By Kris Kile
Being present in the moment is the heart of Mindfulness. It is the chewy caramel center. It truly is delicious. Not always fun. But always life-giving.
Being present. Sounds so simple. Yet, it is not so simple to live.
I think the phrase “being present” or “being in the present moment” is more descriptive of this dynamic than the word “mindfulness.” In our culture, any phrase containing the word “mind” is going to automatically lead us to consider it being primarily a cognitive concept—something that takes place within the realm of rational, cognitive thought—mental processes.
The reality is, that from a neuroscience point of view, the word “mind” means much more than mental processes. It means mental processes, plus information flow from our body’s nervous systems, hormonal systems, immune system, emotions, memory and other embodied energy.
The mind is an embodied experience. It includes intelligence not only from our head, but also from our heart and our gut and the rest of our body.
Our culture tends to diminish the importance of emotional (heart) intelligence, and generally ignores the value of body (gut instinct and embodied sensations) intelligence.
To be present in the moment is to be receptive and alive to the entire panorama of information and energy flowing within us, even when it is not what we prefer. That requires us to interrupt the habit of having our thought life—both conscious and unconscious—dominate our experience of living and awareness. It requires us to intentionally shift our focus from the endless stream of thoughts constantly running in our mind to being present to what else is going on in our heart and body.
Life for all of us includes the past, the present, and the future.
Whenever I am not present, I am influenced by things from my perceived past, or I am being influenced by my anticipated future.
What can take us out of “being present” are:
- Fears, concerns, preoccupations, or hauntings from our past. Something in the present triggers a survival-based fear hinged to our past, and we lose the gift of the present moment.
- Or, something in the present triggers concern, worry, anxiety, stress, or preoccupation with anticipated events in the future.
To be present enables me to not be ruled by my concerns from the past or my concerns over the future. It releases me from preoccupation with survival.
Does this mean that our history does not have resource and that we should not work towards the future? Of course not. It is how we are being in these considerations that makes the difference.
Our human tendency is to resist the present moment when it does not line up with what we prefer. And our current reality rarely lines up with our optimal preferences. So, we resist it.
Resistance can take many experiential forms: stress, anxiety, anger, contempt, hostility, defensiveness, reactivity, withdrawal, inactivity, despair, distress, fear, judgment, dismay….and on and on. These are all resistance based suffering….self inflicted suffering. They all tend to be rooted in me determining that there is something wrong with me, the other or the situation.
And, then off we go, automatically and unconsciously flying down the resistance path, fueled by concern energized by our view of the past, and/or concern over our future. As a result, we cease to be present to the current moment, which in reality, is all we ever have.
Next we look at some simple, powerful disciplines and practices that interrupt resistance based suffering and redirect us in the moment to being present.
Being present is a challenge to all humans. What do you notice in yourself and others as a common challenge to being present?