Present-moment awareness

Tightrope Walker

Present-moment awareness is both the starting point and the ending point of inner leadership.

In a world filled with political crises, demonstrations, wildfires, shootings, and floods it is easy to find ourselves churning inside — distracted from our priorities.

So the first steps of Inner Leadership are to Centre, Ground, and Connect Deeply with what matters most to us. Once we have done this, then we can decide how to move forward.

The first, essential, step — to Centre — involves letting go of any inner churning we might be experiencing.

One of the simplest ways of achieving this is through present-moment awareness.

Present-moment awareness means not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, not thinking about things that might or might not be happening on the other side of the world. Instead, it means focusing on what is actually happening, right here, right now, in this present moment, in reality as it truly is.

To achieve this, pause for a second. Sit or stand still. Breathe in and hold your breath for a count of three. Then let it out slowly and do the same again.

Now bring your attention to what is happening around you. What can you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? Describe it to yourself as if you were describing it to another person.

Now shift your attention inside your body. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly. What are you feeling in your body? Where? Describe it as if you were describing it to another person. Are you experiencing any recurrent thoughts? What are they? Describe them as if to another person. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly.

Now bring your attention back to your surroundings. What is happening around you in this present moment? What can you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? Describe it to yourself as if you were describing it to another person.

You can repeat this cycle as many times as you like. And as you do so you are likely to notice three things:

— First, the more we become a detached observer and describer of our thoughts and feelings the less likely we are to get caught up in them. We can realise that whatever we are thinking or feeling now, it is different from what we were thinking or feeling 2 days ago and it is different from what we will be thinking or feeling in 2 days time. We don’t have to get wrapped up in what we are thinking or feeling now: our thoughts and feelings are just experiences we are having, they are not ‘who we are’.

— Second, the more we notice the details of the reality around us the less we get caught up in the fantasies of our minds. This centres us and reconnects us to reality as it truly is, outside our minds.

— And third, we begin to realise that most of the churning we experience is not caused by the events outside us but by the ways that we interpret those events: especially when we remember the past or imagine what the future might bring. And if we are causing our own inner churning, that means we can change it.

After we have centred, the rest of Inner Leadership is about grounding ourselves more deeply and finding a way forward that inspires us and others to do what we most want to do.

And when we get there then, as any climber or tightrope walker knows, present moment awareness becomes the secret to peak performance: planning if we need to plan, implementing if we need to implement, and reviewing progress if we need to review. Doing it all in the present moment, not thinking about the past or the future.

Once you achieve present-moment awareness then you are doing the most that you can do and being the most that you can be, in every present moment.

How much time do you currently spend worrying about the future, or dwelling on the past? What about the members of your team? Would it be useful to shift yourself or the people around you to spending more time in the present moment?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Noel Reynolds via

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