The Quest to Mindfully Engage with the Moment

Judith Tutin, PhD
5 min readJul 5, 2021
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Learning to let go of each moment in order to be fully present in this moment is key to mindfulness.

Being present in the moment is a mindfulness essential. Unless you’ve willfully ignored 15 years of health and wellness articles, you know that research shows that mindfulness meditation improves health and wellbeing in a variety of ways (e.g., it reduces anxiety, depression and blood pressure). The jury is in: Cultivating mindfulness makes a lot of sense.

To be in this moment, you must release all those moments that came before. This idea of letting go of each moment before the present moment, which, by the way, is now past, is one of those persnickety meditation conundrums.

How do you let go of those moments? While it’s easy to let go of a neutral moment, perhaps a thought about what you want to have for dinner, you must also let go of positive moments. That’s not to say that you should not savor your successes — you absolutely must. But not when you’re trying to focus on the present. Wins are a lot easier to release.

The most challenging to release are those moments with a negative tone. Maybe it’s a memory of why you chose one path instead of another, or something as small as why you said one thing instead of another. Our mistakes, missteps and other misses tend to be very sticky. We seem to have a paradoxical need to hang onto them. As the literature shows, bad is stronger than good.

Letting go requires a degree of acceptance of these difficult moments. At least enough acceptance to get back to what you’re doing in the present. Otherwise, you are always keeping one foot in the past. You can’t be fully present.

Meditation provides one tool to help us let go of those sticky moments so that we can be mindfully present in this moment. Initially, we let go while we meditate — later, we find we can let go anytime. Each time we let go, we’re back in the present.

Consider a basic mindfulness meditation:

Sit, stand, lie down, or walk, it doesn’t matter. Close your eyes and notice your breaths, counting each from one until you reach 10, then start over at one. If you get distracted, whether with a thought or a feeling or a noise, start back at one without judgment. That means don’t tell yourself you’re bad, you can’t do this or you’re not doing it right. Just gently return to one. Continue until your timer goes off, whether it’s three minutes or 30. It’s helpful to use a timer so you’re not distracted by how long you’re supposed to be meditating.

No one, I don’t care how long they’ve been meditating, does this without getting distracted. It’s just how our minds are wired.

The good thing is that it doesn’t matter how many times you go back to one. It doesn’t matter how long you meditate. It doesn’t matter what distracts you.

Doing the practice is what cultivates the ability to notice, let go and be present. You notice the distraction, you have the intention to let it go and you return to counting the breaths.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Consider possible distractions: The dog sneezes, you think about meeting your friend later, or you remember that missed opportunity from five years ago. Or maybe all three.

Once you notice a distraction, there’s a tendency to judge it. Since the goal is to be present in the moment, the less judgment, the more quickly you are back in the present.

Instead, we’re likely to assign an emotional tone to each thought. The dog sneezing may have a relatively neutral tone, seeing a friend later, perhaps a positive tone, and the missed opportunity likely carries a negative tone.

Reining it in right there, just noticing the thought and perhaps the tone, and gently moving back to the breath, returns us to the moment.

Instead, we want to get into the story. Is the dog sick? When can I get him to the vet? Does he even need to go? Each distraction has its own story if you allow it.

People argue when I use the word “allow.” It implies intention and choice. That is absolutely the point.

When you get into the story of that missed opportunity five years ago, and what would have happened if you chose differently (the classic “what if” that drives self-doubt, anxiety and other bad stuff), you can notice it, and return to your breath, intentionally not allowing yourself to go any further down the rabbit hole of story. You’ve probably already considered all the what ifs of that particular misstep anyway. If it even was a misstep. But who cares five years later?

Dealing with difficult situations threatens to drag us out of the present again and again, not just during meditation but all day, sometimes day in and day out. Learning to be present in the moment helps us resist that drag back to the past and to problems.

Part of letting go of things involves letting go of the idea that if we think hard enough, we can change things. In The Mindful Way through Depression, Williams et al. talk about how you must recognize that ruminating and overthinking have not worked so far and it might be time to try something new.

Each time you’re reminded of your difficulty, if you try not to judge and try not to get into the story, it becomes much more manageable. You stop worrying about changing the thing, because you’re not allowing it to take up as much mental space. You implicitly stop trying to make it different, the Achilles heel of acceptance. You probably know it is not going to be different just because you keep thinking about it.

There are many strategies other than meditation to bring you into the moment as you move through your day, for example:

· Take a slightly deeper than normal breath

· Notice how your body feels

· Move

· Name an object or sensation

· Get a quick dose of nature whether by looking out a window or stepping outside

· Relax your facial muscles or drop your shoulders

Your breath and body are always in the present so anything that bring awareness to them brings you into the moment.

Being in the present is its own reward because it means you are starting again. And again. And again. You continue to give yourself new opportunities. Fresh starts.

While William Faulkner’s, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” is a painfully astute observation, humans, research shows, do better when their focus is on the present. A little time with the past or future is inevitable and has its own benefits, but not too much time.

Faulkner notwithstanding, engaging in the quest to cultivate mindfulness helps us be more present in this moment. You know, the moment which has already passed.

Visit me at to learn more about me and my work.



Judith Tutin, PhD

Psychologist and life coach. Also, parent, writer, runner, yogini, healthnut, arts lover. Connect with me at