The Practice of Being Present
We hold on to the way things were.
We hold on to the way things should be.
We hold on to the things that were said.
We hold on to the things that were done.
We hold on to the things that were promised.
We hold on to the way we think things should be.
We hold on to the expectations we have of what should happen.
We hold on to what we think we should have happened, but didn't.
We hold on to what we had, but lost.
We hold on to what we never had, but hope to have one day.
We hold on to the ways we used to do things.
We hold on to what is familiar and comfortable.
We hold on to what is familiar and known – even if it is uncomfortable.
We hold on to our thoughts, our memories, our beliefs, our experiences, our perceptions, our desires, our griefs, our hurts, our wounds, our protections, our hopes... Are you starting to see the picture?
We hold on to so many things, in so many ways; we hold on to things that are not the reality of the present moment that we are actually living.
Our energy is tied up in what isn't, reacting to what is.
Try this: clench your hand as if holding on to something. Hold on tightly, for all you are worth. Now, while doing that, try to relax and enjoy yourself.
Notice how clenching your hand to hold on results in muscle tension throughout your arm into your chest, your abdomen, your back and your shoulders. Probably, even in your hips, and maybe even in your legs. Notice how holding on with just one hand creates tension in your whole body.
1. Think of something you know you are holding on to (or, if you can't think of anything at this moment, imagine that you are holding on to something, whether it is a wish, an event, a person, an expectation, etc.) and hold your fist tight, as if you are holding on to that with your hand. Notice the tension in your body resulting from that.
2. Now, think of something that you would really like to do. Something that you would want to do in the present, that would give you some sense of well-being, joy, satisfaction. Something that would enhance your sense of well-being and your enjoyment of life. Can you do that while holding on to this thing from the past with your hand?
Holding on to anything creates tension in the mind – tension in your thoughts, between past and present. Holding on – even mentally – creates tension in the body. Holding on takes energy. It requires energy to sustain, energy that is not available to you in the present, to engage in living life in the present.
Holding on can create depression when we cannot adjust to life not meeting our expectations. Holding on can create suffering and even destroy relationships when we single-mindedly pursue trying to make reality meet our expectations. Holding on is a disorder of one's relationship with reality.
As is very clear from the above, holding on is a very human tendency that comes in literally countless forms. Holding on causes various degrees of tension and suffering. Holding on is always a reaction to, and a refusal to accept, what is real in the present moment. Holding on prevents us from being in the present moment, living in the present moment, being present to ourselves and others and the reality of the present moment.
3. After holding your fist tight for a significant amount of time and experiencing the tension in your body, release the holding let go, unclench and relax the hand. Imagine that you are releasing, letting go of whatever it is you are holding onto mentally.
Notice what happens. Maybe you experience the release of tension throughout your body, the relaxation of all those muscles, as you physically let go. At same time, maybe you also experience some reaction to letting go of what it is you are holding onto.
Maybe you experience exactly those feelings that you were guarding yourself against feeling, by holding on. Fear? Sadness? Grief? Anger? These feelings are real; not in the sense that the story they tell is reality, but in the sense that the experience of them is real.
What you are feeling at this moment is reality – your reality of this present moment. Feeling those feelings allows them to work their way through. Not sinking into and getting lost in those feelings, but simply allowing yourself to experience the feelings, to express them in any way that you need to, to recognize what they are and to accept that you are feeling them.
This is a first and critical step to accepting reality, and being in the present moment.