The Art of Living in the Present
by Katherine Easton, LCSW, OSW-C
Living with cancer often defines how we view not only our lives and our health but also our future. To focus on the future is natural for all of us, as we plan and organize our thoughts and actions about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or even years from now. However, people living with cancer may find themselves constantly worried about their future – how they will look or feel, whether their cancer will come back, whether they will be able to enjoy certain special occasions, whether they will be able to reach their goals and dreams.
These worries are often dictated by a voice that dwells inside our heads. This internal narrator guides our life experience, helping us interpret the world and our relationship to it. It influences how we think and feel about our life as we are living it. Unfortunately, for many of us, this inner voice sometimes refuses to quiet and becomes an obstacle to experiencing moments of stillness, relaxation, and contentment. It won’t allow us to just be.
The best way to quiet this voice is to reach a state of relaxation and be present in each moment. The ability to live and think in the present is commonly referred to as mindfulness.
With principles found in Buddhism, mindfulness not only is a way to awaken our minds and be present in the here and now; it is also a philosophy of living and being. It teaches us how to live moments in each day, instead of focusing on what lies ahead. The challenge of living mindfully is recognizing that, in this one moment, you are carrying within you all your hopes and fears, pain and pleasure, joy and grief. Living mindfully requires that you fully immerse yourself in the present moment, experiencing the thoughts and feelings that are passing through you right now.
Living mindfully requires that you fully immerse yourself in the present moment, experiencing the thoughts and feelings that are passing through you right now.
So how do you learn to live in the present? It takes practice and a commitment of time and energy. Here are some ways you can practice living mindfully:
- Pay careful attention to what you’re experiencing through listening and looking, observing rather than thinking.
- Learn some focused breathing techniques, which allow you to feel how your body moves, how it inhales and exhales.
- Practice mindfulness meditation or gentle yoga.
- Awaken your senses by trying something new and taking the time to notice with fresh eyes how the experience makes you feel.
- Find time each day for quiet moments of peace. Clear your mind of that nagging inner voice.
- Refrain from judging your interactions and experiences with others.
- Avoid striving. Just be; don’t try to do. Constantly being “results driven” causes us to lose sight of life’s simple pleasures.
- Come to terms with your life, even difficult experiences and deep regrets. Once you fully experience the emotions brought on by negative events, you can begin to accept them, which will bring you to a deeper understanding of yourself.
- Let go. Many people have a hard time letting go of negative feelings or of the need to be in control of every aspect of their life. Only you can decide to be at peace with your life. Letting go allows you to love fully and deeply and to appreciate the joy of just being alive in the moment.
Facing cancer mindfully requires that you alter the normal course of how you view your life and its meaning. Through mindfulness, you may find room to grow in strength and wisdom as you focus on the here and now rather than on the past or the future. In the words of author Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now: “Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”
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Katherine Easton is a certified oncology social worker with Atlanta Cancer Care, which is affiliated with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, in Atlanta, GA. She provides support and advice to cancer survivors in an outpatient medical oncology setting.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2014.