Throughout the day we are often caught up in trains of thought that are so compelling we become totally absorbed. It is as if the present moment disappears. Imagine your body sitting on a bank by the river, your thoughts would be like the boats that float by. However, often we don’t choose which boat to board, we just wake up, on a boat, far downstream and wonder: “how did I get here”?
These trains of thought, (or boats of thought) are powerful, as if we are dreaming awake. And yet, at some point, no matter how far downstream, we always wake up. We always come back to the present moment. What force or impulse calls you back again to the present moment? What or who wakes up?
Consciousness? Awareness? This force or element of the mind can be our greatest ally in seeking to better our lives, to grow and expand our intelligence, wisdom, and compassion. With the cultivation of awareness, we can begin to choose which boat we board.
The ability to notice, and appreciate, the moment you wake up to the present, and are once again on the river bank, is usually best practiced in meditation. Because our days are busy and hectic, the subtlety necessary to begin to notice and prolong this change in consciousness is usually begun in an environment of purposeful, temporary withdrawal. As the tendency to awaken is strengthened, it can be brought into everyday life.
In mindfulness, we can first take note of what it like to be “lost” in thought vs what it is like to be “found,” or conscious and present again. As we compare these states, we usually find that to be present feels more relaxed, focused, at ease, and connected. We begin to notice not all “boats of thought” are productive, many are even destructive. We can expand the mind’s natural ability to wake up from the dream of discursive thought, of the mind’s tendency toward stories and air castles. When we do, it is as if we have become enlightened, if even for a few seconds.
With practice we can begin to make choices in our lives, both large and small, from the place of wakefulness, awareness, mindfulness, of being present rather than from the egoic mind, the mind lost in what-ifs and the pains of the past, the mind that is engaging with the world of our fantasy, no matter how real that constructed world seems. It is the world built on a small point of view, in a limited place, frozen in time. The expansive, present mind, builds no such construction, but simply exists with awareness.
There’s nothing wrong with the egoic mind. The ego is necessary for us to function, to know what is other’s and what is mine. However, the egoic mind is a limited resource, with limited vision. It makes patterns and drives those patterns deeper. This limits creativity, flexibility, and wisdom, and the ability to use intelligence in a manner most conducive to constructive change in our lives.
So I invite you to take a seat on the bank, enjoy the freshness of the present, and begin the journey of awakening.