I’m not a very observant or mindful person. I walk the same route to and from work every day, and yet, I couldn’t tell you the names of most streets I pass by. For me, commuting time is an opportunity to disconnect and shut out all the sensory information around me. I can just put in my headphones, crank up the tunes, and retreat into my mind or go on autopilot until I’ve reached wherever I’m going.

I’ve only recently noticed how much faster time goes when you take this approach to life. With my one-year work anniversary rapidly approaching, I’ve noticed how quickly time moves, and how I’ve barely accomplished the things I said I’d do by this time. To an extent, I’ve set my life on fast-forward by refusing to be present—by obsessing over the past, worrying about the future, and taking a passive role in my own life. I’ve opted for a fast-forward lifestyle because I thought it meant I could skip over all the confusion and heartache of the present and bring me to the end spot I’ve always wanted to reach.

Recently, my therapist asked me if I ever meditated or engaged in other mindful activities. She asked me if I could pick one place, visualize it in my mind, and describe what it looked like, sounded like, smelled like, etc. I couldn’t describe a single place in such a way—no matter what it was, I was always missing one of the descriptors. And it made me realize that I’ve never stopped to truly take in any one place. I’ve never taken the time to really be present anywhere.

I couldn’t help but ask myself, “if I’m not taking the time to be present—where is that time going?”

Deepak Chopra once said, “life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.” I used to be the kind of person who’d scoff at this idea of being “mindful” or present. I’d make some joke about being too ADD to do it or say it was an outlook reserved for yogis and health nuts. After speaking with my therapist, however, I decided to try being a bit more “mindful.” And so, for my 2.5 mile walk home from work I didn’t listen to music. I forced myself to be present. I forced myself to listen to the sounds of the city. I forced myself to notice other people and things. I forced myself to pay attention to the buildings I pass by daily. And one stuck out to me:

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I walk by Paper Source every day, but I never noticed their slogan until I started paying attention. Seeing it for the first time made me wonder just how many things I miss. Seeing it reminded me of how much time and energy I waste on trivial things that don’t make me any better of a person. Things like complaining and worrying or watching too much TV. And for the first time in a long time, I felt compelled to take an active role in my own life, to be present and mindful of how I’m living, and how I need to live to be happy.

After months of depression, apathy, and anxiety, I’m finally feeling like I understand how to move forward. And it starts with being present.

It starts by:

Taking in the world around you—acknowledging the everyday things and people you take for granted, seeing yourself and the world in an exploratory and objective way

Acting on the things you want—there’s no point in delaying something another day. If you can do it now, do it now. Don’t let yourself create arbitrary reasons to not do the things you want to do.

Breathing—being mindful of your breath and letting yourself escape your thoughts

Connecting—showing the people you love you care and that you’re as invested in them as you are in yourself

Being a witnesstaking in what’s happening, feeling it and experiencing it, and then letting go.

Being mindful isn’t easy. It’s hard to break old habits and allow yourself to feel things and be present. But at the end of the day, time moves too fast to not stop and enjoy things.

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