Meditation has become extremely popular and with good reason: The benefits for body, mind and spirit are well researched and well documented. Although I have practiced meditation since 1977, I recognize that phrases used in teaching meditation, such as “be in the moment,” can be difficult to understand.
Being in the moment is described as being fully mindful of our experiences as they happen, not focusing on the past or future with our thoughts.
I became much more skilled at living in the moment when I consciously made major changes to my personality and behaviors that I write about in my book “Pack Leader Psychology.”
While meditation can be helpful in developing this skill, I believe it is also important to thoughtfully choose to become aware of and eliminate certain habitual thoughts. Specifically, when I was struggling to improve my self-worth, I learned to become less judgmental of myself and others. I told myself consciously that these self-critical thoughts were not emotionally healthy and I chose to stop thinking them. This now allows me to truly engage in what I’m doing or who I’m with without an inner commentary that distracts me from that experience.
Most mindfulness practices, such as Buddhism, involve lessons on compassion for self and others. This is key to living in the moment.
As a psychotherapist I work with people who lack self-compassion. People with low self-worth often experience a constant stream of critical internal messages about themselves. It’s hard to live in the moment with those messages wafting through one’s brain.
People who are not self-compassionate also tend to look externally for approval, making them fearful of judgment by others. This means they do not live in their own experience, but are overly worried about the other person’s experience. I recall spending a ton of emotional energy worrying about things like: “Do they like me? What does he want me to say? Am I wearing the right outfit? She is touching her hair a lot — maybe she’s telling me my hair is out of place.”
Clearly, I wasn’t really in the moment, experiencing the full person authentically. I wasn’t just being myself, but was more concerned about the other person’s opinion of me. This meant I was not emotionally or physically attuned to other person. Research shows that people can unconsciously sense this lack of attunement. Parts of our brains are used to sense the emotions of others. This helps us get along socially in a group and allows us to sense fear in others so we can react quickly to a physical threat.
I believe that when I was so distracted during a conversation it sent two signals to the other person. The first is a signal of fear. This made the other person anxious, which isn’t exactly a relationship builder. I also unintentionally sent a signal that I did not really like the other person. Because if I was fearful, could it be that I was fearful of her? She didn’t know the cause of my fear, she only sensed the emotion, so this would make her also tense up, even if she did not consciously understand the cause of her reaction.
The irony is that as a “Submissive” or pleaser type of person, I was trying desperately to get this person to like me. But, in reality, the exact opposite occurred. My not being in the moment probably felt cold, distant, fearful and inauthentic because I wasn’t fully present emotionally.
We all have a natural need to belong. But when our lack of self-acceptance and low self-worth lead us to be overly eager for approval, we may be triggered into a fear state and go overboard to seek acceptance. We may spend too much cognitive and emotional energy thinking of what the other person wants us to be, rather that just living in the moment and being authentic.
I now have much less concern for what others think of me and I am much less judgmental of myself or others. I have turned off those messages in my brain that worry about whether I am wearing the right outfit or saying the right thing. And the interesting thing is that by being authentic and in the moment I often relax, fearless, and say and do exactly the right thing at the right time.