(Excerpt from my upcoming book Wing It & Win)
Nearly all of the great personal development books, speakers, and religions mention that one of the best ways to Be in the world is to be present. Living Now in the current moment, without fretting about the past or worrying about the future is a fairly ubiquitous injunction. Be Here Now.
The tricky question that follows that thinking is, “How do I do that?” because it’s easy to say, but it is often quite hard to do. Living in the now requires an active mind that is aware of when it is sneaking off. Being present requires a calm, meditative mind. Most people in the world today are not great at that. It’s very fast-paced and there are a lot of things clamoring for our attention.
I’ve learned an Improv way to be present. In truth, doing Improv at all can be very meditative and it will certainly ground you in the Now.
It’s simple to see how it works when you dissect it just a bit. Improv games are usually about being in a scene. Just being in a scene requires a lot of work. Who is my character? Where are we? What is our relationship? What is the “plot” and a hundred little character bits too, like an accent, a physicality, how you hold yourself, how you walk, and many more.
Then we ladle a game on top of that: You can only ask questions! You have to start each sentence with the next letter of the alphabet OR maybe you can talk, but you can’t move. This person will move your body around for the entire scene.
Have all of that in your brain AND use your body to show us where you are. Interact with the invisible environment so we can see the room and the drink you’re holding.
Having this much to handle all at once completely occupies your brain leaving no room for you to think about your mortgage or your kids or what you have to do tomorrow. You can only be here… now. It’s a great calming balm for the mind.
And while everyone isn’t ready for or possibly can’t find a group or stage to be on to get into that situation, there is a smaller way to handle it.
Try this: Pick something that you do almost every day. Something you do practically by rote. Like making your coffee in the morning or getting your cereal and bowl all ready. It can be anything that you do quite often that has multiple steps.
Do that thing right now, without the actual items at hand. Think carefully about how you actually open a cabinet. Do you keep your hand on the door while the other hand reaches in or do you need both hands to grab? What’s the weight of the items as you pick them up? Is something slippery or require a soft touch to maneuver?
Go through all the steps, one by one, feeling the weight and being precise. How do you Really do that when you do it every day?
It takes some focus because you’re not used to thinking about it. You just normally do it. But doing it without the objects in hand forces you to be here now, to be connected with your body and not being distracted by anything else in the world.
In Improv it’s called Object Work. Some out in the real world might say Pantomime. Whatever you call it, I say it is a shortcut to meditation. It’s a way to connect with your body and only focus on one thought or motion at a time. If you can be focused on getting it right, you will be in the zone.
Try this: Pretend to open and go through a door.
This is something you’ve done a million times but you have a pretty bad handle on how you actually do it. Go ahead and try it a couple of times.
How high is a doorknob? Lower than you think.
Which way does the door open, away or towards you? From the left or the right? You’re allowed to choose those things in advance, but the rest is memory. How do you use your other hand? What hand actually moves the door? If you think about it, you may realize that you need to move out of the way a bit or turn your body because otherwise you would hit your hip with an incoming door.
Why aren’t you better at knowing how to open a door? Again, it’s something you’ve done a million times.
The why is simple. You don’t think about it at all. It’s by rote and you have better things to do and think about, right?
But, be here now. Focus on opening a real door. See how you hold it and move it and move through.
After practicing that a bit… and I completely encourage you to go test it now. Even if you’re “Oh! so comfortable” right now. By not doing it, you miss out on something. If you’ve bought a book to learn something, you cheat yourself out of the learning by skipping the exercises.
So, after practicing that a bit, let’s try again to go through an imaginary door. But this time, I want you to really think about how you close it behind you. What does that feel like? How do you move your arms? How do you spin, turn, or lean your body when you close a door behind you?
If you’re like everyone that hasn’t practiced this before, you have simply no idea how you close a door behind you. It’s almost a mystery how bad you are at knowing how to close a door that you’ve walked through. The reason is that usually when you’ve opened a door, your mind is already down the hall or in the next room. Your attention has moved into the future and the door is in your past. Your body handles it because it’s done it a million times without your input. But isn’t it amazing how little you really know about how you do this thing that you do at least a few times every day?
So again, it just points out how you’re trapped either thinking about the future or the past instead of being where you are. Enjoy the doorway, the motion it takes to handle the door, and maybe even the hallway. Hallways get short shrift. Nobody is really in a hallway unless forced to wait in one for a while. Usually, you’re thinking about the door at the end of the hallway and what’s on the other side. Be here now. Enjoy the hallway; the ugly carpeting or the cool art.
While it’s hard for most modern people, living in an ever-increasingly speedy world, to meditate (especially us busy, busy American’s) it is a worthwhile pursuit. It wouldn’t show up in various religions and all of the great texts about how to be a better person. Be Here Now is a great power. It helps to calm your mind and lets you breathe easier.
Try it. DO some Object Work. Walk through some fake doors. There’s no award. You don’t win any prizes, but you just might find yourself to be calmer, more collected, and more able to handle whatever comes next better than you would have.