In each moment that we are present, the past is behind us.
Learning to be present is the foundation for healing and growing from trauma.
When we are stressed or faced with intense emotions we may retreat form the present in an attempt to avoid what we are feeling or dealing with.
We may even lose our connection with the present moment without really being aware of it, engulfed by thoughts, feelings, images from the past or worries about the future.
Sometimes we may be aware of our behaviours, as though we are watching ourselves, but do not feel we have any control over our actions.
The following exercise can help us to focus on the here and now.
(* If it is not helpful, you can make it suit your situation or stop it completely.)
Notice 3 objects that you see in the room and pay close attention to their details (shape, colour, texture, size, etc.). Make sure you do not hurry through this part of the exercise. Let your eyes linger over each object, Name 3 characteristics of the object out loud to yourself, for example., “It is blue. It is big. It is round.”
Notice 3 sounds that you hear in the present (inside or outside of the room). Listen to their quality. Are they loud or soft, constant or intermittent, pleasant or unpleasant? Again name 3 characteristics of the sound out loud to yourself, for example, “It is loud, grating and definitely unpleasant.”
Now touch 3 objects close to you and describe out loud to yourself how they feel, for example, rough, smooth, cold, warm, hard or soft, and so forth.
Return to the 3 objects that you have chosen to observe with your eyes. As you notice them, concentrate on the fact that you are here and now with these objects in the present, in this room. Next notice the sounds and concentrate on the fact that you are in this room with those sounds. Finally, do the same with the objects you have touched. You can expand this exercise by repeating it several times, 3 times for each sense, then 2 for each, then 1, and then build it up again to 3. You can also add new items to keep your practice fresh.
Sight: Look around the room for something (or even someone) that can help remind you that you are in the present, for example, a piece of clothing you are wearing that you like, a particular colour or shape or texture, a picture on the wall, a small object, a book. Name the object to yourself out loud.
Sound: Use the sounds around you to help you really focus on the here and now. For example, listen to the normal everyday noises around you: the heat or air conditioning or refrigerator running, people talking, doors opening or closing, traffic sounds, birds singing, a fan blowing. You can remind yourself: “These are the sounds of normal life all around me. I am safe. I am here.”
Taste: Carry a small item of food that has a pleasant but intense taste, for example, lozenges, mint, hard candy or gum, a piece of fruit such as a banana or orange. If you feel ungrounded, pop it into your mouth and focus on the flavour and feel of it in your mouth to help you be more in the here and now.
Smell: Carry something small with you that has a pleasant smell, for example, a favourite hand lotion, perfume, aftershave, or an aromatic fruit sun as an orange. When you start to feel spacey or not very present, a pleasant smell is a powerful reminder of the present.
Touch: Try one or more the following touch exercises that feels good to you. Touch the chair or sofa on which you are sitting, or your clothes. Feel them with your fingers and be very aware of the textures and weight of the fabric. Try pushing on the floor with your feet, so that you can really feel the floor supporting you. Squeeze your hands together and let the pressure and warmth remind you that you are here and now. Press your tongue hard to the roof of your mouth. Cross your arms over your chest with your fingertips on your collarbones and pat your chest, alternating left and right, reminding yourself that you are in the present and safe (the butterfly hug).
Breathing: The way in which we breathe is crucial in helping us to be present. When people dissociate or space out, they are usually breathing very shallow or rapid or hold their breath too long. Take time to slow and regulate your breathing. Breathe in through your nose to a slow count of 3, hold to the count of 3, and then breathe out through your mouth to a slow count of 3. Do this several times while being mindful of your breath.