• Being present can free you from stresses and anxieties related to your past and your future, and you don't have to be meditating to reap the benefits

  • Jamie Smart explores the power of presence and how you can cultivate it

Being present is often described as having your attention on what’s happening in the present moment. But there’s more to it (and less to it) than that...

'Present' is whatever is happening moment to moment, prior to your habitual thinking.

Our experience of life is inherently clear, fulfilling and involving when there’s nothing else in the way. What gets in the way is our habitual patterns of contaminated thinking. For example:

  • A person can be in a situation they might normally describe as wonderful, but be having an experience that is stressed, anxious or miserable because they’ve got something on their mind. An all-too-common example of this is when people go on holiday. They can be in the most beautiful environment, with the people they most want to be with, but they find their work has come on holiday with them, thanks to their habitual patterns of thinking.
  • By the same token, a person can be in a situation they might normally describe as boring or miserable, but be having an experience that is rich, fulfilling and profound because they’ve got nothing on their mind. I sometimes enjoy sitting by the ocean, looking out at the waves for 20 or 30 minutes at a time.Twenty years ago, I would have had enough of it after two minutes and felt bored and distracted if I had to stay there. But because I have less on my mind these days, the experience of the waves is rich, absorbing and engaging (except when it’s not).

What’s the difference between the two situations? 

In situation A the person is caught up in contaminated thinking, while in situation B the person has greater clarity; the principle of THOUGHT is creating a rich experience of the moment, relatively unperturbed by contaminated thinking.

So, how does our habitual thinking take us out of the present moment? By creating THOUGHT-generated “objects” that transport us into the future or the past. These THOUGHT-generated objects can take a variety of forms, for example:

  • Toxic goals
  • Worrying
  • Anxiety
  • Daydreaming
  • Resentments
  • Remembering
  • Ruminating
  • Judgements
  • Imagining
  • Planning
  • Fear of loss
  • Comparing
  • Validation-seeking
  • Attention-seeking
  • And so on

But here’s the thing:

There is only ever this moment. The present is all there is. The future and the past are THOUGHT-generated illusions. Illusions that you only ever experience in the here and now.


Try this thought experiment

Try this out: Remember an enjoyable experience from the past. One hundred percent of your experience of that memory is taking place in the present moment; none of it is happening in the past. 

Now imagine something you’re going to do in the future. One hundred percent of your experience of that imagined event is taking place in the present moment; none of it is happening in the future. 

When you find yourself in the 'now', it’s an indication that you’re not caught up in habitual thinking; you’ve 'fallen awake' to the present moment.

Meditating vs meditation

The act of meditating is a practice that has one goal: entering a state of meditation. Meditation is a reflective state that’s often accompanied by a sense of clarity and peace of mind, free from contaminated thinking, and resting in the present moment.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to be meditating in order to enter a state of meditation. People find themselves in a state of meditation in a variety of situations: going for a walk, listening to classical music, fishing, running, taking a shower, driving, listening to another person, sitting in quiet reflection, reading a book and so on.

As you continue exploring these principles, you’ll start finding your way into a state of meditation, free from contaminated thinking, more and more frequently. So does this mean you’ll find yourself cross-legged, chanting “Ommm” in the middle of business meetings? Fortunately not.

Just as realisations are context-sensitive, so is clarity. The meditative states you find yourself enjoying will be fit for purpose, bringing you what you need, when you need it.

Jamie Smart is the author of CLARITY: Clear Mind, Better Performance, Bigger Results

Further reading

Try this 1-minute grounding exercise to start your day

When your thoughts and mood spiral, try this chain analysis technique

Feel busy all the time? You might have more control than you think

Enough is enough: is your ambition making you happy?