To be or not to be present? That’s the question to ask and answer for ourselves.
I’ve been contemplating this question since the start of COVID-19 pandemic a few months back. The months to come enabled me to understand ‘presence’ and the essence of what it means to be present and what that present moment everyone talks about and refers to is. That in return transformed me to a pretty big extent (it’s still doing the job) and improved my wellbeing.
Here, I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you all.
It all started with one very subtle, however profound and extraordinary experience.
Exploring the ‘Present’
It was a few months back, in the summer, precisely that one hot sunny week we were granted here in England. As I was making the most out of it, I was working from the garden the whole day long. And on one such early afternoon, something strange and very new happened.
I realized that I am actually not alone in the garden, despite the fact that the rest of my household worked from inside the house. But certainly, I wasn’t. I acknowledged that I am sharing this time and space with other beings.
I noticed the life around me as if for the first time in my life — the trees, plants, flies, birds, pigeons, and squirrels. And this realization of their presence made me feel somewhat emotional. What was so touching was the fact that they must have always been there, there with me, but I haven’t acknowledged them, because I wasn’t ‘there.’
But at that moment, we happened to be all together. In the same space and time — in the present, at the very same time. And just how I noticed them, they noticed me, and we were all there staring at each other, sharing this moment together.
There, I found myself connecting with everything there was — the nature, the garden, the garden furniture I was sitting on, the soft grass below my feet, the time and the beings from the animal realm. And this way of seeing and experiencing the reality didn’t leave me since.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so aware of what that present and the present moment is, neither as connected to life in general as I am now. In fact, I know I was quite disconnected from everything outside my being because the main reality of my life was living in my mind. And then coping with my mind’s idea about what life is and how mine should be.
After all these months, I am confident to say that there’s so much power hidden in the present that if we allow it to just slip by us, it’s equivalent to not living. Many mindful teachers, leaders, spiritual gurus talk about the same. But I don’t think we collectively listen and understand enough yet.
Eckhart Tolle, a well-known mindfulness teacher, the author and advocate of ‘The Power of Now’ who’s brought a lot of perspective on this subject, says:
“In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.”
“Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now. All you really need to do is accept this moment fully. You are then at ease in the here and now and at ease with yourself.”
Not knowing how to get to that state and just be there, sadly brings out a multitude of unwanted consequences.
“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. ”Eckhart Tolle
Why do we struggle to be present?
Well, to give you a simple answer first, it’s because we are human.
All non-human species — such as the birds, flies and squirrels — find it natural to be in the present moment all the time. That’s what powers their senses, their behaviour, and actions.
But it is precisely awareness, which distinguishes human beings from other species, that makes it so hard for us to live in the present.Eyal Winter Ph.D.
Professor of economics at the Hebrew University, Mr Eyal Winters, says that we as humans — compared to animals, are evolutionarily hard-wired to live in the past and the future thanks to our mental cognitive functions.
“Any millisecond before the present moment is already past and any millisecond later is already a future. ”Eyal Winter Ph.D.
He further explains this phenomenon.
“Other species have instincts and reflexes to help them with their survival, but human survival relies very much on learning and planning. You can’t learn without taking from the past, and you can’t plan without living in the future.
Regret, for example, which makes many of us miserable by reflecting on the past, is an indispensable mental mechanism for learning from one’s own mistakes to avoid repeating them. Fears about the future are likewise essential to motivate us to do something that is somewhat unpleasant today but has an enormous benefit for our well-being in the future. Without this fear we would not acquire education or invest in our future; we wouldn’t be able to take responsibility for our health; we wouldn’t even store food. We would simply eat as much as we feel like and dispose of the rest. ”Eyal Winter Ph.D.
And although that’s all true and explains well why we struggle to acknowledge and live in the present moment, it doesn’t mean that present is non-existent. Its non-existence is only a concept of our minds, not of our whole being, not of our body and our senses for instance. It is there all the time in fact. But if we only use our minds to guide us in life, we miss out on it completely.
“People live as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to some better point which never arrives so that is a mad way to live and it makes living hard, it makes living into an effort. Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious. ”Eckhart Tolle
See, I’ve been there as well. The wast majority of my life so far, this is how I lived, what I thought and how I’ve been acting. I was rejecting the existence of the present, forgetting about it and disregarding it. I was soo busy with my mind and being constantly in my mind that there was no space for anything else left. Such as to pause and acknowledge whether I am not missing out on anything. The moment of now perhaps. Or to even acknowledge that it existed.
How to balance our past, present and future
It’s been scientifically proven that too much overthinking (thinking the past) as well as planning (thinking the future) is not good for our health, mental health and overall wellbeing. It brings out anxiety, fear, frustration, stress, apathy, passiveness, sadness, resentment and many more emotional states that later turn into a depression and chronic unhappiness.
On the other hand, people who are able to be in the present more — focused on what they’re experiencing ‘now’ are much happier than the rest. We can just look at the Buddhist monks as evidence. And trust me, there are easier ways of getting present than meditating.
“The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is. ”Eckhart Tolle
Do you know how sometimes we are in the present, but aren’t really there — present?
Let’s say you’re in the room and on our laptop, but a part of you — your mind is not there. It’s wandering — in the past or future, or somewhere unrelated to the moment and the task you’re attempting to do in that present time.
Or, we’re there physically and mentally, but not emotionally. Say while you do the tasks that feel robotic, mundane, repetitive such as doing shopping, washing, cleaning, tidying up, admin work. We don’t want to be there, that’s the thing, so we try to rush the moment whatever we are doing in it, just so it can pass quickly because we can’t wait to be somewhere else doing something else. That’s how we’re depriving ourselves of our presence.
They all deserve our full attention and respect as a part of our present. Regardless of the level of comfort they give us or the enjoyability score.
Guess what happened when I challenged myself not to rush anything for some time. Not to multitask — divide my attention, rush just so the moment I am in can pass, or keep the resistance and just be there?
Honestly, even if it’s hard for you to believe it. It’s true, no bullshit. I started enjoying every single thing I was doing, such as doing the dishes, kitchen cleaning, washing bathroom or my hair, writing emails, planting flowers, dusting, changing bed sheets, making bed, hand washing, sewing clothes etc. I did because I accepted this all as a valuable part of my present which asks for my full presence, attention and respect.
Just to make sure you understand me well, I am still learning this skill. I am nowhere close to mastering it. However, I am learning from the masters — the nature and animals.
Thanks to them, because they’re beautifully and seamlessly connected to the now as if they were somehow engraved into it. They master this by nature. And learning from them means observing them being in the now, it’s like watching the ascendant masters in action.
I know how they perceive ‘the Now’ and how are they experiencing it as well as how to be present this way. That is — giving my full attention to whatever it is I am experiencing now. Not shifting it elsewhere, not grabbing my phone at the same time or trying to process 100 other thoughts. No. Just focusing on the one thing in front of me at the time.
And experiencing this equals peace and joy equivalent to meditation.
Acknowledging this and truly willingly choosing to be 100% in the now as much as I can have transformed my life for the better only within the past few months. So I trust a lot more can and will happen in the long run.
And I am sure the same can happen for you.
‘’Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.’’Eckhart Tolle