How living in the present calms the mind

by Shannon Talbot


“Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” How many of you remember this scene from Dead Poets Society where Mr. Keating (aka Robin Williams) says this to his classroom of boys? I’m guessing I was in high school when I first saw this film and fell in love with this scene and these lines. I want to make my life extraordinary and enjoy each day to its fullest. But isn't this easier said, than done?

Last fall I spent some time thinking about what I would name my new wellness company. I initially thought about including health or happiness in the name, but it dawned on me that those are the results of doing the work. Doing the work leads to good health and happiness. And to live a happier, healthier life, we need to experience the present.


Thinking about the past can bring up good and bad memories, and while they have a time and place, they can also cause us to go off track, default to bad habits or long for how things used to be. On the flip side, thinking about the future can be motivating and exciting, but it can also bring with it stress and anxiety. When we are present in the moment, we’re not longing or analyzing the past, nor are we worrying about the future.


Being in the present calms our minds. It can also feel uncomfortable. It can mean paying attention to what our thoughts, emotions, and bodies are telling us and not hiding or ignoring them. But it's also where the magic happens. Where we can see, feel and hear things we might have otherwise missed.


But to answer my question, isn't living an extraordinary life and living each day to its fullest easier said than done? Heck yes! Being present is hard! It takes a lot of work and reminders.


For me, meditation is an excellent example of how hard being in the present moment is. Although I practice it daily, I suck at meditation, really. I do it for ten minutes each day but through an app that constantly reminds me come back to the present moment. But like all things, I keep practicing, and some days are better than others. And, even on the days where my mind does wander a lot, I somehow still feel calmer and more focused when I’m done.


But there are lots more ways to practice being present than through meditation. Here are just some of the ways I try and incorporate mindfulness into my routine:


  • Really listening and engaging in conversation with my boys - even when they go on about Minecraft for 20 minutes straight while barely taking a breath and I have no clue what they’re talking about

  • Facing my emotions - asking myself why do I have a lump in my throat or butterflies in my stomach? By acknowledging and naming my feelings, I usually feel relief and can move on with my day. This is also why I typically do a brain dump in my journal when I first wake up - I like to write down everything that has me feeling stressed or anxious - it doesn’t mean I have to do anything about it, but just recognize it.

  • Putting my phone out of reach in a place that would require effort for me to go and grab it

  • Listening to people speak with undivided attention – this means no multi-tasking, especially on video calls

  • Being more spontaneous - jumping in the pool even if I just did my hair and make-up, getting ice cream even if it’s close to dinner time, saying yes to a last-minute invite to see a friend

  • Petting my dog and acknowledging his calming presence

  • Watching our newest pet, Spike, a bearded dragon, explore his surroundings

  • Savouring my first sip of coffee

  • Looking out the window more and taking in the view

  • Listening to the lyrics of a song

  • Watching a tv show or movie without being on my computer or phone


As you head into your weekend, Carpe Diem! And remember,

"Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present." - Bil Keane
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