After a presentation the other day, a parent approached me and mentioned that she feels guilty about not being "fully present or mindful" when she is with her children. Although I completely understand her feelings, I also know that guilt is a waste of valuable energy and it's actually a disservice to the present moment.
Being present or mindful is not a place that you can remain continuously. It's more of a moment, a glimpse, a feeling, or a deep awareness.
To suspend these moments or feel them more frequently takes practice; mindfulness is a muscle that needs to be worked. The good news is that there are many different paths to the present moment: yoga, prayer, meditation, deep breathing, writing, singing, dancing, playing with your children….the list goes on and on.
Being present means that instead of being focused on what happened yesterday or what could happen tomorrow, you are simply here, now. It's about getting off autopilot and becoming aware of the automatic actions and reactions you are used to, and finding a place of clarity and calm. The present moment offers peace.
You don't have to wait to practice mindfulness, you can start this minute. Take a deep breath and feel what is going on in your body. Be a witness to the endless chatter in your brain (your brain is a processing machine, it can think about things without your consent.)
The part of you that notices this, that realizes that your brain is talking and thinking without you, is who "you" really are. Notice "you" more often. Practice finding "you" more often.
Some people think that to be mindful you need to "turn off your thoughts" or "silence your brain", but the reality is that your brain is always working and thinking (some refer to this realization as "monkey brain").
Instead, think about quieting the parts of the brain that are stuck in the past and future (regret, worry, fear) and turn up and tune into the part that is here now (acceptance, love, appreciation).
For example, if you are walking, notice that you are walking. Notice your legs and feel the ground. Look up and feel the sun. If you are eating, take slow mindful bites. Really taste what you are eating. If you are playing with your children, look them in the eyes and listen to them. Focus on what they look like in that moment and how they make you feel.
And if all else fails, just close your eyes and take a good, deep breath. Breathing, something we take for granted, is easy access to the present moment. It brings us back to our bodies, back to our awareness.
I call these moments "taking it in". They are excellent ways to slow down and appreciate what is. Experiencing these moments can reduce stress, keep your body working properly, and create more happiness. Do I need to say more?
But please let go of feeling bad about not being constantly present (none of us are!). Mindfulness is simple in concept, but it's a practice and it's not always easy.
View being present as an opportunity rather than a destination, or think of it as a relaxing respite from the continuous processing of your brain. And know that it's always available to you - guilt free.
The only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You're only here now; you're only alive in this moment. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness educator and author
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.