Attention to the Present and mental hygiene
It is first necessary to clarify that in our approach to this project, we view the act of paying attention to the present as a facet of mental hygiene which contributes to physical and mental health. We are not searching for transcendence or devotion. Attention is a resource which is provided to us by nature, and something which every one of us has the right to adopt for our own use. Our approach focuses on hygiene. In order to make our message more accessible we have strived to write in clear, simple language, in order to most accurately describe the physical sensations that come from being present in the moment: A language orientated to action and experience.
We believe that mental attention to the present is a facet of mental hygiene and can be incorporated into the everyday lives of people, businesses, local communities, centres of learning, governing bodies, public services and all areas of human activity. We treat the act of paying attention to the present, as a facet of personal mental hygiene, with the same degree of importance that we give to brushing our teeth on a daily basis. We treat the act of paying mental attention to the present, as a resource of mental hygiene, with the same degree of importance as we give to respect in our social conduct.
On a personal level, the foundation of becoming more present in the moment in daily life is intention: An intention that arises from making efforts and taking responsibility in life. This is because it is from here that we derive our serenity which affects us individually, which then through us, affects others.
We rarely pay attention to our own presence, and this causes us to be dragged through life by a noisy, unhelpful chatter. We go through life accompanied by a background noise produced by our involuntary thoughts. The painful discomfort which this noise causes us affects and conditions us both mentally and emotionally, making us liable to deal with situations we face in our daily lives in an unhealthy way. This perturbing noise effects our lives negatively and is a source of unhappiness and suffering. We lose energy and flexibility, we get stuck in negative ways of viewing things, we get angry easily and lose the ability to manage the challenges of life. It is our responsibility to pay attention to what we are living as we go through life.
Practicing living attentively and with our intention focused on the present is an act of mental hygiene and a personal responsibility of our own hygiene.
Reflections on the maturity of the actions and attitudes of life
Living is the purpose of Life
Living is the purpose of Life; every action or attitude which harms its existence is an “immature” action or attitude from the point of view of Life. “Maturity”, from the point of view of Life, can be recognized in the actions or attitudes which contribute to improve health and to survive.
The intentioned effort we can make in order to live “attentive to the present” corresponds to a “mature” attitude since, in doing so, our harmony and calmness increase and therefore the health that strengthens our life. It is important to emphasize that this is not only beneficial for us, but also for the things and the people surrounding us.
To abandon our life to rambling means to abandon it to anxiety. When rambling, we become isolated from life. We lock ourselves up in the “image box” boosted by our memories. When we become isolated, empathy —which we need to connect with us, with the world and with others in a meaningful way— disappears. When empathy fades we remain isolated and stop connecting with others to start connecting with the “image we have of others”, the “image we have of the world and nature”. When isolated from life because of rambling, we lose our inner calmness and we create the conditions for fear and anxiety. The insecurity that goes with the isolation produced by rambling ends up developing selfish fantasies that try to make up for the anguish of remaining isolated. Insofar as selfishness is strengthened by means of selfish acts, our isolation in the “image box” that boosts our memories increases.
When these conditions are created we start to fall ill psychologically, emotively and physically. That is why we say that to live rambling, either consciously or by omission, corresponds to an “immature” attitude from the point of view of Life.
Finally, we would like to point out that there are not mature or immature people from the point of view of Life, but mature or immature acts or attitudes. Anyone usually “mature” has carried out “immature” actions and/or attitudes in their life, as well as anyone usually “immature” has carried out “mature” actions and/or attitudes in their life.
The great game of attentive life
Attention is a peaceful shelter from thought. It is certain that many of the beneficial properties of paying attention to the present have gone unnoticed throughout the course of human history. If things had been different, the selfishness that has caused so much suffering would have been replaced by the serenity and peace which result from focusing attention to the present.
Humans have a tendency to ramble and wander aimlessly. In life, we often swing between thoughts which evoke a past which never existed and thoughts in which we imagine a future that will never exist either. We find ourselves becoming distracted and distant, and the only life which actually exists, that which exists in the present, slips through our fingers. When we are unfocused and distracted, life passes us by.
This distraction is not the peaceful shelter we need. The anxiety which is born from ceaseless mental wandering is full of fears of insecurity and leads us to developing selfish behaviours which do not serve us.
This mental wandering is a compulsive expression of thought, although it is not the only expression of thought. This mental wandering is a result of the misuse of a marvellous tool afforded to us by evolution: Thought. If the goal of the evolution of life is to contribute to its preservation, the appropriate use of thought must be in its favour and not threaten its survival. This undirected mental wandering makes us ill with anxiety, isolates us from the world and creates an emotional state which is fertile ground for selfish and defensive behaviours, it is therefore a poor decision to allow this unfettered mental wandering to continue. Allowing ourselves to do this is an unhealthy and emotionally immature decision, as it hurts us and the people around us.
Living in the present rescues us from this immature conduct of which mental wandering is a part. Living in the present protects us against becoming ill with anxiety and prevents us from contaminating others with our own negative thoughts.
If we learn to centre ourselves in the present moment, we find that we have better communication, both with others and with ourselves, and at the same time see an increase in internal peace and serenity. Living in the here and now fills us with empathy for that which life searches for in order to survive. To live outside of the present moment puts our existence in danger, since distraction takes us away from the present moment and from other people. Distraction leads us down a path of isolation and with it the search for false solutions to the fears and insecurities produced by it.
Unless we are present in the moment, life will pass us by. Thinking involuntarily of past memories or dreams for the future prevents us from living the life which surrounds us and forces us to inhabit instead the narrow confines of our memories. To live distracted from the present is to damage life, damage that is undone when we pay attention to the present and accept the reality of life.
Living in the here and now affords us the opportunity of learning, as it allows us to listen to ourselves and others, without judgement or prejudice. Paying attention to the present connects us with our physical sensations, with our emotions, feelings and thoughts, accepting them as they are presented to us. Focusing attention on the here and now allows us to empathise with other people’s interpretations of the world. Centring ourselves in the present allows us to listen to others using our 5 senses, without preconceived value judgements. It allows us to discover the space that surrounds us, in which colours will become more vivid and sounds will become clearer.
Keeping our attention focused on the present requires practice and demands a conscious effort. To maintain mental awareness of physical sensations while doing what we need to do is a simple practice. We can focus our attention on one of our fists, or our nose as we inhale and exhale, or the position of our body. The important thing is that we keep our attention “turned on” and focused on what we are experiencing. This in itself will provide us with peace and serenity. It is important to clarify that as we spend more time practicing aour attention to the present on a daily basis, we will become increasingly aware of the growing impact it is having on our lives.
To grow and develop in healthy and sustainable ways requires us to live in harmony and this harmony doesn’t exist when we live outside of the present, as it produces and feeds anxiety, fear and the sensation of insecurity. Harmony presents itself to us as a way of satisfying a higher necessity. When we have satisfied our basic physical needs, the powerful urge to satisfy higher needs such as harmony and inner peace begins to emerge. It is not the same to try and satisfy the needs of relationships with others and with ourselves form a condition of anxiety and selfishness that stems from compulsive thinking, as it is to satisfy them from the serenity that comes from being present in the moment. When we satisfy the need for harmonious relationships with others and with ourselves, it is because our conduct is aligned with our values, such as honesty, humility, tolerance, acceptance, gratitude and so on.
Living harmoniously fills us with a deep joy, one that some people call “auto-realisation.” In order to create conditions of harmony and auto-realisation in our lives, it is necessary to learn to live in the present.
What is important
We are convinced that the important thing about bring mindful of the present is practising being mindful. No teaching about being mindful is more important than practice. For that reason, we don’t want to get lost in long explanations which would surely serve to condition us and distract us from what is really important: that of being mindful of what we are living.
In our exercises, we are striving for intentional awareness to be guided and sustained for us to be mindful of something that we are experiencing within ourselves. This behaviour will bring us the following benefits:
1. Preventatives and palliatives for dementia due to the increase in blood flow to the brain.
2. Relaxation, peace and harmony which come from finding ourselves when we are present.
3. A better understanding of ourselves and our nature as we pay attention to what is happening to us. Learning from our observation allows us to learn through ourselves and enriches us, so that as we choose our answers, we do so in a more effective way; something that provides our lives with meaning.
The value of being aware of the Present
As children we have a strong tendency to pay attention to everything that happens to us or which surrounds us. Accompanied by that eager and open ability to perceive everything that happens to us, we take our first steps in terms of learning. However, with the passage of time, our sense of perception diminishes, giving way to a fully-absorbed life in which our sense of awareness weakens. When we reach this stage of life, what has happened to our sense of perception and how does this change affect our emotions?
Our attention wanders reactively from one image to another, from one emotion to another, in a compulsive manner that we call “digression”, which seriously weakens our capacity for learning, empathy and tranquillity.
And that which we call “our real self” appears to us to be missing, distant, like an object that we need to find. Because of this, life becomes a constant effort to establish goals “to have or to be”. Achievements which we believe will allow us to find ourselves and “be happy” if we can accomplish them.
A digressive life progresses accompanied by the stress and anxiety which are produced by the search for one’s “missing” self. This is a state which is fed by the effort of chasing goals through which we dream of “becoming whole”.
It is important to emphasise that, by being aware of the present, we can gain a sense of having achieved the goal we have been chasing for so long. When we live in a self-aware manner, we live as we really are. We accept ourselves as we are. When we live in the now, we are already within ourselves and we don’t need to find ourselves.
When we live in the now, our sense of tranquillity, harmony and inner peace grows.
That is why we believe that, whatever degree of awareness or level of satisfaction of their needs a person may have achieved, if they are able to maintain their awareness in respect of the reality in which they live, they will be able to reach that state of harmony associated with living in the present. This is why we think it makes sense to develop a stimulation programme to use when working with people with mental health problems, which lets us teach them how to live in the present. The aim of all this is to help people to overcome the anxiety and stress that are related to living a digressive life.
It may be that working on being aware of the present, when carried out with people with mental health problems, isn’t enough to do more than enable them to reach that level of harmony produced by living incidentally in the now. It may be that working on being aware of the present, when carried out with people with mental health problems, doesn’t allow them to reach as high a level of attentiveness as that of self-observation. The level of attentiveness necessary to experience that which I describe doesn’t necessarily correspond with what I perceive (which allows me to understand that my valuations are solely to do with me and not with the stimulus that produces them). However, we believe that working on awareness exercises will help us to provide patients with calming and harmonious experiences which will help to improve their quality of life and that of those around them.
The value of a smile
It is important to learn how to smile with our eyes, our mouths, our brains and our emotions. It is important to learn how to construct a smile, whether or not we feel like smiling.
Smiling is healthy. Smiling gives us energy. Smiling gives us vitality. Smiling helps to reduce the anxiety and tensions that can accompany our thoughts. Smiling infuses our thoughts with kindness.
Smiling makes life easier. Smiling is contagious. It affects our lives and those of people around us. Smiling sweetens what we have to say. Smiling propels our thoughts and our actions towards generosity. Smiling can make others smile. Smiling is pleasant. Smiling regularly in our everyday life is a form of practising the joy of living.
Smiling is the practical culmination of the effort that is involved in returning time and again to the notion of self-awareness in the face of our distractions. Smiling makes life good. Smiling makes it easy to accept the reality in which we live. Smiling helps us to confront those thoughts that can produce anxiety and suffering and, as a result, reduce the tensions that accompany them.
It is important to learn to live smiling. A smile is a powerful tool. A smile expresses and produces joy. A self-aware life is a smiling life.
The need to live in the now
Let’s think for a moment about high risk sports. Let’s think about what those who practise them say: “I feel alive”, “I feel a huge strength inside me”, “I’m at one with nature”, “All of my senses open up”, etc.
We can experience something similar in relation to a spectacular sunrise or sunset, a dream location or a special piece of music that leaves us open-mouthed. We feel like all we are is eyes and ears, and our breathing changes.
What is really happening here? If we disregard the amount of adrenaline involved in high risk sport, what we can see is that the thing which all of these scenarios have in common is that they involve living in the moment. There is no digression, we’re completely dedicated to that experience.
In risky situations, there’s no time for pointless digressions because our lives are at stake. There’s no use in thinking about the past or the future. All of our attention is focused on the present and that makes us feel alive.
The same thing happens in the case of a spectacular sunrise. We understand it without needing any words, there’s no rushing about, no anxiety, no past or future. The only thing that exists is that moment and what we feel.
We feel alive, really alive, conclusively alive which is so important. If we’re unable to find self-satisfaction we will live, but only in the sense that we’re not dead and not because we want to or feel that life is something worth living.
The awareness that we want to encourage
During our lifetime, many internal and external stimuli will “attract” our attention. We call this type of awareness unintentional awareness, in that it is not intentionally produced.
In our exercises, what we try to do is to promote and maintain an individual’s deliberate awareness. In our daily lives and as a way of life. Deliberate awareness is a type of awareness that requires effort. And that is because the ability to be deliberately aware can only come about intentionally, that is to say, only if one wants it to.
Preventing and alleviating senile dementia
The sustained reduction in the flow of blood to the brain deprives its neurones of the nutrients they need for the brain to function properly. A long-term lack of proper circulation in the brain can end up becoming a symptom of dementia.
Maintaining an active brain assists its circulation, helping to prevent and alleviate senile and early onset dementia.
Eco-doppler ultrasounds illustrate how “paying attention to the present” increases the flow of blood to the brain. Accordingly, “paying attention to the present” can provide us with a simple, natural, non-invasive and zero-cost tool to help prevent and alleviate senile and early onset dementia.
This is why the objective of developing this project is to develop activities and exercises, over the course of a day, which grab the attention of each participant, and which promote the kind of brain circulation which alleviates and/or delays the worsening of the participants’ symptoms of dementia.
This project dispenses with descriptions, analysis or statements that distract those who are trying to live a self-aware life. The knowledge needed to start paying attention to oneself in the present is simple. So simple, that it seems to us to be unhelpful to distract ourselves with unnecessary studies, given that the key point is to obtain the benefits of “being aware of the present”, rather than just talking about them.
Distraction in “The great game of the Mindful life”
If the important thing for our health and personal balance is to be mindful of what we are living, all the knowledge about being mindful of ourselves is incapable of producing the benefits that its practice generates. Everything that is not aimed towards sustaining and being mindful of our interior experiences distracts and has a secondary value. As such, we are incapable of reaping the benefits of relaxation, calm, peace and harmony that come from this encounter with ourselves.
If this is true then, compared with the briefest experience of being mindful to the present, the following will have a secondary value:
What the most knowledgeable of wise men and women has to say about being mindful of the present.
What the most lucid of teachers has to say about being mindful to the present.
What the most sacred of books has to say about being mindful of the present.
What the most erudite of books has to say about being mindful of the present.
What the best of speakers on the topic has to say about being mindful of the present.
What the internet with its best explanations on the topic has to say about being mindful of the present.
On the other hand, placing any of the previous references above our experience of “living the present” makes us psychologically dependent on them, distracting us from what is really important, that of “living being aware of what we are living”.
Considerations about attention to the Present
Let’s try some considerations here about attention to the present.
1. Attention and Concentration.
When someone is engrossed in reading a book or writing an essay, we know with certainty that they are concentrating on that activity. We know that this person is hardly receptive to any other thing at that time. All of their energy is focused, centralized on that activity. This is concentration.
Attention is different. It’s about putting forth an open attitude to stimuli that come to us. We will not be concentrated on something, but rather we will be centered on ourselves at the same time that we are receptive and conscious of what is happening around us without any more considerations.
1. Attending to the inside and outside.
Children can pay attention to what happens on the outside with ease. The stimuli capture, attract their attention, though it may not last long. However, rarely does a child attend to their own internal stimuli, that which is produced inside their own bodies, that is: their moods, if they are sleepy or tired, if they feel pleasure or fear.
The child’s body isn’t one of their objects of attention. Without this education, in their adult lives they will still not be able to attend and perceive what occurs inside them.
1. Attention and distraction.
The practice of attending to the present is fundamental to being able to locate ourselves in the outside world, in each situation that we find ourselves, as much as if it were within ourselves (our internal states).
If distraction is the opposite of attention; that is, the inability to maintain attention, it is clear that a distracted life will lead us to live in a state of disorientation that will spread our energy thin across thousands of things and nothing.
Practicing the attention to the present since childhood will help us carry out a full life, stable and free. However, in order to put something into practice, it is necessary to have the will to do it. Just like how we learn a game by playing it over and over willingly, we will learn to pay attention by doing so voluntarily, in that way learning what attention is and isn’t, and with that, its benefits and results.
Let’s summarize the points that we have wanted to highlight here:
– Attention is not the same as concentration. Attention isn’t concentrating on something, focusing on it with intensity.
– Attention to the present involves us with ourselves.
– Attention to what we experience has to be carried out voluntarily.
– We can and need to learn to pay attention to what we experience in the moment. That is what we call attention to the present.
– Attention only exists in the present. I can only pay attention here and now.
Comments on the exercises to “Live in the Present”
The Big Game of Living Attentively
They can be useful if you bear in mind that the important thing is paying attention to the sensations experienced, and not to be distracted by the thoughts that come up during the exercises. If not, they’ll just be evocative exercises (memory). It may happen because we didn’t think the exercises were viable, thus getting involved in representations that make us pay attention to our thoughts, distracting us from our senses.
In addition to the exercises, living daily attentive encourages focusing on what you are doing, happily. It involves paying attention in a way that favours a willingness to incorporate being on the present as a way of life; during daily activities including crafts, entertainment, eating lunch, snacking, going for a walk or using the bathroom.
We aim to incorporate focusing on the present as a programme of daily stimulation as part of the daily habits. Participants benefit from increased blood flow to the brain and the relaxation and harmony that come from finding ourselves through being present, understanding ourselves and our nature better.
Observing our conversations gives us the opportunity to pay attention to what we are thinking and learn to recognise the assumptions or beliefs that impede our personal and societal growth. The assumptions or beliefs that impede our personal and societal growth tend to form the basis of our behaviours and are difficult to recognise, as we identify ourselves with them. We believe that we are the same as our thoughts, although these thoughts aren’t based on reason.
The roots of personal and societal conflicts lie in identifying with the assumptions. Observing the assumptions that we detect differentiates us from them and the conflicts associated with them. When we detect a conflict during the dialogue, we can recognise that it is connected to identification with an assumption. When we accept this, the thought loses power, allowing us to be more creative and less reactive.
Assumptions or beliefs model the way that we think and interpret what we perceive. If we don’t detect them, assumptions or beliefs will affect our personal and societal development. We need to overcome assumptions to enable ourselves, and achieve what we need to.
Digression causes us to lose contact with reality. This disconnection from reality means that our thoughts lead us to confuse our beliefs and assumptions with reality. Digression activates the deception mechanism, so we confuse reality with our interpretation of it. This is why it is fundamental, if we aim to detect our prejudices, to “stay in the present”. Through “staying in the present”, we connect with reality.
Recognising and accepting an assumption associated with something or someone gives us the freedom to observe reality through new eyes.
The learning that comes with detecting and overcoming assumptions that affect our learning changes our perception of the world and our relationship with it. By changing our perception of the world and our relationship with it, we contribute to our coherence and personal harmony.