Being present is often treated as something to strive for. It is a kind of Holy Grail of spirituality and well being.

Being present is where you live when your head is out of the way.

Why is it so elusive?

How Our Heads Get In The Way

It never ceases to amaze me how much our heads get in the way of living well and enjoying life. It happens so innocently, too.

Our heads which are in the business of helping us and trying to make sure we survive, grapple with our environments and questions about our lives and ourselves in an attempt to make our lives worthwhile. Our brains start at a very young age with the business of making meaning. Our immature brains do not know that when we are young we are unable to fully make meaning. However, our young brains are undaunted by what we do not know and plunge into the complex waters of meaning.

Our meaning makers bump up against the meaning makers of our parents and families as well as our cultures. A lot of mistakes get made in the area of meaning, resulting in prejudice and stereotypes that we then have to work awfully hard to eradicate.

Once we have made meaning, then we continually work with that meaning as we make a life in the world. So we are often drawn back to the past as we try to come to terms with mistaken conclusions we have formed about ourselves and others. So naturally being present is out of the question.

How we made meaning can affect our view of the future and whether or not we over focus on the future. If we learned to dread our environment as a child we may have a recurring and habitual dread and project that on to the future. If we experience a lot of chaos as a child we may come to expect that out future will be the same.

Childhood Costs Us Our Ability To Be Present

Inevitably we experience the holes in development of our families and out cultures as a child. These experiences, whether mild or severe, cause us to develop defenses around our selves and our relationships with others. We learn to fear, which takes us out of our natural loving natures. Fear and being present are antithetical to one another. Fear may be rational or irrational; when it arises it generally puts us into our heads and not in the present. Unless, of course we are being chased by a tiger, then we cannot not be present.

We lose our ability to be present in childhood for several reasons:

  • we have to survive and are dependent on others so we become attuned to our families as a survival mechanism
  • we learn the rules, roles and expectations of our culture which cause us to want to do what is expected
  • cultures create rewards for our conformity and we learn to seek those rewards as validation of our goodness and worthiness.

Belonging is nice but it is often achieved by giving up our true selves. Being popular can feel good and it can also become something that we come to depend on as a part of our identity. We may have gained many skills and experiences from childhood to adulthood. Often, however, we enter adulthood having bonded with our culture but having lost our ability to be present to the awesomeness of the living world.

Why It Is Hard To Be Present

Being present is difficult because it:

  • reminds us of our aloneness. When being present, you are more aware of yourself as a contributor to the world with full responsibility for your actions and decisions. You are also more aware of the fact that no one can make your decisions or take your actions but yourself.
  • reminds of our anonymity or invisibility. Being present can make us aware of our actions wile at the same time reminding us that we are only one person in a multi-billion person tribe in a world with even larger numbers of other species. It can be humbling.
  • remind us of how temporary everything is – so it can remind us of our own death.

Being present can raise fears that make it hard to take that leap of faith into the abundance that it offers us.

The Gifts Of Being Present

Being alert and alive means that you are awake to:

  • what is and also what is not
  • the limitlessness of time and space
  • the unknown and the treasures that you may find
  • the creative potential of each moment to manifest healing, and new ways of living
  • the freshness and innocence of each new moment
  • the gift of being alive which you share with all other beings
  • the courage of being present
  • the necessity of being present
  • the joy of being present.

All roads in life lead to the present. It is our shared home with all other living beings. It is where we decide to let go and heal. It is where we take a chance on ourself, someone else, and where we offer something new.

Being present is where the hope is.

See you there!

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.


  1. Ingrid A. McNeil on September 11, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I vote for hope!

    Ingrid McNeil

  2. Nikki Mendez on June 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    I’d also like to add that for some of us, we were always tasked with considering & planning for the future by well-meaning parents & adults in our lives. This was the case for me, and I don’t recall my family ever telling me to “be present.” Planning, preparing, anticipating was a badge of honor in our family; it meant we were forward-thinking and not just some “carpe diem” kind of creature.
    I admit, I didn’t do it with my children either, but even though they’re grown I try to help them stay present. I’m doing better with my grandson (don’t we all LOL!), and it took me a while to shake the stigma of just being in the present moment. I still have to slow down and tell myself, “Stop,” when my thoughts go too far into the future and remind myself to enjoy right now because that’s what I have – right now!

    • Maria Hill on June 17, 2015 at 5:35 am

      Thanks, Nikki for such a thoughtful post. I agree with you about anticipating too much – I have been known to do that also. Anticipation can be wise in trying to use your time well and not create unnecessary problems for yourself or it can be fear based. I do not think you have to let go of anticipation but you can ask yourself when making decisions if the decision is your wisest choice as a check to make sure that you are not being overly impulsive. It is always hard to strike a balance and that is all it has to be. There is no shame in that!

      All the best,

  3. Annys Blackwell on March 13, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Once again we’re on the same wavelength, Maria! I decided yesterday that it would be worthwhile working with the Chapter on Mindfulness in Nancy J Napier’s book on healing the effects of childhood trauma, ‘Getting Through The Day’ (there’s another one, ‘Recreating Your Self’). And of course, if you stay in the moment, you’re going to be more aware of the undercurrents making life difficult, and you need ways of handling it all – which Nancy Napier goes into in detail. But your article fills out the story beautifully – very many thanks, and love.