If you are to peruse any book store today, you inevitably pass two-dozen books or more that have the words “mindfulness”, “presence” or “the now” in their titles. The idea of being here, in the now, is not new. It can, in fact, be found in many historical, religious and philosophical texts and is an integral concept to most spiritual teachers. Some of these teachers, like Tich Naht Hahn, Eckhart Tolle and Pema Chodrin are currently bringing these ideas to mainstream readers so that everyday people, like ourselves, can understand and incorporate the teachings into our lives.
The “now” therefore, has become a particularly integral part of the zeitgeist of today. That is to say, the “now” is very now.
But what is it all about – what does “being in the now” actually mean?
Essentially, being here, means that you are not worried about what tomorrow will bring, nor are you regretting what happened yesterday. You are fully and wholly experiencing the present moment. “Being in the now” stops you from wishing for a better future and from replaying the past. Active presence allows you to fully experience life as it plays out.
But, “being in the now” doesn’t mean shirking responsibilities, or forgetting to set appointments. It doesn’t mean that you forget about clock-time or obligations. I have come to understand that when you practice presence, it is still important to make plans and pay your bills, but once these obligations are fulfilled you can enjoy the moment that you are currently experiencing.
Experiencing the now means noticing the world around you. It means noticing the leaves on the trees and the people on the train, it means hearing the sound of the wind and the rain on the roof. It means respecting nature, connecting with loved ones and allowing what is to be. It means enjoying the present moment as the most important moment.
And why is the present moment the most important?
Because it’s all we ever have. The present moment is the only moment that we can ever experience. We know that we cannot experience the past and when we do experience the future, it will in fact be the present. As Allan Watts said, “you can’t get out of the now and you never will.”
But just as much as we know inherently, that the present moment is the only moment we can ever experience, we still allow our minds to constantly move to different places. We replay difficult conversations from the past and we worry about future situations. We think about lives we don’t have, problems that will never arise and situations that have long passed.
Once we begin to observe this internal dialogue, we may soon discover, as I did, that we’re addicted to thinking.
Like meditation, practicing presence is not easy. It, for me, has been a series of successes and failures, or what I would now prefer to call, experiences. What I mean to say is, sometimes I’m in the present moment and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m replaying a conversation I had three weeks ago. Sometimes I replaying a conversation I had three years ago and sometimes I’m imaging a conversation that hasn’t occurred and may never occur.
Nevertheless, since learning about presence and beginning my own practice, I have gained awareness of four main things:
- The universe is so good
To quote a character from Into the Wild, I have noticed, “the universe is so good.” It really is. When I began noticing the trees and the buildings and the cars on the road, I also noticed that everything is incredible. Seriously incredible. Even the most mundane and boring things suddenly became interesting and amazing.
2. Everything is occurring without your assistance
I can be a control freak. Being in the present moment for a period of time, allowed me to realise that the world occurs around me without my assistance. The birds still fly, the cars still move and the trains still run. Whether or not I get to my appointment on time, or finish my work or achieve my hopes and dreams is entirely irrelevant to the rest of the world, which runs just fine without me. In fact, if I stepped away for a few moments, I’m not sure the world would mind at all.
3. Everyone is unconscious
Living in Melbourne, means that I ride a tram to work everyday. As part of my practice I have made a conscious effort to ban cellphone use during this time and to actually be in the tram while I’m on it. My biggest observation? No one else is on the tram with me. Most are on their phones experiencing an addiction to technology and distraction. It is almost as if the entire tram were drugged, acting like zombies, taking in useless content.
I’ve also discovered that walking through a city in active presence, is a great way to observe human behaviour. You will soon notice, if you do this too, that nearly every person you pass is essentially sleep walking. Their eyes, conversations and actions tell the story of people who are many galaxies away. Their bodies might well be on the busy street, but their minds are in yesterdays meeting, or tomorrows obligations, they are not here in the now on the street experiencing life as it happens. Noticing others is not useful for judgment, but rather, it can be a useful prompt to bring yourself into the present moment.
4. Everything you need is within you
This was by far the biggest realisation of all. Practicing presence has allowed me to see that whatever is happening externally from myself is material and unimportant.
The universe is vast and incredible and it doesn’t need your help to keep running. You can step back from it all, remove yourself from the pressures, stress and challenges, that will now seem minuscule, and experience a deeper connection from within. As Ram Dass said, “When you have quieted your mind enough and transcended your ego enough, you can hear how it really is.”
And how is it really? That’s a question that will need some more presence.
Until next time…