On Being Present II: Strategies
This blog follows up on my most recent posting which was a somewhat theoretical piece on presence and its value. This posting approaches this from a more practical, pragmatic angle. In it I suggest four ways to increase being present.
1. Follow the breath for several minutes. Breath work is at the heart of spiritual practice and forms a foundation of all forms of meditation. The process is, paradoxically, utterly simple and totally impossible.
• First sit comfortably with feet on the floor so you are grounded and eyes closed so distractions are decreased.
• Second, bring awareness to the breath. Breathe in deeply and out slowly without controlling the process in any way.
• Third, notice everything about the process as the air flows in and out. Follow the air into the nose and down into the lungs. What is it like for the lungs to be full? Does one lung seem different than the other? Breathe and notice. With great intention follow each detail.
• Fourth, when your mind wanders, as all minds do, bring it gently back to the breath without judgement or irritation. The mind wanders and is brought back a thousand times, ten thousand times. This is a process of letting go of thoughts, worries, plans and ideas. There will be time enough for those later.
• Fifth, finally, allow your eyes to float open and return your attention to the room you are in.
There is nothing complicated, magical, special or intellectual in this; just your breath, you and the present moment paying total attention to the air as it flows in and out.
2. Stop trying to multitask. Multitasking is basically a myth. Some people flip from one thing to another quickly. But we are really only focused on one thing at a time. That is why driving and texting don’t mix. One thing at a time.
3. Stop often and ask “Am I right here now?” Experience the beauty of it all. For example, be totally present to the feel of water in the shower. Savor the taste of every bite at breakfast. Sip a cup of tea or coffee noticing each drop. This moment is the only one you have right now so luxuriate in it. Slow down. The Soul is never in a hurry.
So in that vein, as you read this posting, is your mind wandering? Are you half reading and half planning supper? Come back to this moment as you read. Breathe deeply and move more fully into the reading. Or shift, let go of reading and move into planning supper.
4. Be present to not being present. Observe the mind as it is constantly moving from one thing to another. In traditional teaching this is called “monkey mind.” The mind is often like a monkey constantly leaping from one branch to another in a never ending series of acrobatic lunges from topic to topic. This actually leads to another form of meditation; observing the never ending flow of the mind from one thing to another without getting caught up in any of it.
The more we cultivate our expertise of being present the less we turn away from what life is presenting to us right now and the gate to the Divine opens up. In those moments the sacredness of all life of every second is revealed.
Finally, I will share an experience of being present.
Last Sunday, August 28, I wanted to get some pictures of sunrise so I went to Barre Falls Dam which is about 30 miles west of my home. Sunrise was at 6:30. I was there at 5:30 so I could be ready. I walked across the top of the dam and down a field on a hill sloping to the river. In the beginning it was, not surprisingly, quite dark. I attempted pictures of the moon which unfortunately did not work. As light increased in the East the area began to come alive with movement and sound. Birds, frogs and crickets all started chirping. Each new sound was thrilling. All of my senses were on alert. Even common crows with their loud calling seemed exciting. As I came to the river, mist was rising from the water adding to the sense of the unknown in the area. I wondered what spirits could emerge from the haze. Then I heard the sound of an owl hooting its eternal question. It seemed to be a couple hundred yards down river to my right. Initially I just listened focused on simply hearing what came next. Then I walked toward the sound. There was a bit more light so I could see ten or so feet in front of me. It sounded again letting its neighbors know it was here and awake. Suddenly the path ended. The entire area was over grown with impenetrable brush. I poked around for a while trying to find a way through but then surrendered. Continuing felt like it risked falling or snapping an ankle. Ten years ago I would have pushed through. (I guess I have to be present to aging too.) But for the moment it was enough to be here and present to this privileged time. The sun was higher now and the owl had become silent.
What I know is I want more of that experience: paying total attention to each sound, movement and flicker of light.