As I sit in front of my computer as I have been doing every day for at least 10 minutes for the past 14 years, the first thing I do is to log on to Gmail, Facebook, Outlook, and El País (Spanish newspaper) in this same order. It is fascinating to see how back in 1998, when I opened my first email account, the Internet was a novelty for me, and I was afraid to click on the mouse every time I had to “send” or “register” or “refresh.” I am far from being an Internet savvy today, but I now find myself having a routine online experience that has become automatic, thoughtless, and, often, useless.
In a similar way, we humans love entertaining ourselves by moving back and forth between our Past and Future lives, seldom stopping by our Present for a simple self-check to say, “Hi! How are YOU doing?” The human brain is easily programmed to automate thought processes and every day actions to make energy expenditure more efficient. The downside of this is that we also tend to be less aware of our present lives and make use of our ability to weed out the unimportant from the important if we are constantly living under this automatic pilot. It is no surprise, then, that we do not stop to think about our present lives until we are actually forced to improvise an emergency stop on the road when a major life-changing event crosses our path.
Think of the Past and the Future as two security airbags. We are in the Present, the Now, This Moment, standing right in the middle between the starting line and end line of our lives. Whenever we feed our Past and Future with our thoughts, emotions, and actions, we are blowing these security airbags so energetically, and they are growing big so easily, that they almost seem to squeeze us, leaving no room for us to actually feel comfortable with who we are and what we are doing right now, in the Present. Sounds familiar? Why not invert that energy to stop blowing the airbags, to stop the automatic pilot, even if it is only for 5 minutes each day?
The simplest way to do this is to just mindfully close your eyes and take a deep breath or two, and to remain quiet for a few subsequent breaths. It does not matter where you are or what you are doing. If you are driving, you could do the same with your eyes open. The key is to do it with your full attention and awareness. Practice makes a habit, and I firmly believe that this is a positive one with many benefits as side-effects, like being able to lower your stress levels or simply being appreciative of your life. Sounds like a plan?