In the 1950s, a social psychologist named Leon Festinger developed something called social comparison theory. The idea behind it was, in essence, that humans look to comparisons with others in order to develop an identity. Human beings are intrinsically wired for connection, and comparing ourselves to those around us helps us to form attachments and acceptance. But fast forward fifty or so years to the advent of social media, and what once was a natural impulse to connect is now a full-blown mental health crisis. We escape into our screens and look at the curated photos of other people’s lives, imagining how much happier we’d be if we had that kitchen, that haircut, that vacation…
Social comparison is just one example of the myriad distractions that pull us out of the present—and away from ourselves—on any given day. Modern life not only moves at an impossible pace but is chock full of infinite stimuli, seemingly geared at solving every one of our problems with a quick fix. But it’s a bottomless pit of seeking, a vicious cycle that always leads back to the same place: You. Right here and right now.
But if we set down the phone, if we step away from our desk, if we put our calendar away for a moment, what happens? Try for a moment to just breathe. Let your surroundings pulse and make noise, and let it all be okay. Feel your legs, your shoulders, your fingertips. If judgment comes up, allow and release it. If your mind is jumping to the past or the future or a zig-zag of both, simply let it without attaching to any thought.
Welcome to Right Now.
At any given moment, we’re in the midst of Right Now. For centuries, philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and physicists have been dwelling on this phenomenon because of how powerful the experience is—we can never leave it. Yet, we’re rarely in it unless we have an intention to be. The exercise above is designed to bring you right to where you are, and you may have noticed that in the Right Now, everything feels… okay. It may not be perfect; there may be emotions and judgments, but there will also be access to stillness and an ability to center ourselves amid chaos.
At any given time, there are two streams of consciousness within us. The first is the stream that is focused solely on us—it is about everything we lack, everything that others have that we don’t (ahem, social comparison), it contains our self-centered goals and the parts of us that strive and compete, pain over the past or fearful of the future. The other is a stream of Oneness—this is where we contemplate our purpose, where we feel present, and where we connect with the certainty that the Light is always with us even when we don’t see it.
When we practice present-moment thinking, we become aware of which stream we are choosing, and by shifting our consciousness, we literally shift our reality. Here are a few ways to do it:
Let Yourself Luxuriate
So often, we catch ourselves weighing our present against the past or future. If we sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning and are ruminating on what happened yesterday or are already thinking about where we’re headed next in our day, we aren’t checking our awareness. Instead, take a moment to try savoring the coffee; enjoy it. Feel the sunshine on your face or the temperature of the air on your skin. Smell the coffee and feel its warmth (or chill if you take yours iced!)
When you bring your senses and attention fully to what you are doing now, you are bound to feel greater levels of joy and contentment, mainly because worry and stress involve thoughts of either the past or the future. Without them, you’re free to experience what’s in front of you entirely, and you’ll discover that reality becomes much more positive.
It’s true that as we become present, we become present to everything, and sometimes, that means confronting feelings of discomfort or even pain. This is why Stephen Haynes, a psychologist at the University of Nevada, says that if something bothers you, move toward it instead of distracting yourself. Whether it’s the pain of heartbreak or the aches that come while healing from surgery, the solution is to simply allow it. Get present, notice the pain, honor that it’s there, and let it be okay. Let it exist without judgment, guilt, or shame.
Our thoughts are powerful, but only when we give them meaning. By watching our thoughts as we process uncomfortable things, we are better able to choose which thoughts we want to magnify and which we want to gently release.
Being in the present and practicing mindfulness is wonderful—but it’s tough to do all the time. Start small by setting aside 1 minute of presence for what’s widely known as the “Five Senses Exercise.” All you have to do is list five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise turns us into a keen observer, the state of mind necessary for presence. Using the five senses (sound, smell, sight, taste, and touch) to ground yourself in the present moment can not only enhance your experiences of the world around you, but it also adds a layer of appreciation for your ability to utilize those senses!
The now has no goals. Goals are about the future. Instead, focus on Now exactly as it is, on your breath, your feet, and your thoughts as they arise. For this small slice of time, forget about any destination because there isn’t one. You’re already here. It’s happening right now…
Consciousness governs everything that happens in the world and in our lives. The way we choose to observe any given thing is the way we will then experience it. We create our reality through our consciousness. And we can choose consciousness right now, right here, in the present moment.