The Power of the Present

by Jessica Callahan, LPC-S

The advice to “Be Present” is everywhere between Instagram, Facebook, yoga shirts and your coworker’s mug. What does being present actually mean? And why does it matter? 


Being present means being aware of your experience in the current moment. It doesn’t mean reaching some magical zenned out state, and it is not something that only yogis with 10 years of experience can do. It’s the act of turning your attention inward and noticing what is going on in your mind, your body and your emotions. Being present is simply observing your inner experience without judgment. 


What do you have to gain by spending more time in the present? 


The present moment is the only moment we really have. You can’t change the past and you can’t jump forward and guarantee the future. You can be right here, right now where important information is available just by listening inside. 


Imagine a simple pie chart where the circle represents 100% of your awareness. If a large portion is taken up by replaying the past, and another large piece is consumed worrying about the future, how much awareness is left for the present that you are actually in? If the lens you look through is blurred by what has been and what you fear might be, how can you tell where you really are and where you need to go? The most accurate information you need to guide your choices is with you now. Healing from painful pasts and creating happy futures unfolds one present moment at a time, which is where your power lies. 


What if we pay attention to the present and what we find is uncomfortable or painful? 


Then you’re human and good for you for being honest. Sometimes the information you need to find, the emotions you need to discover are not comfortable. You may need to come in contact with something that’s difficult to accept but critical to understanding your needs. 


If you’re curious about checking out the present, how do you begin? 


Start by asking yourself, “What do I notice right now?” Can you turn your attention inward and recognize what’s going through your mind, what emotions are swirling around and what sensations are in your body? If so, congrats, you are present. If that’s hard these are some ways that you can anchor to the present. 


1.    Focus on your breathing and notice the breath coming in and out. You don’t have to breathe any special way, start with however it is right now and observe. 

2.    Using your five senses find 3 things you see, hear, touch, taste and smell in this moment and pause to notice them.

3.    Start with your toes and tighten then release your muscles slowly moving up to your head, noticing the difference between the tension and release.

When those exercises feel more comfortable, try sitting in a quiet place and practice observing your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. You don’t have to do anything with what you notice, just notice. Slowly increase the time as you can. 


Some people who have been through painful things in their life can feel overwhelmed when they first try to be present in their experience. If you discover this, let a trained therapist, trauma informed yoga teacher, or other trauma sensitive support guide you in slowing building the tolerance to be present in a way that is safe for you. 


If this is new for you, you deserve patience as you learn. Being present is not a destination that you arrive at and stay at. It’s a practice of returning over and over again to yourself. I trust that whatever you discover will be valuable and that overtime you can learn to trust your inner compass.