will neutralize it if not transform unpleasant feelings or experiences. Now, of course, there are certain things in life we shouldn’t accept, but I am talking about the majority of things that make up our life situation, whether it be the decision we made to send a certain text message, live in a certain city, stay home on a Friday night, have a certain job, need to go grocery shopping for the dinner we want to make, raise a child, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Tolle reminds us that there are only three options for a given situation: remove yourself from it (if that is an option), change it (if that is an option), or accept it wholly (which is always an option). It is quite refreshing to realize I only have three choices - and that full acceptance is always an option.

Once a decision has been made, to continue to expend energy on whether or not that was the “right” decision resists “what is” and causes suffering. “When you accept what is — every moment — is the best. That is enlightenment.” (Tolle)

Life is a constant choice between acceptance of or resistance to the moment. And, I have found that the experience of life is filled with more ease and joy as more decisions and experiences are accepted for “what they are” and less energy is exerted doubting and resisting. As Tolle says, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously  transform your whole life."

And, when I find myself slipping away from acceptance — which happens since I am still human — that is the moment it is crucial to be compassionate with myself and remember that I do the best I can in each and every moment. Acceptance and compassion are two very powerful tools towards living a more joyful existence.

Take it from me as someone who has spent most of her life resisting the reality of her situation — everything from the shape of my nose, the crookedness of my teeth, being single, being in a relationship, deciding to do something and later wishing I hadn’t — to accept things “as is” is one of the best things someone can do to improve their experience of life.

What decision have you made recently that deserves your full acceptance? Does your present moment contain something that needs your full acceptance as if you had chosen it for yourself?