My new book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled was published last week. Here is a little extract for you. I hope you find the book useful - it's for you.
An enormous benefit of mindfulness is that you get a free ticket to that rare destination: the present. Okay, I hear you say, 'What's so great about being in the present moment? What if I don't want to stare at a butterfly wing or hear the single ting of a windchime? I have places to go, people to meet.'
Being present can't be understood through cognition, it's a felt experience; you feel through your senses, not through your thoughts. Simply to sit with your eyes closed and breathe probably seems like the last thing on earth you'd need, or have time, to do. You might think that by the time you've flossed your gums, done some ab crunches, taken a shower, moisturized, toasted toast, had sex with your boyfriend (notice I didn't say husband; later in life, you can skip that bit) you've used up half your day and it hasn't even started yet.
So when people speak of being mindful or present, it's usually thought of as being pretty low down in the hierarchy of needs.
On the face of it it seems that nothing is really useful about being in the present, so we don't visit it much. We don't really know how to be present except when something out of the ordinary happens, for example, your house is on fire or a seagull lands on your head. Sometimes we find ourselves having an 'aha' moment when we wake from the daydream and have a sudden insight, a revelation, when the doors of perception are thrown open for a blip in time. No one really knows how to make an 'aha' moment, but you know an 'aha' moment when you have one.
MBCT teaches you to be able to come into the present when you choose to, which is no easy feat. Try it now? See? You're all over the place, probably not even reading my book; sometimes even I'm not concentrating now, writing it: I'm looking out of the window, thinking about things like I have to call my friend Dagmar Stewart who I haven't spoken to since kindergarten . . . then suddenly I have no idea what I'm typing.
And yet the present is where everyone wants to be. If you don't believe me, let me point out that the reason you plan a holiday or an event for months in advance is to experience it 'in the moment'. But when you get to your dream hotel or tent, your mind will probably be on something else: 'Why did I spend all this money? Why didn't I go on a diet? I look like Moby Dick. I forgot to feed the hamster. This isn't as good as I thought it would be. I bet it's better someplace else.' You spend a fortune on a wine that costs more than the annual GDP of Bolivia to relish its woody undertones but your mind is somewhere else so you miss the whole experience, and now you're urinating it out without having tasted it. So much of what we do in our everyday lives is to achieve an experience, a taste, smell, sight or sound in the moment. So when people say, 'I don't really care about being present,' remind them how much money and time they're spending to get there.
If, when you're asked what's the best time of your life, you can answer, 'Now,' you've arrived. I'm going to finish this chapter with a quote from Stephen Attain, a teenage cancer victim who said, 'You have 86,400 seconds today. Don't waste a single one.'