The Practice of Presence
“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliot
I remember reading this quote for the first time and thinking something like, “Wow, that sounds so wonderful and healthy! Too bad that’s just not possible for me.” I had the false belief that some people were more “present minded people” and others were more “future (and past) minded people,” and that this meant us “future (and past) minded people” couldn’t turn off the constant thoughts of plans, the future, and past regrets. Despite this defeating mindset, I was still drawn to the idea of presence. I started doing more research on this concept from both a mental health and biblical perspective and found that this tool is accessible to everyone.
Benefits from a Mental Health Perspective
Present mindfulness is the intentional practice of focusing your thoughts on what is in front of you. Most often we do this by paying attention to what our five senses are experiencing and our current emotions.
The practice of presence has been proven to have many benefits including decreased anxiety and depression, and increased peace and happiness. I like to think of this practice as a way to fully experience each moment. Have you ever felt like the good moments move too quickly and the difficult moments seem to last forever? The practice of presence decreases this phenomenon, allowing you to experience all that moment has to offer. This means that stressful moments will still feel stressful, but the moments of happiness or peace leading up to and following these moments will not be infected by thoughts and feelings of an impending or recent stressful moment. Studies show that the more you practice presence, the more you are able to experience these benefits.
In my study of present mindfulness, I found that scripture encourages this way of thinking as well. It should be no surprise that God, the Creator of our minds and Author of all truth, would encourage us to set our minds on things that promote mental health. One verse that speaks to present mindfulness is Matthew 6:34:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)
Just as mental health studies have found that present mindfulness decreases stress and anxiety, God knew that this practice of living fully in each moment allows us to fully embrace and process our current situation without weighing us down with the unnecessary “trouble” of future or past events. (Click on the first link under “Resources/Articles for Further Study” to learn more about the biblical basis for present mindfulness and other mindfulness practices).
Okay, so we’ve established that present mindfulness is both healthy from a mental health perspective, and biblical from a scriptural perspective. But how do those of us who are not “naturally” present minded harness this mindset? As a note, present mindfulness takes practice and intentionality. The good news is, the more you practice, the more this becomes muscle memory for your brain. You will notice yourself focusing more on the present and less to the future or past automatically.
Here are some activities to practice regularly to help your brain begin to be more present:
- 5-4-3-2-1: Find 5 things that you can see around you and really pay attention to details, 4 things that you can touch and notice how they feel, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Sensory time: Do something that involves a lot of your senses and make sure to keep your focus on these things the whole time. You can go on a walk, cook or bake, or do a craft. If you notice your mind wandering off, simply use your senses to bring your thoughts back to the present.
- Use one sense to bring you to the present when you notice your brain wandering. Maybe this is paying attention to how the seat feels beneath you as you’re talking to a friend at a coffee shop, noticing the feel and the smell of the chapstick you put on as you’re getting ready for the day, or fidgeting with your jewelry (noticing the feeling and texture) when you want to bring your mind into focus during a test.
I hope that you experience the freedom and fullness of present mindfulness as you begin or continue your practice. If at any time you feel that you’ve become stuck in your practice, your thoughts are not in your control, or you are overwhelmed by racing thoughts, we at SureHope would be happy to help guide you through these difficulties.
References/Articles for Further Study: