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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Present Moment Awareness: Quotations for Reflection and Discussion

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash

posted by Catharine Hannay

Here are a variety of perspectives on mindfulness, meditation, paying attention, stillness, and the present moment. You may want to use them for personal reflection or for teaching adults or youth. 

Note on links: I don't have an affiliate account, so other than royalties for my own book, I don't get any kind of fee if you buy books through links from this site. I just like to include information about the sources of the quotes so you know where they really come from. (The internet is full of quotations of dubious provenance—I recently saw something attributed to the Dalai Lama that's actually from a Henry James novel.)

The Meaning of Mindfulness and Meditation

“Meditation. Training in coming back to being right here with gentleness and precision.”

“Be far away, far away from the world of chaos and uncertainty, live in it untouched... The meditative mind is unrelated to the past and to the future and yet is sanely capable of living with clarity and reason.

“Mindfulness means intensifying our presence to the moment, stilling ourselves to absorb it, instead of escaping it or trying to alter it, through thought or action. [...] It means stopping to make contact with the ever-shifting experience that we are having at the time, and to observe the nature of our relationship to that experience, the nature of our presence at that moment.”

“The practice of mindfulness, whether you’re doing it in some formal way, meditating in a sitting posture or lying down doing a body scan or doing mindful hatha yoga—the real practice is living your life as if it really mattered from moment to moment. The real practice is life itself.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett

“When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep. Nay, when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts are some part of the time taken up with external occurrences, I some part of the time call them back again to my walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of that solitude, and to myself.” 

The Power of Stillness

“My wireless connection to the internet had suddenly stopped working... So I put all my deep technological know-how to work: I yelled at it. No change. So I yelled at it some more. When that didn’t work... I unplugged everything and waited one minute.

 While everything was unplugged, I had nothing to do, so I just sat there. It’s strange, because one minute is so little, but when the time was up, I felt noticeably different.”
Peter Bregman, “Restore Yourself to Factory Default Settings,” Harvard Business Review


“We pay a high price when we hurry. We lose our poise and dignity. When we rush, we bang around, grab things, break things, and forget things... we’re not mindful... and certainly not practicing lovingkindness toward others... People feel slighted by those who rush. The message is that we aren’t good enough or important enough to spend time with; their next appointment, person, or event is more significant than we are.”

The Challenges of Staying Present

“In traditional times, Native Americans lived naturally in the present moment. But today our attention is spread over so many things, and there is so much stimulation coming at us all the time, that those parts of the brain don’t get as developed, and we have difficulty finding our balance.”

Renda Dionne Mindful Healing Through Storytelling,”
 Mindful Magazine

“I know that even when I am alone, I like music in the background, or the sound of the radio. I have to force myself to turn it off and simply sit down. But it is only when we go against the grain and force ourselves to do this that we begin to see the usual noise our minds make, that we begin to let that clutter settle down and to sense the real world around us. This is necessary for any serious prayer or meditation.” 

“I think it is very seductive to form a picture in your mind of how it will be, or how you would like it to be, and then frantically try to apply that picture to what is actually happening.”

The Present Moment 
and the Passing of Time

Time, as we all know, passes. Whether it returns in quite the same way is doubtful.”
Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet

“I wanted to go on sitting here [...] keeping the moment precious for all time, because we were peaceful all of us, we were content and drowsy even as the bee who droned above our heads. In  little while it would be different, there would come tomorrow, and the next day, and another year. And we would be changed, perhaps, never sitting quite like this again. [...] For them, it was just after lunch, quarter-past-three on a haphazard afternoon, like any hour, like any day. They did not want to hold it close, imprisoned and secure, as I did.
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

“They say that when you are old, as I am, your body slows down. I don't believe it. No, I think that is quite wrong. I have a theory that you do not slow down at all, but that life slows down for you. You understand me? Everything becomes languid, as it were, and you can notice so much more when things are in slow motion. The things you see! The extraordinary things that happen all around you, that you never even suspected before! It really is a delightful adventure, quite delightful!”
Mrs. Kralefsky, in My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

“By definition, we overlook the mundane in our lives... Imagine attending to every turn of a faucet, every nick of the floorboard, or every gust of wind. That would be like trying to have a conversation in the middle ring of a circus. Too much. And yet selectively turning the beam of your attention on the quotidian can provoke and inspire.”

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
Look! and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”

Mary Oliver, ‘Mysteries, Yes’ from Evidence: Poems

Suggested Questions for Reflection and Discussion

You may want to use these questions for personal contemplation or to engage your students in discussion or reflective writing. (As always with personal topics, please respect your students' decisions about how much they choose to share with you or with the group.)


Which of these quotes resonates for you the most/the least? 
  • Are there any quotes here that you don't agree with? Why?
  • What have you been taught (in school or in your family) about focusing on the present moment, as opposed to the past or the future? 
  • When do you typically find it easier or harder to focus on what you're doing/what's actually happening in the moment?
  • Have you ever felt disappointed because what really happened was different from what you imagined?
  • Have you ever wanted time to pass more quickly or more slowly? What was happening at the time, and what did you want/prefer to happen?
  • Have you ever experienced a moment that you wanted to last forever? Why did you feel that way?

related posts with quotations for reflection and discussion

additional related posts: 

Be Here Now: Songs About Time and the Present Moment

More Than Saying Thank You Activities That Encourage Awe for the Ordinary

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)