The Practice of Being Present
Do you often find yourself in a rush? If your first response is "No," that you're not often in a rush, take a moment to think about that a little more.
First of all, what do you define as being "in a rush?" For most people this probably means being late, feeling some degree of stress, moving quickly to get to where you're supposed to be, and not necessarily having the time to do other things you might have normally done along the way, or to deal with things that come up. Like most people, you probably define "being in a rush" as a very particular state which is mostly defined by the behaviour of rushing.
But at the other end of the spectrum of "hurrying," you might find that you are experiencing this much more often than you thought, albeit on a much lower level of intensity.
In the morning, when you get up, is there a very present sense, a feeling or a thought, that you only have a limited amount of time before you leave, and that you need to engage in all the aspects of your routine without delay? Is there a constant sense of needing to go on to "the next thing"? For example, when you get out of bed you're focused on getting into the shower; when you get out of the shower you're focused on getting dressed; when you are dressed, you are focused on eating breakfast, and so on? In other words, as you move between activities, or as you move between one location and another (for example, from home to work or to school) do you find that you are always focusing on where you are going, or what you are doing next, and when you need to be there or do that? Rather than being really present to what you're doing in the moment?
Practising mindful awareness, and tuning into your body, you will become increasingly aware that all of this is accompanied by some physical sense of tension. This physical sense of tension, as low-key as it may be, is a sensation of rushing, of having to rush. It is essentially a sensation that things are not all right in the present moment, that you cannot just relax and be. And it is not a sensation that is necessary for effective action – except when we actually need to hurry. Obviously, there are times when we have to rush, but here I am talking about patterns: patterns of behaviour and patterns of internal, feeling states.
Masters of disciplines and practices such as Aikido and other martial arts, Tai Chi, and Qigong teach and demonstrate that effective and timely action is not necessarily proportional to effort, or to the investment of energy as we would generally think of it. In these practices and disciplines, one learns that the most effective and timely and appropriate action occurs from a place of Presence , a place of stillness. In fact, in these practices, the emphasis is put on the practice of "effortless action" and "doing through non-doing." This is contrary to our usual way of thinking about it. Appropriate, effective and timely action is almost effortless when it springs from a well of Presence.
The more you practice Presence , especially through practising moving with energy with a specific form such as Qigong, the more you cultivate a place of stillness within you which is not reactive. Practising Presence leads to a state, a way of being, that is much less reactive to external stimuli and much more stable, consistent and self-directed.
When you practise Presence you come to terms with reality, rather than react to it. If you have mixed feelings about going to work, you don't avoid those feelings and then avoid the tasks of preparing to go to work, until you are late. Practising Presence means being aware of these mixed feelings, this inner conflict, and opening to it, exploring it and accepting it. In other words, you are not engaged in avoidance and you are more consciously aware.
Practising Presence also leads to taking responsibility for feelings, for situations and for making choices. So through practising Presence I will be very aware of these mixed feelings about going to work, and what they are about. In that state of conscious awareness, I will be aware of the desire or the urge within me to avoid, to procrastinate, or to delay. I will take responsibility for my situation and for my feelings, and proactively prevent myself from procrastinating. The end result: I am not rushing, I am not late for work.
The same thing applies if my rushing is due to being reactive to other people's expectations of me. Again, practising Presence allows me to be much more consciously aware of the situation and of my feelings (including my automatic reactive patterns of behaviour in this type of situation) and will lead me to take responsibility for the situation, and to consciously make choices that I can own and except.
Of course, there are specific times when rushing is necessary. Unexpected urgencies or emergencies occur and we have to respond fast. But most the time, if we are rushing in any sense of the word, it is the result of some kind of pattern. It may be a pattern of being late. It may be a pattern of not giving ourselves enough time, or of "dillydallying" or procrastinating. It may be a pattern of, for example, not looking at our relationship to our job and why we seem to always be delaying leaving for work, so that were always rushing.
On the other hand, it may have more to do with a pattern of feeling. A pattern of feeling like there is "so much to do"; a pattern of feeling stressed and overwhelmed; a pattern of trying to do too many things in too little time, or of fearing making other people displeased with us. It may also be related to beliefs, such as believing we have to be constantly busy.
Why is rushing a problem? Rushing is, by definition, a behaviour and an associated state, in which we are to some degree both stressed, and somewhat unprepared. In that state, in the midst of that behaviour, we lack the flexibility and the resilience to deal with unexpected factors and events. We don't have the time or capacity to pay attention to all the things we need to be paying attention to. And it is definitely not a state in which we can be fully present.
If I am rushing then I am acting in terms of the idea that "there is a problem"; I am focusing my attention on where I need to be at some point the future, and when I need to be there (or, when I need to have accomplished a task.) Aside from, and as a result of, not being in the present, I may miss things that require my attention. I can easily make mistakes in what I am doing; if unexpected situations occur, I don't have the flexibility, the time, the attention to give those events or situations.
Finally, rushing is a state which involves tension in the body. Tension in the body is not in and of itself in a harmful thing, but if that tension is habitual and repetitive it can become a problematic thing, and can result in physical issues. The negative effects of stress on mind and body are very well known.
Even when the rushing is not so obvious from a behavioural point of view, even when people watching you would not necessarily think that you are rushing, rushing can be a very internal and subjective state. A state in which you feel an inner tension as if something is wrong and you need to fix it – or else, or as if something will be wrong if you don't fix the problem proactively.
As well, if rushing, if being in a hurry, getting things done fast and moving onto the next one, have become habitual states for you, habitual patterns of behaviour, you can easily be unaware that you are rushing, or feeling that type of tension.
Once again, mindfulness is a very useful and important resource. Practising mindful focusing on a regular basis leads you to be more and more attuned to "what's going on inside" – to your internal state. The more you practice mindful awareness, and the more you practice Presence , the more you become aware of subtle levels of tension you were not aware of before. This awareness creates an opportunity to work on changing and resolving these patterns of tension at their ever more subtle levels, leaving you ever freer from tension, feeling better and better, functioning more and more smoothly and "in the flow."
As a simple exercise, if you notice that kind of tension in your body – often, in the chest or belly – associated with feeling rushed, just stop for 15 or 20 seconds and allow yourself to take and release three deep breaths while focusing on releasing this tension. Notice how it changes how you feel; it may even change how you think, move and behave as you continue with what you are doing.