Present-Moment Living and the Authentic Life
I think that most people live in the past, the future or in fantasy. In all of those cases, we are creating some memory of greatness that we either were or will be despite evidence that may indicate otherwise.
When we live in the past, we often believe that somehow life was perfect then. We knew everything, had everything. But somehow, in the present, all of that has been taken away. Usually some greater power (usually God) is blamed for taking it all away.
When we live in the future, we believe that our wanting it badly enough and putting it on a list will make it so. We imagine that, one day, we will reach perfection and everything will make sense in our lives. We will make the right choices, live the right way and be happy. (It is interesting to me that we are not ready to make the right choices now but we truly believe that something in the future will change all of that).
When we live in fantasy, we tend to cook up an image for ourselves that is not aligned with our truth, but rather with the truth of others – whether it is what the media or our peers tell us is the truth.
The trouble is that none of these options work out well for our lives. Living in the past suggests that you are not good enough now; the future depends on a list of “to-dos” and not the now; and fantasy is well, just a fantasy. It is unachievable if it is not aligned with your true self.
The woman of sixty-three who dresses in leggings and midriffs and starves herself because she wants to weigh the same as when she was eighteen and the most popular girl in school; the overweight person who chronically stuffs himself with junk food after a stressful workweek promises himself on Friday that he will start a stringent diet – on the following Monday; the person who acts hard and tough in her career (because that’s what strong women do according to Cosmo) but who really would like to be a housewife and take care of kids – all of these people are doomed to frozen lives, unless something happens to bring them to present-moment living.
Very few of us embrace the present moment although all the yogic texts, Buddhism and great spiritual teachers tell us that this is where happiness and peace are to be found.
However, what they did not know was how different our world is than when they wrote their guidelines. In our adrenaline-jacked, 100 mph, multi-tasking world, being in the present moment is well, boring and often frustrating. Our world is a “just add water and stir” kind of world where everything is to be had right now whether it is the purchase of a cup of coffee or a fitness certification. Beating ourselves up with work, or exercise, or multi-tasking is often admired in our culture. What is not addressed is that, in time, that “beating up” mentality leads to outcomes we don’t address: addictions, depression, fatigue, breaking down.
There is a delusion about “striving.” Striving is working toward a goal, not straining or forcing toward a goal. It requires focus, persistence and consistency – all to be found in the present moment. A successful diet program requires small steps done consistently and takes time. A crash or fad diet can result in weight loss – if you’re able to stick with it – but the results are usually not long lasting in which case I would suggest that that diet is not successful at all. In addition, there is no way of knowing what the deeper physiological costs of such a diet is until later on. In much the same way, it is impossible to work out for three hours straight one day to make up for the last five days without working out and expect the same results. Doing fifty leg lifts instead of ten focused ones is not better and the only result is that you get really good at doing leg lifts.
So, if we are not used to present-moment living, how do we acquire the skill to not only live in those moments but to be comfortable with them?
Classical yoga gives us the opportunity to be healthy in our minds and spirits by addressing these very issues. Since classical yoga does not follow a rote set of asanas, the student is somewhat compelled to be in the moment physically since they do not know what’s coming next. A good teacher – one with proper education as well as the wisdom that comes from experience – guides the student from one asana to the next based on what that student needs now (which may be different tomorrow).
In a classical yoga session, the student will come into moments where they are uncomfortable. They may be asked to be still for a longer time than they are used to; they may be asked to do an asana that they don’t like because it doesn’t come easily. In these moments, a teacher can be there to encourage you but it is you who must become your own voice of strength.
What goes through your mind in these very moments? If it is anything other than being at peace and steadiness then there is your work. This is where you work on being steady in those uncomfortable places. This is where you work on present-moment being.
Notice the messages that flood your mind. Most of the time they are there to distract you; the mind can be stimulated by external or internal factors but it really prefers the external so that’s where it will try to take you. If all you’ve ever done is react every time an external stimulant flags your attention then why would you expect something different? You will have to train yourself to not react.
So, why is this important? Well, better decisions are made from a place of centeredness and calmness. Those qualities can only be found in the present moment. I don’t know one person who wouldn’t like to make better decisions whether they involve personal, business or social choices.
Focus becomes laser-like in the present moment. Think of the last health crisis that you or a loved one faced. I’ll bet there was no monkey mind to distract you then but where was it? Did you make a conscious effort to get rid of the monkey mind? No. You just didn’t give it the attention that it wanted. Sure, maybe it was by default but now you have proof that you can do it – whether you are in crisis or not.
Present-moment living deepens relationships and experiences. Imagine meeting a friend for lunch and she spends the whole time checking her smartphone, greeting other people or interrupting your chatter to tell you all about her exciting experiences? These are the people who, in later years, will regret not being in the present moment. I often hear from older people that they wished they had been more aware of others and appreciative of their lives in their younger days. This type of regret may be something that you yourself have experienced. Recognize that it is only by living in the present moment can we experience the full joy of being with those that we love or truly absorb what it is we have to learn.