The Practice of Being Present
What Does it Mean
to Be Present?
We hear more and more about the importance of "being present... in the here and now".
What does that mean?
Like many things, we can quickly grasp a superficial understanding of the concept, and think that we have "gotten it."
We can learn or develop some way of trying to be more present, and settle into a complacent idea – or even, a belief – that we are, in fact, present.
But we never actually "get it."
Being present is something that happens on a continuum, on a scale, in degrees. We may have moments of being fully present, but they are fleeting.
Which makes being in the present moment an ongoing practice, moment by moment. That's why we call it "practising presence."
The moment we think we are present, we are... thinking!
We live in a world dominated by thinking…
Do you spot the error in that?
We don't live in a world dominated by thinking.
We try to dominate the world with our thinking.
The world just is, and is not dominated by anything. What we call "the world" is the physical and energetic reality of the present moment.
No, we don't live in a world dominated by thinking, but we often live in a reality dominated by our own thinking.
We mistake the "reality" created by our thoughts for the real thing...
Individually, our thoughts are constantly defining reality, seeing it through the filters of our senses, our beliefs and our experience, categorizing it, labelling it and reacting to it.
Most of the time, we are experiencing our experience of encountering reality; not reality itself. We practice presence to try to "sink below" that and be more in direct contact with reality. We start by developing our awareness of how we are actively experiencing our encounter with reality.
The more we are aware of the filters, the better we can see through them, past them, around them.
We live in a society dominated by thinking that teaches us to subscribe to the domination by thought.
Human beings generally tend to focus on creating safety and security. We create safety and security by trying to master our environment, by understanding it, by formulating thoughts and beliefs about it, by creating a sense that we know the world, can predict its and therefore are safe within it.
But all the time you spend thinking about your reality, distilling it into soundbites for the mind, categorizing it into manageable chunks and fitting it into your beliefs, you are actually disengaging from that reality and even from your direct experience of it.
You are stepping back from the direct experience of this moment, away from directly being in this moment; instead, you are thinking about this moment. (Or, more likely, thinking about a past moment or a future moment.)
So, much of the time, we are only present to some degree. To a large degree we are mentally occupied with processing thoughts and feelings about things that have already happened, or about things that are yet to happen.
Even if we are focused on what is happening here and now, we tend to be focused on processing our perceptions, our feelings, formulating our thoughts and responses, and maybe on planning action.
I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. This is what we need to do as human beings in this world. But it is useful to recognize that this is, in fact, what we are doing.
It is useful to recognize the difference between this experience of processing thoughts about the world, and actually experiencing being in the world in the present moment.
It is also useful to cultivate the ability, and to have the choice, to be fully present in the world, in the present moment.
First of all, if you are here, why not get the full experience? Your experience.
The experience of being alive, now, consciously.
Not in the same way that an "adrenaline junkie" would mean that. That kind of experience involves needing to create conditions to get a certain feeling.
I am talking about dropping into your self and your reality of this moment as it is and experiencing yourself in the moment.
So, what does it mean to be present?
What does it mean to practice presence?
Practicing presence starts with Mindfulness. We may notice what is happening: what is happening around us; what is happening in our minds with our thoughts; what is happening with our sensory perceptions.
But we practice a mindful awareness of all these things, without being attached to our thoughts, our sensory perceptions or what is occurring. We practice being aware without being "hooked" by it, without being carried away on the current of thoughts, perceptions, feelings and beliefs. We don't formulate judgments.
In disciplines such as Qigong and Aikido, the practice is one of non-doing. The disciplines involve movement and action, but these movements, these actions, are based in being and not doing. The goal is effortlessness, movement that originates organically from a focus on Presence in the moment, from a place of stillness. A flow of energy, rather than wilful action.
This Presence involves a physical sense and awareness of self. More than that, it involves an integration of consciousness and the body.
Mindfulness alone fosters awareness. I am specifically talking about dropping into a physical sense of your own presence within your body. This is an aspect of what I call "Conscious Embodiment."
Practising presence involves conscious breathing. Focusing on the inhalation to return "home" to the embodied self in the moment of that breath. Focusing on the exhalation to let go of the urge to act, to move, to take control, to speak from the usual places of re-acting. Experiencing what you experience.
But practicing presence goes beyond awareness to being and acting, in the world.
If there is movement, if words are spoken, if there is a response, it comes from a deeper place than our impulsive, automatic reactions. It even comes from a deeper place than our reflective and considered thinking. It comes from a well that can only be accessed from a place of stillness. Sometimes the words that are spoken, the movement that occurs, the action that is taken, can come from such a depth that we are not aware of those words or those actions until they occur.
When I talk about Listening to Your Heart, this is what I am talking about.