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Being Present

·3 mins

To be present is to live in the moment, to be aware of the here and now. It is a state of mind that allows us to fully experience life as it unfolds without being distracted by thoughts of the past or future. Being present is crucial to many spiritual and philosophical traditions, including Buddhism, mindfulness meditation, and Stoicism. It’s also an essential concept in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches us to focus on the present moment rather than getting caught up in negative thoughts or emotions.

These subway goers choose not to be present by scrolling their preferred
entertainment feeds.
These subway goers choose not to be present by scrolling their preferred entertainment feeds. If you look up from your phone when out and about, you’ll notice that most people are doing the same thing.

In my previous post, I discussed the connection between CBT and Stoicism and how the two philosophies share many ideas, particularly the belief that we can choose how we feel, as opposed to being at the mercy of our emotions.

It takes time to internalize these concepts and learn to apply them. Personally, I used to roll my eyes at people who talked about “being present” or “living in the moment.” It all sounded like New Age nonsense to me. But as I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life’s ups and downs, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in these ideas.

For many people, the main barrier to learning to be present is simply that we’re constantly overwhelmed and bombarded with attention-grabbing stimuli. Our phones, social media, the news (i.e., the other media…the anti-social media?), TV, and so on. Much like our negative thoughts, this is mainly self-inflicted. We choose to be distracted. We choose to be overwhelmed. We choose to be anxious. We choose to be unhappy.

There are a few practical steps we can take to help us be more present throughout the day. I find that making minor changes is very helpful, certainly for me. Here are a few examples that I practice:

  • Don’t install “apps” on your phone, and avoid taking your phone out of your pocket when you’re out and about or feel a moment of boredom coming on. Instead, look around you and take in your surroundings.
  • Learn to love boredom. We can let our minds wander, and we can be creative. We can think about our lives and what we want to do with them.
  • If you want to go further, delete all your unnecessary accounts on the various attention economy platforms. You’ll be amazed at how much time you have to do other things and how little you miss having them.
  • Make time to go for a walk in nature. It’s a great way to clear your mind and be present in the moment. Leave your phone behind; you don’t need a phone to walk.
  • Stay off the news. It’s mostly negative and designed to keep you in a state of fear and anxiety. You don’t need it. If something important happens, you’ll hear about it. The news is also part of the attention economy, but people mostly talk about “social media” these days, and by “people,” I mean the mainstream media.
  • Engage in activities that help you get into a flow state: reading, writing, painting, playing music, doing yoga, meditation, etc. Once again, if you can do it without looking at your phone every 10 seconds, you’ll get more out of it.

Some of these suggestions–such as deleting your Instagram or TikTok accounts–may seem extreme to some people. However, it’s worth considering what truly matters in life and whether these attention vampires add value. If you can use them as tools without getting consumed by the algorithmic frenzy, then feel free to keep them. But if you spend hours each day on these platforms, it might be worth reevaluating your choices.