February 4, 2013

A Way To Live More Fully

What follows is a guest post from author Boyd Lemon. His most recent book, Retirement: A Memoir and Guide, is an insightful and interesting look at one man's attempt to achieve a satisfying retirement. I'm pleased to share some of his thoughts on an important topic: living fully by living in the moment.

A Way to Live More Fully: Being Present

By Boyd Lemon

            One of the advantages and joys of retirement is the time to figure out some things that you just couldn’t focus on when you were working full time.  Figure out how to live more fully. One way is to “be present” or “live in the moment” as much as possible.  When you are present you notice and find joy in the beauty around you that you never noticed before. It really works, but you have to make the effort because most of us have spent years out of the present, worrying about the future, planning, or reminiscing about the past.

Being present means focusing on what is in front of you at the moment.  The first time I was aware of another person who was “being present” was while talking with a woman I had recently met. There was conversation all around her, and her attention was not on me. I asked her a question. She turned to look at me and answered the question fully, which took several minutes. During that time she continued looking straight at me, concentrating totally on what she was saying and my reaction. Weeks later, I was eating dinner with a friend and noticed how she focused on chewing and the taste of the food, and did not converse much during the meal. When either of us talked, she stopped eating and was “present” for the conversation. Without trying, these people taught me what “being present” is.

The more we practice being present, the less frequently our minds will wander back to the past or forward to the future.  I practice observing everything around me wherever I am—just being. I practice when I am doing mundane, everyday tasks. When I brush my teeth, rather than daydream or think about what I am going to do that day, I focus my attention fully on brushing my teeth, noticing exactly where I am brushing, what it feels like, what it tastes and smells like and the sound that it makes. When I do the dishes, I try to concentrate totally on that, rather than daydream about something. When I walk on the beach, unless the purpose of my walk is to think about something, I try not to think of anything except what I see, hear and smell on the beach. What a difference from when I used to walk on the beach and afterwards barely remember the walk! Being present is experiencing life; anything else is less.

Living in the moment 100 percent of the time, even if possible, would invite disaster for all but cloistered monks. Sometimes, it is necessary to plan future activities or desirable to think about what we have learned in the past in order to solve present problems or avoid present threats to our well being, but clinging sentimentally to the unending stream of items that have flowed through our lives detracts from living.

Here are some techniques I use to bring myself back to the present when my mind wanders.

• Use my senses to focus on what’s right in front of me. I look at what’s in front of me now. I listen to the sounds around me, and touch something near me that is appropriate to touch, and notice how it feels.

• Focus on my breathing. I take a couple of dozen deep breaths and focus my mind on inhaling and exhaling, as in meditation. This brings me back to the present moment.

• Focus on my body. I try to feel the energy inside my body. One way to do this is to focus on my hand, to notice how my hand feels and how the energy flows through it.

• Practice when I travel. Practicing being present is often fruitful when I travel because I am often seeing things for the first time. It is easier to focus on something new, and not as difficult to keep my mind from wandering.

• See things as for the first time. This can be useful when I have a hard time just observing my surroundings. I try to look at things as if I were observing them for the first time, like a child who has never experienced this before. Sometimes it feels really nice. I have watched my grandchildren. Young children live in the present. It comes naturally to them.  Most of us lose that ability during the pressures of adult life.  Retirement offers the opportunity to retrieve it.

*Boyd Lemon-Author of Retirement: A Memoir and Guide; Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany; Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages; and 4 other books. Information, reviews and excerpts: http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com.  Amazon Author Page: http://www.Amazon.com/author/boydlemon.

Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this guest post or its promotional value.


  1. Bob,
    I am so glad I read your post as I struggle with this. What I find fascinating is how I assumed that "living in the moment" came naturally to young kids, as you pointed out, and then came back naturally when you retire. Of course, I'm assuming that you are not worrying about a lack of money, or that could mess things up. Basically, I thought it was related to "wisdom."

    1. Living in the moment is either a natural condition or a developed skill...frankly I'm not sure which, though I lean towards a skill that must be cultivated. Our culture is so full of distractions and stimuli that focusing on "right now" takes effort. Boyd's examples of the woman who gave her full attention to him after a question and while eating her meal are excellent examples of what it means to be fully present.

      He also cites focusing on mundane tasks, like brushing your teeth in the moment. I just tried that this morning and caught myself drifting to other thoughts. Living fully in the moment is not easy, but I believe does reward us with a fuller life.

      I read most of your "gutsy" stories on your blog. I venture to guess most of those folks do live for the moment and have learned to focus on a goal.

      Thanks, Sonia.

    2. I remember reading about taking pleasure in everyday things like laundry, etc. As I mentioned to you before, I never found it possible to slow down and live in the moment until I was "bored" for the first time since being a child, in Belize. Perhaps that explains why poor third world country kids smile. They are enjoying simple things right now, not worrying about when they can buy their next gadget.

  2. Enjoyable article. Especially relevant in these times where being able to multi-task is held as such a virtue/talent. This also brings to mind articles that relate to being able to appreciate more fully one's life and all that surround it. Thanks.

    1. To not multi-task is be seen as a bit "odd" by our peers. Interestingly, one of the things I really like about being gone somewhere in our RV is the ease at which I can stop multi-tasking. The number of distractions is limited and the closeness to nature seem to force me to slow down and quiet my mind a little.

  3. Wow. Very helpful to me as I've spent lots of years trying to accomplish as much as possible. I am not sure if I always had a mind that wandered in three directions at once, but an adulthood of a being a single working mom certainly brought it out. I, like Sonia, thought it would come to me as I retired. Not so much! I'm still dealing with overbooking myself, thinking of three things at once & paradoxically having a struggle remembering what I want to do when I'm focusing on that particular situation.

    One thing I have figured out is the relaxing/focusing on my breathing. I use that as a meditation/slow down technique.

    Thanks! pam

    1. I was just reading Linda Myers' most recent post on her experiences as a first time snowbird in Tucson. Speaking of not slowing down...heavens..she is a blur of activity and thoughts. Check it out under the link on the right sidebar to Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting.

      My experience mirrors Sonia's, yours, and Linda's: retirement does not necessarily = single-mindedness!

  4. Living in the moment comes naturally to very young children, but I think we began to lose that ability when we start school and are expected to be able to multi-task, and we see everyone else doing it. Keep in mind to that very young children don't have much of a past and cannot comprehend the future, so it is easier for them. For us retirees we have to re-learn it, and it takes practice. I have been working on it for about 7 years now, and I still have difficulty sometimes, but I'm a lot better than I was 7 years ago, and am the happier for it. I don't think how much money you have matters, so long as you have enough to cover the basic necessities of food, medical care shelter and modest clothing. In fact, too much money can be a hinderance, just as having too much stuff can. You are so busy thinking about how to spend your money and use your stuff that you don't live in the moment.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  5. Greetings from Thailand!

    I've been learning about and applying this practice for some years now, and my life has gotten so much easier as a result. I'd also recommend reading The Power of Now by Eckert Tolle. I took it with me on this trip to read on the flight over since I still struggle with flying anxiety. It was a hugh assistance in keeping my mind focused calmly in the present, vs racing ahead and obsessing over "what ifs."


    1. Great to hear from you and Mike! I'm glad your flight went well and you are enjoying a lifelong dream.

      Boyd's article is excellent. He makes tremendous sense in his approach to living life to the fullest.

      We're all looking forward to pictures and stories from the Far East!

  6. I like that practice of doing a "sensory survey," checking in with all your senses (not just sight) in the present moment. That is very grounding and also expands our awareness because we are usually so focused on sight. Good advice!

  7. How serendipitous coming upon this great article while I am midway through listening to Eckhart Tolle on Practicing the Power of Now.

  8. Yes, Tolle is one of my "bibles." "The Power of Now" is, well, powerful. It helped me enormously in understanding what living in the moment can do, and, how to do it. And, Galen, your idea of a sensory survey is an excellent way of being present. Thank you all for your contributions. You might check my website every now and then. I intend to post regular articles on how to live life more fully. I will put up a new article today or tomorrow. http://BoydLemon-Writer.com.