Again and again we hear wisdom traditions ask us to “be present,” but what does this really mean? Often we associate “being present” with lovely and nice things: taking a vacation, hanging out with the kids, planting a garden, or making time for a favorite activity. While these things are part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, thinking that “being present” is something that must wait for pleasantness is missing the point.
Or perhaps when we hear “be present” we think of meditation cushions and hear chimes, as if “being present” is a spiritual practice divorced from the daily life, which is pretty funny actually, since nothing could be more accessible than opening up to the present moment, now, whatever it holds.
Being present is what our body does at every moment. Our body is not on pace with our mind or emotions, stuck on the physical plane. Our body digests food, pumps blood, and processes air without asking, “why.” Why must I pump this blood? For what purpose am I to serve?
Thus, being “unpresent” or lacking mindfulness doesn’t begin in the body. Whenever you are with your heart, with your breath, or with any sensation in the body, you are automatically experiencing the present. Being present is simply showing up for your life as it is right now, no qualifiers, no strings attached. It is to simply reside in the present, to welcome any and all sensations, even those we habitually push aside because they are uncomfortable.
Living in Fantasyland
For many, being present feels strange. Often we quickly begin to feel restless and dissatisfied with the present or even disoriented because the vast majority of our mental activity is spent on reliving the past and imagining the future. The problem with this rumination is that it is based totally on our perceptions and memory. In other words, we spend most of our life living in a world that is self-constructed, nearly a fantasyland. Our perceptions and memory are not objective. They are not direct experience, but a regurgitation based on a very limited perspective.
Residing in the present moment is the same as being mindful. As one resides in the present moment, the intricacies of our mind makes themselves known, and we can see more clearly the truth: the only fresh, alive, and dynamic life takes place in the present moment.
In the present moment, emotions come and go quickly. It is only in the world of the past and future where depression and anxiety rule. Nothing rules the present moment but life, life fills and brims from this moment and when we can meet it with freshness we reduce our suffering. We can speak more truthfully, act with purer intentions, and speak with care. It is only in the present moment that we can listen to another.
Listening is a profound act of loving
To listen well, you give another person the greatest gift possible, a deep acknowledgment of their existence and importance. Listening is a great way to practice being present and mindful. When listening to another, your mind will rear up and you will know yourself and what stand in your way to being more conscious, kind, and connected. The only way to live these ideals is to begin now, in the present moment.
Being present is an active experience in the present moment. It is with sensation and feeling.