What does it mean to be present? Mystics and sages have referred to the quality and significance of being present throughout the centuries. But what does this mean on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis? Can everyone experience presence? During my daily meditation, I have been experiencing increased moments of being present. I thought I would try and put into words my experience in this week’s blog and write a bit about the quality of being present.
As I sit in meditation, like everyone else, thoughts surface about life, work, family and friends. Initially, the thoughts are strong and busy but slowly, slowly they begin to soften and become less pronounced. I notice that I am observing myself breathing, slowly in and out. I hear the sounds around me; birds, the wind and the sound of silence. I feel myself breathing, the sensation of my lungs filling and releasing oxygen. A calm, peaceful feeling of bliss fills my being. I notice that for a moment I am present, no thoughts, just the simple grounded experience of this moment. A thought then forms and I see it rise in my consciousness. Once again, I notice that I am breathing and then presence fills my being. This is the ebb and flow of the meditator, continually coming back to the present moment.
Trying to hold onto being present is like trying to control one’s breathing. Anytime we try to control something, we create stress. Gently returning to one’s breathing and the present moment is filled with loving kindness. There is no agenda, no manipulation, just being present to what is – the moment.
Being present is expansive, open and full. When one observes the experience of being present you feel more open and alive. Sensations of bliss are felt within the body. Eventually, a sense of saturation in euphoria is experienced. Prolonged moments of being present create intoxicating, blissful states. This is a natural high that the body experiences followed by contraction in thought until the next moment of being present. Yet, every time one experiences being present we are stretched a bit more in our consciousness, like a rubber band that is gently stretched over time. When in the presence of someone who is able to maintain a more consistent state of being present you experience deceleration and expansion.
Being absorbed in thought is contracting, dense and heavy. Being caught up in one’s thoughts removes the feeling of bliss. For most of us, our thoughts consume most of our waking day. Thoughts surface that we are sometimes even surprised by. We wonder where that thought came from. Why am I thinking this way? Some of our thoughts are based in our societal conditioning. Some come from deep within the brain and are primordial. This is true in particular around survival, relationships and sexuality issues. Yet, we have the ability to influence the impact that these thoughts have upon our consciousness. We can foster more loving thoughts and no longer nourish angry, hateful thoughts. Part of the challenge is being able to notice our thoughts, catch them as they are forming and decide when to invest or divest in them. Thoughts that we put a lot of energy into are embedded into our consciousness and become more difficult to relinquish. Thich Nhat Hanh describes this process of vesting in thoughts with a simple analogy. He suggests that noticing our thoughts can be like a mosquito landing upon the water of consciousness. A ripple is formed but dissipates once the mosquito has flown away. The greater the impact upon the water the greater the ripple effect within one’s consciousness.
I don’t want to give the impression that thinking is “bad.” We need thinking to enable us to observe, understand and learn. Where thinking causes challenges for us is when it creates suffering. If our thoughts increase the suffering we experience moment-to-moment then it is preventing us from being present. Obsessive thinking, worrying, being fearful limits our ability to be creative, open and receptive to all the possibilities within any given moment. Worry has always been a challenge for me. It is the area that causes the most ripples in my pond of consciousness. While the impact of worry has lessened over the years, it still surfaces from time to time and caused me to suffer. The greatest tool I have found to help in this process has been meditation. Being present with whatever is surfacing and not adding my own fearful commentary has created smaller ripples over time.
So how can you be more present in the moment throughout your day? Use reminders throughout the day to come back to being present. A reminder can be a telephone ringing, an hourly beep on your watch, a walk in the park during lunch. Beginning and ending your day with a short meditation or conscious, silent walk is another way to increase your level of awareness. Connecting with a group that have similar goals is another way of supporting yourself in remaining conscious.
Notice if you are able to stay present in the moment as you go about your day. Under what circumstances are you able to be present? When do you notice that you are not able to remain present? What can you learn about yourself and your own buttons from observing yourself?
May awareness fill your being moment-to-moment
May you experience the bliss of freedom
May loving kindness emanate from you always