Calming Anxiety and Grief in the Present Moment


How to live in the present moment?

I always find myself either grieving over the past or terrified of the future. i practice mindfulness but is there any other way?

—A.J, russia


Dear A.J.,

It does take steady, daily practice to bring the mind to a clear and calm focus. There are innumerable ways to focus the mind in meditation and during daily activity. In meditation an excellent technique to focus the mind is focusing on the breath and usually adding a word formula or mantra, whether selected by us or given to us. Paramhansa Yogananda taught the use of the mantra “Hong Sau” taken from ancient Sanskrit texts. Do you know this technique? I won’t attempt to give it in this response but it is readily available on various Ananda websites. We can follow up if you like.

Let me say that if by the term “mindfulness” you mean to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions, that is excellent, but typically it is not enough. Why is this? Because most people are not yet sufficiently detached from their thoughts to actually watch or observe them without being caught up by them. This is why a technique like watching the breath (instead of the thoughts) and adding a silent mantra or affirmation is generally more helpful.

Here’s something you might try: it is an expansion of the technique called a body scan. It can be used as the beginning of a meditation sitting and/or when taking a break during outward activity:

1. Start with your feet (best to be seated if you can). Feel your feet on the floor or earth, wherever you are. Mentally connect with the ground and then with the earth.

2. Expand this to feel space all around you, especially the skies above and out (mentally) into the far reaches of space. Include in this a feeling of space in your own body (science tells us the body is mostly space, indeed, ultimately only quantum energy and particles).

3. Next bring your sight to a focus by focusing minutely on every object in your surroundings. Notice every particular item but without narrative, commentary or reaction. Just observe what you see: be very focused and detailed.

4. Move to your sense of hearing (it might help now to close your eyes). Listen intently to every sound, whether a cacophony of traffic or the twitter of birds or the sound of wind in the trees. Listen intently (again no commentary or like or dislike).

During the day when you are busy, you might stop and do just one of the above for perhaps as little as 60 seconds, or more as you can sustain.

If you do this as the beginning of your meditation, then continue on into meditation, eyes closed or halfway closed using whatever technique you are accustomed to or committed to. (Here watching the breath would be excellent.)

The idea is that the past or the future has no reality beyond your thoughts. The only reality that exists is in the present moment. God (whether with name or form or formless) can only be found in the present moment. Yogananda wrote that the face of God is light; the body of God is space; the voice of God is the Aum vibration. I would add that the “arms of God” are the silence that upholds the present moment. Let those arms, that face, that voice, and that body embrace and become you.

The more you live here and now the less hold anxiety or regret can assail you. In addition and another aspect of “here and now” is that your thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. The quietness of mind and heart grounded in the present moment is like the blue sky that always exists above the clouds. Everything above assumes that your thoughts have gone to rest and that’s when you’ll find peace best!

Blessings to you!
Nayaswami Hriman