Most of us, living in these times, have been conditioned to believe that it’s normal to spend our lives rushing about… getting things done… being productive! Indeed, though we call ourselves human beings, it often seems that human doings is a more apt description for who/what we are.
How is it with you? Do you know what it’s like to be fully present… fully HERE…? If you are not sure consider these questions from spiritual teacher, A. H. Almaas:
Are you here? Are you really here in this space? I don’t mean is your body here because that is obviously the case. But are YOU HERE?
I mean, are you completely filling your body? I want to know whether you are in your feet, or just have feet? Do you live in them, or are they just things you use when you walk? Are you in your belly, or do you just vaguely know that you have a belly? Are you really in your hands, or do you move them from a distance?
Regardless of the stories you tell yourself… there is only this moment, here, now. Nothing else exists… Whatever is happening at this moment, that is your life. The future is not your life; it never arrives. What is actually here is always only this moment. So, can you let yourself be… by giving yourself the simple privilege of being, of existence?
Why do you think that what you do, what you have, what you get or don’t get are more important than just being here?
Mindfulness meditation is a particularly powerful awakening practice. Variations of this practice are now being taught to people in all walks of life—e.g., business personnel, teachers, professional athletes, students—for the purposes of increasing concentration, insight and overall well-being.
In its most basic form, mindfulness meditation consists of sitting quietly while placing your attention on your breathing: carefully following each in breath and each outbreath. Although this might sound easy, it can be quite challenging, especially at first. For example, often your mind will interject a thought before you have even completed one in-breath; or if you do manage to complete a single breathing cycle, your mind might jump in to congratulate you.
Meditation teachers concur that the breath is truly a gateway to the present moment. In this vein, Henepola Gunaratana in his book, Mindfulness in Plain English, encourages readers to: “Observe the breath closely…There is more to see here than just an in-breath and an out-breath. Every breath has a beginning, middle and end. Every inhalation goes through a process of birth, growth, and death and every exhalation does the same.”
Those engaging in mindfulness meditation for the first time, quickly discover that the human mind is a very busy place; but, given sufficient practice, it is possible to gradually become free from our mind’s conditioned ways of reacting, seeing, and being.
You will know that you are making progress when you are able to assume the role of an observer, witnessing your thoughts as they come and go, without getting caught up in them. For example, if you notice that you are getting hooked by worry, you can summon the awareness to simply note worry mind on your in breath… and then to let go of worry mind on your outbreath. The same protocol is possible with planning mind or judging mind or fearful mind, and so forth. This simple act of calmly observing and then naming and letting go of our passing mind states brings us back to the present moment—the only moment there is.
Experiment 2: Cultivating Presence by Slowing Down
What if we stopped rushing and, instead, slowed down to savor the eternal present moment? What would that even look like? A little boy suggests an answer in this video.
What if, like the kid in this video, you brought your full attention to the seemingly simple—yet deceptively complex—act of walking? In this spirit, Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches the practice of slow walking which is done with a calm smile and a soft gaze, while paying attention to the physical sensations of walking—e.g., presencing the tactile sensations as your feet make contact with the ground. As a way of maintaining presence while slow walking, Hanh suggests repeating these phrases:
In breath, first step… I have arrived
Outbreath, second step… I am home
In breath, third step… In the here
Outbreath fourth step… In the now. Repeat…
The object of walking meditation is not to get to some other place, but to be fully aware of what we are doing just where we are. Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up this way: Walk slowly. Don’t rush. Each step brings you to the best moment of your life, the present moment.
Take my hand
we will walk
we will only walk
we will enjoy our walk without thinking of arriving anywhere
our walk is a peace walk
our walk is a happiness walk
Then… we learn that there is no peace walk
that peace is the walk.
that there is no happiness walk
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves
We walk for everyone always hand in hand.
Walk and touch peace every moment
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.
Earth will be safe when we feel in us enough safety.
"Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more."
- Mother Theresa
Author and artist Henry Miller once said: “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Could this be true? Could something as seemingly commonplace as a leaf catapult you into a state of radical amazement? You could find out by visiting a nearby park and wandering about until you encounter a tree whose leaves attract your attention. Then, as you approach the tree, allow yourself to be drawn to one particular leaf; and, with respect, and perhaps even reverence, behold that leaf, as if you have never seen such a miracle before. Marvel at the leaf’s design… its subtle hues of green, its veins, its margins, its smell, its movements… trusting that, as you come to dwell fully in the present moment, your awareness and consciousness will expand.
Then, when the time feels right, take out your journal and write a love letter to the leaf! After all, both you and the leaf are miracles of existence. Tell her how you see and experience her and how you feel in her presence? Explore what the two of you share in common and consider what the leaf might have to teach you about life… your life. Finally, with gratitude and wonder, read your letter to the leaf.
Through practices such as mindfulness meditation, slow walking and communing with nature it becomes possible to experience what it’s like to dwell at the center or hub of our lives. Molly Brown, author of Growing Whole, invites each of us to imagine ourselves as wagon wheels, with the wheel’s spokes representing our various facets. Using this metaphor, Brown suggests that when our attention and energy are scattered, we are living out on the end of just one of the wheel’s spokes; and because of this, when the wheel spins we become increasingly dizzy and disoriented. By contrast, when we operate from our center, we reside at the hub of our wheel; and all of our spokes (i.e., all of our facets) are available to us. It is in this centered state that we become more balanced, more present, more awake and more authentically ourselves.
"I found myself deeply impacted by the text that read, Are you here? Are you really here in this space?"