When You Realize You're Lost, Get Back to the Present - with Love
by WITHIN Cofounder Hannah Knapp
In an age of do more, be more, achieve more, it's easy to forget that happiness begins with being present for what's actually happening right now.
I fall prey to this myself. As we're building WITHIN, we need to pay attention to what happened in the past, and plan for what we want to have happen in the future - but it's a fine line between doing that mindfully and getting completely lost in the shoulds, woulds, and mights. I find that I need to consciously remind myself to stop and notice the moment I'm living right now, or suddenly an hour will have gone by while I was hunched over my laptop analyzing the impact of changing locations and adding midday classes (for example). I'll discover that I've become incredibly thirsty, and my neck is cramped, and I've cut off circulation in one leg, I've been so completely not present with my body while my analytical brain was having a field day.
At that moment, as I like to remind students when we're in class, I have a choice. I can continue to follow my thoughts, and ignore what's going on in the rest of my experience; or, I can let go of my thoughts, and notice what's actually happening right now.
Being a mindfulness teacher, I usually choose to let go of my thoughts, and bring my attention back to my senses. But when I do, I often stumble upon another challenge: not judging and berating myself for having allowed my mind to take over. Like many of us, I have a very strong superego that likes to punish me for slipping up; if I allow it to reprimand me, that's just another way of letting my mind be in charge, pulling my attention away from the present moment.
Instead of falling into self-judgment, the challenge is to have compassion for myself. Yes, I teach mindfulness and it would be very easy to judge myself for all the moments when I don't practice what I preach. But would that really be helpful? If my goal is to be here, now, as much of the time as possible - and yes, that is my goal - the quickest route back to the present moment is through forgiveness, and compassion for the suffering I'm experiencing. When I have that attitude, I release all that suffering in one fell swoop and find myself completely present with whatever is happening right now.
Each time I do this, I rediscover that practicing compassion starts with loving yourself, with all your faults and missteps. From there, you can find it much easier to show up for what's actually happening, right now. And that's where you'll find happiness.