Being present is, in my opinion, among the most effective means for having a life experience free from suffering. What is it to be present? To focus only on the current moment and not engage in thinking that acts as transportation to either a past or future time.
Being present may sound like a simple recipe, and essentially it is, but it can be very challenging to carry out. Thinking is ego output and many people have developed over time a complete identification with ego, and so the ego often operates with absolute impunity. To disengage ego output suddenly by not going along, so to speak, with thinking is often a remarkable change.
Try to change something, anything, that has become entrenched and it’s a near certainty that struggle will ensue. So it is with disengaging from thinking and remaining entirely in the present moment. The ego will continue its output of thinking in spite of your efforts to remain in the now.
If you do choose to make a commitment to being present then you can pretty well be sure that thinking will continue and that you will find yourself again and again engaging thought that delivers you away from what is now. What to do?
Here’s one strategy: Focus on your breath.
Focusing on the breath has been a means for achieving conscious presence for generations, and it remains so today. How to use the breath to be present? Simply focus on your breathing — follow it with your attention. Don’t analyze the breath as this is not meant to be an intellectual exercise. It is meant to be the opposite, if anything.
The full attention is on the breathing and so there isn’t space for thought. You follow the breathing with your attention and as the breathing moves your focus goes with it. In and out.
Focusing on the breathing in this way brings you into the present moment as that is where the breathing is. An intense enough focus also leaves no room for thinking so one doesn’t get transported away from the now by thought. Being in the present moment, free from thinking, is where peace and contentment reside.
Focusing on breath also tends to slow the breathing rate, bringing more oxygen into the body for a better health response and also a greater sense of calm (shallow breathing is associated with heightened emotional agitation).
When thinking is pulling you from the present moment and into the past or future — and this is when suffering occurs, when one is away from the present moment — turn your attention to your breathing. Focus exclusively on your breathing, in and out. Make a regular habit even of focusing on your breath, whether thinking is pulling you from the now or isn’t.
Under any circumstances, following the breath with your attention is highly beneficial. Do it, and have the rewards.