The other day I woke up with a feeling of anxiety. I felt it in my chest and then there was a general feeling of heaviness all over. I began to question where it was coming from, but it was hard to pinpoint its exact cause. However, later in the evening when I reflected on the day and on my thoughts, I saw a back-and-forth movement that grabbed me and distracted me the whole day. My thought and emotions vacillated between thinking of past events and concern about the future. If I tried to count up how many minutes in that day I was totally in the present moment, it would not have been many.
I am sure you can relate to this experience and indeed it is normal for everyone to have anxious days like mine. However, the struggle to remain present is real. We have never had so many distractions vying for our attention.
To be present is a gift to ourselves and others.
Being present helps us to be attentive to our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies. What are they saying to us? Being present helps us be attentive to other people that we come in contact with. In a world that has little time to offer, the gift of total presence to another person can totally transform their day.
The following are 20 reflection questions to assess how present are you in daily life. It is important that we ask them in a spirit of curiosity rather than judgment. What is important is not how many “yeses” or “noes” we have but how well they help us notice patterns that might help us be more present in the future.
1. I have a tendency to live in the future, projecting into tomorrow, or next week or even years from now.
2. I spend much of my time thinking about the past, replaying conversations or reliving incidents or events, or I play “what if” in my mind.
3. Sometimes when I’m in conversation with someone, I can’t remember what was just said.
4. When eating a meal, my family often watches TV or videos or reads.
5. While talking with someone, I think of how I’m going to respond rather than listening to what the other person is saying.
6. I tend to worry.
7. I try to figure out how things will work out or what someone else will do.
8. I allow my cell phone to interrupt whatever I’m doing.
9. I often/frequently hope for something better or different.
10. I often/frequently worry that something worse will happen.
11. I find myself always busy, with never an empty or spare moment.
12. When I am feeling uncomfortable in a situation, I change the subject or get up and move around, or get something to eat/drink/smoke/do.
13. In some situations, I find myself getting sleepy or yawning even though I’m not really tired.
14. I find it difficult to maintain eye contact when I’m talking with someone.
15. Sometimes I can’t remember what I just read or I don’t know what just took place in the movie or video I’m watching.
16. When I’m with certain people, we talk about others (gossiping, discussing shortcomings or talking about their problems).
17. I take my cell phone everywhere and it’s always on.
18. My conversations with others tend to be about superficial subjects.
19. Rather than staying with my emotions and naming them (“I am feeling…”), I attempt to alter the feelings.
20. When I’m with my family or with my partner, we watch TV programs that we don’t really care about rather than interact with each other.
I love the wisdom of the Dalai Lama who said, “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday, and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and mostly live.”