Everyone agrees that to lead a fulfilling and enriching life, we need to be more in the present. Numerous quotes are shoved at us daily, compelling us to fully enjoy the present moment. Famous and big people hate you to let go of your past and live more in the present. From Bill Clinton to Meg Ryan, it seems to be the new fad everyone is talking about.
I am in the present, writing this article, driving, on the phone, catching up with a friend, cooking. So what’s the whole big deal about it, I wonder? But the question is, Am I or are you really in the present? are you really just reading this article, or is your mind still brooding over the nasty comment passed by your colleague during the last review meeting and how it is the very last time you had allowed yourself to be pushed to take that additional job by your boss and that soon after you finish reading this, you need to check your emails and leave a to-do note for your colleague…..Phew!
The Buddhist monks call it the Monkey Mind, wherein your mind jumps from thought to thought, like a monkey leaps from one tree to another. By definition, the Monkey mind is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled, restless, capricious, whimsical, fanciful, inconstant, confused, indecisive, and uncontrollable”. And you thought All was well!
For me, it all started a year back. I would forget things at the most unobvious places, miss appointments, burn dishes in the oven, forget to call back people, be honked at green lights for queuing up, watch the milk on the gas for 10 continuous minutes only to spill it in the 11th, remember a birthday for 10 days before and then forget the very same day it was supposed to be wished (here I am referring to birthdays and anniversaries of aunts, uncles, and cousins who still do not have an account on Facebook yet), from keeping my key chain in the microwave, my notepad in the toaster and my phone in the fridge, I have done it all.
The saturation point came when I forgot to encash a discount card offered by my favorite cosmetic store, which expired. I did all I thought could help: made to-do lists, set reminders on my phone and on post-its on the fridge magnet, and even included almonds in my diet for a good one month, but to no avail.
The result was missed appointments, misunderstood friends, lost opportunities, decreased productivity, and increased stress. It got me all annoyed (on myself, of course, I possibly couldn’t find a way to blame the government or the poor system for it!). But it was only when my husband mockingly announced one day that he had decided to write a book titled “101 Ways of Burning Down the House in 5 Seconds” and dedicate it to me, that I decided enough was enough and something really needed to be done about it.
The symptoms were many, but the problem was simple: I was trying to be everywhere. When I was at work, I would worry about the pending grocery list. When I was at home, I would plan my weekend outing, and when I was supposedly relaxing on a vacation, I was thinking of the work piling up back home. In short, I was everywhere but never where I was supposed to be the most – in the present.
It is hard to control the mind, one may argue, but maybe consciously making an effort to bring it back if it has wandered off isn’t all that difficult. All you need to do is be fully aware of this present moment. Using your 5 senses to return to the present is a technique that usually works (for the body is always in the present. It is just the mind that wanders off).
When I feel I am on the verge of getting distracted during a boring exercise in the gym, I start counting my steps or my lifts. It reduces the boredom and helps me be more attentive. When you feel you are getting lost in your thoughts, start focusing on what is going on right now….close your ears to the conversations in your head and open your eyes to this present moment to let yourself experience the world outside your mind.
But how do you live in the present when your thoughts are entangled in reminiscing about the past and worrying about the future when each moment brings with it a new distraction? Thoughts rush in our minds like dry leaves flying in a gush of wind, in all directions but aimless and unfocused.
And we are subjected to be a slave of the thought that has decided to settle for some time before being flown away again. Instead of being caught as a victim of this storm, imagine yourself as a spectator – just like you would watch a movie, frame by frame, thought to thought but be aware that you are just an observer. It is a great way to be less controlled by your thoughts and be more aware of your present.
Another major concern is how and why to stay connected to the present when it offers no excitement. I joined a course last year at the city university. It was an evening course, and during my bus ride home, I would often sleep off. it was a boring ride (Swedish markets are all closed by 6, so the roads are empty, and there is not much to attract your attention) and I would often doze off and miss my stop.
It happened a lot of times and I had to walk back all the way. It was very frustrating, and no matter how hard I tried, it was hard to keep awake, so I decided to try something new.
I started noticing and reading all the advertisements and the banners on the way back (those were the only things that would change!), I tried to notice if a shop was running a new scheme for its products or if a restaurant was announcing any seasonal offers.
This practice not only kept me awake, but I also ended up finding some really great deals. Life is not all that exciting sometimes, and it is difficult to remain connected to the present. Still, by being aware of our surroundings and treating each moment as an opportunity to explore something new, we can live more in the present and avail ourselves of all the goodies it has in store for us. Let each moment be an adventure, a treasure hunt, a prolific thought.
It is also difficult to be in the present when all you want to do is run away from it. I absolutely hated studying engineering drawing (E.D), a first-year subject in my computer engineering course. Whenever I would sit down to study, I would pick up all other subjects other than E.D and would make excuses to myself and promise to study later, which of course, never came….the unstudied chapters just kept piling up by the day. My dislike changed into a scare, and now I found it threatening, and the situation got scarier by the day.
A few days before the exams were supposed to start, I realized I had no choice, so I decided to stop thinking about my fears and dislikes and just concentrate on studying. The moment I decided to stop thinking about how much I hate doing this and shift my focus on clearing the exam, I was a lot more relaxed and at ease and a lot less scared.
Focusing on the negative aspects of a task makes us more anxious, and we dislike it even more. Instead just focus on the activity without attaching it to any feelings of happiness or despair. By shifting our focus, we can transform our negative thoughts and conquer our fears.
Sometimes to be more attentive to our present, we can choose an activity that challenges us to be so rapt in attention that it gets impossible for the mind to wander away.
Imagine yourself participating in a 100 mt run. Can you afford to be anywhere else but on the track right now, racing with all your mental and physical strength and thinking of nothing but reaching the first place or imagine yourself climbing a steep cliff? Would you be thinking of anything else other than where to put the next foothold and how to maintain balance?
These are the tasks that make it imperative for us to be fully present and require us to conjure up all our resources and engage all our senses in achieving the target. Such challenging activities require us to stretch our limits, pushing us to go that extra mile- The more challenging the goal, the more fulfilling the rewards!
Sometimes the activity is so captivating that it does not offer any possibility to zone out. Watching your favorite TV show, listening to a beautiful song, reading a good book, enjoying your favorite dish, and witnessing a mesmerizing landscape are some such activities that are so delightful to your senses that you stay fully conscious in each passing moment.
One of the main benefits of paying open and active attention to your present is that when you are in the present, you don’t give fuel to negative thoughts, and those thoughts automatically dissipate. It is thus a great way to reduce fostering pain and suffering.
Suffering harbors its roots in your heart only if you give it the time to, but if you go through your life fully engaged in each and every moment, it would be impossible for pain to keep a step hold in you.
I had to switch a lot of schools in my early days because of the transferable nature of my father’s job. We kept moving from one city to the other. Every time I left my school, I had to leave all my old friends, and I hated leaving behind my comfort zone, the places I knew, and the people I loved.
This would have a big impact on my acceptance of the new city we would move to. In my mind, I would already be against it. That’s because when you keep sticking to your negative thoughts they draw you back and do not allow you to experience true joy.
Instead of running away from our misery, we need to acknowledge its existence while not giving too much importance to it. So, while you accept it’s okay for you to hate moving and leave old friends, you do not allow it to be so important a factor that it stops you from liking the new place and making new friends.
Accepting our feelings as they are and not wasting our energy in running away from them helps us be more aware of ourself and be more at peace with who we really are in the present moment.
Anguish, hurt, misery, regret, and remorse are all feelings that arise from not being in the present. An accident could have been averted by staying more alert, your exam scores could have been better if you had been more attentive during the class, and you could have made more sales by making more sales calls. You see, all you needed to do was be in the present and do what you ought to do instead of worrying, planning, fearing, doubting, waiting, in short, stalling being in the now.
Another major obstacle of modern life that steals us away from the now is the addiction to capture it more than ever. Imagine standing in front of the most beautiful sunrise on a bright summer day, but instead of being lost in the rainbow of beautiful hues, feeling the warm sun rays on your face, smelling the fragrance of the fresh morning, you are busy clicking pictures. We get so busy trying to document our life that we forget to live it.
The best way to create everlasting memories is not by documenting our life online but by living it with open arms and a free mind each and every passing moment. Don’t just document your life Live it!
Work, family, jobs, kids, to-do lists, paying bills, all pull us in multiple directions, expecting us to somehow juggle with time, but a little bit of introspection tells me it is the world inside me and not the one outside that is responsible for pulling me away from the joy of this present moment.
If only I could disconnect with myself to really be a part of this outside world, I will be able to connect with the real me.
So be here Now, for there really is no other place you would rather be!!!!
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