WE live so much of our lives in thought. Often we say we are “lost in thought”. It’s such an apt expression, the wisdom of language showing itself. We ruminate, daydream, fantasise, worry, conjecture, regret. Meanwhile something called now is also happening, but because we are lost – in our thoughts – we don’t make use of now. In that process we lose those moments forever.

Estimates vary, but around 70 per cent of our automatic thoughts are negative. Related to this, a Harvard study showed that we are lost in our automatic thoughts for roughly half our waking day ... every day.

Common sense suggests that we will get the most out of our life if our mind is where we would choose it to be rather than where our automatic thought-production line drags us to, especially if most of them are negative.

Just one point of clarification. By getting the most out of our life I don’t mean being driven like the stereotype macho super-ambitious and egotistical business or political leader. I simply mean making the best use of each moment with a clear view of what a human being needs in their life in order to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. For most people that certainly does not mean being pushy or hard-nosed. In fact the opposite is usually more likely to lead to true happiness, good health and fulfilment.

To “be” in the present moment, we have to be aware of our thoughts and whether they are an obstacle or a help in this moment. If they are negative or distracting us from where we’d like to be mentally, then we can let them drop away simply by gently taking our attention to something neutral or pleasant like the freshness of an in-breath and the quiet calmness of the out-breath. That clears the mind and makes us more relaxed at the same time.

Then we have mental space and sufficient awareness to focus on what we want to do in that moment. If we have nothing specific then it is good mindfulness practice, and a way to simply enjoy being alive, to use any of our five senses to savour what is available to us in this precious moment.

I use the word precious because although we’ve had millions of moments, and hopefully will have millions more, each moment is fleeting and ephemeral, lost to us forever in an instant, so we should treat them as precious.

What do you see right now? Anything of beauty, comfort, interest, colour, design, style?

What do you hear? Birds singing, the wind blowing, cars slipping by, people at work, your own breath?

What do you physically feel? The air fill your lungs, or the same air slipping through your nostrils, your backside on a chair, the soft cotton of your clothes on your back, the subtle touch of air on the skin of your face?

Can you smell anything? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? If there is a smell allow the mind just to dwell on its pleasantness or unpleasantness for a moment, and let them mind just get the tiniest glimpse of the astonishing evolution of our body, brain, and this sense of smell that enables us to experience smells and distinguish ones we like from ones we don’t.

If you’d like to eat, what do you actually taste? Taste is only one part of eating. What does your mouth feel? The heat or coolness of the food. The texture of the food when first put into the mouth. The change of texture as your teeth crunch and mash the food into digestible sizes. Alongside the taste is often the smell of the food. Does it complement the taste? What do we mean by complementing tastes and smells? How does the food look? Bland, colourful, varied colours?

Do you see what is possible in a moment? My old teacher, a monk in one of the many Tibetan schools of Buddhism, told me that reality is a field of potential. Reality is only possible in the present moment. The field of potential is what you can do in any moment with one or more of your five senses, plus your intellect and emotions. To continually just do whatever your automatic mind pops up with is to have no choice, no potential, no field to explore. Given that 70 per cent of what it produces is negative, it’s hardly likely to give you that lovely combination most people want, happiness, health, and fulfilment.

Try to think of your life as a game, a very serious game but still a game, the purpose of which is to stop your own automatic mind completely controlling your destination, and instead to make all you can of each moment. Try to see what is really possible in each moment. Can you turn a complaint into a positive suggestion? A bad memory into a commitment to change things in the future? Can you become someone who prevents negative things happening precisely because you stop being their cause?

These things are possible. Considered this way, every moment is an opportunity, a challenge, a canvas or blank sheet of paper on which you can create a work or art or poetry. This is not impractical or unrealistic. This is the whole point of being alive, to make full expression of the beauty of each moment.

Martin Stepek is founder of TenforZen, offering guided mindfulness sessions in handy, 10 minutes a day, audio courses. Author of four books, he is frequently asked to speak on mindfulness, his remarkable family heritage, and on business. See tenforzen.co.uk and www.martinstepek.co.uk or email martin@tenforzen.co.uk