(Editor’s note: Every month, the team at Ravenwood Health posts about a mental-health topic. This month, Pamela Dustman, ACE Coordinator and Forensic Monitor at Ravenwood, writes about being present)
One could probably say I am a Luddite (someone opposed to technology). I only just turned my TV on for the first time since last year’s Super Bowl. I would rather look at a physical map than use a GPS. I often have no idea where my cell phone is (left it in the freezer once) or even how to answer it. Imagine my chagrin at my three-year-old great-great nephew’s abilities with a cell phone! However, I still know how to make a pot of coffee using a percolator on the stove. I do see the benefits of new technology despite my inability or my reluctance to embrace it.
As I am entering into my 63rd year of life, I am becoming more and more aware that there is only now, this day, this moment, and this breath. I think I have always known this, but to truly practice living in the now can be very difficult in this day and age. I am noticing, in spite of all the technology and the constant connection, most people are feeling disconnected from themselves and from others. They have lost the ability to appreciate now.
Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then, you miss your whole life, which is never not now. And that’s a revelation for some people: to realize that your life is only ever now.”
How does one become more present, more aware, and more cognizant of now? Marsha Linehan developed Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), with one set of skills associated with this therapy called Core Mindfulness Skills. These six skills are the foundation for DBT, and are divided as follows: the “what” skills (observe, describe and participate), and the “how” skills (non-judgmentally, one-mindfully and effectively).
To be more present to now, one can practice observing. This has to do with observing your surroundings, but more importantly, observing yourself. Observe what your body is feeling like, observe your thoughts, and observe using the five senses – smell, touch, sight, hearing and taste. Linehan encourages using the “how” skills in conjunction with the “what” skills. One is to observe non-judgmentally, first being non-judgmental towards self and then non-judgmental towards others. Practice observing non-judgmentally and simply see what is before you or within you without adding anything to it, judging it or changing it. To observe one-mindfully, staying present to the moment, in the here and now and then to observe effectively. Effectively, according to Linehan, is about finding what is effective for you. How you observe effectively may not be effective for someone else. Nevertheless, find what is effective for you.
When one practices the second core mindfulness skill of describe, one is putting words on what has been observed. Describe what you observed about your internal experience, being non-judgmental, one-mindful and effective. Be attentive and mindful to your experience and to how you describe your experience.
The final “what” skill is participate. This skill I am finding more and more relevant to living in the now, as Tolle describes. Instead of observing reality TV shows and watching how others are participating in their own lives, start to throw yourself into your own life – be fully present in the present moment (mindfully), non-judgmentally and effectively for yourself. Start to participate in each moment of your life as it comes. This will allow you to fully engage in every experience of your life without needing to “love” it or “hate” it.
These skills sound so simple, but are actually quite difficult to practice. Marsha Linehan encourages one to, “practice, practice, practice.” I have noticed in my own life, when I do practice these six skills, I feel less depressed (it is Ohio and winter), less anxious and find myself actually enjoying life as though I was three years old again, instead of 63!
I challenge you (and myself) to leave your phone, tablet or any other device at home and take a walk in the woods. Fully participate in this walk, observing and describing as you go. Be non-judgmental about what you are observing or how you are describing it. Be mindful of what you see, hear, smell, touch and taste (I’m assuming you will have something to stay hydrated while you walk. I am not encouraging you to taste the dirt or bark of a tree.) Walk effectively for yourself. I have friends who could probably hike a 15-mile trail and still have energy to spare. An effective walk for myself is to the end of my driveway (even though I am planning a more significant hike next year).
Ram Dass advised, “Be here now.”