The Point of the Present Moment

Milky Way

“I have met a lot of Zen Masters in my life; all of them cats.” Eckhart Tolle

It is easy to forget that our ancestors were naturally enlightened. It is only when our minds evolved to a certain point that we were able to conceptualize the past and future. Before then, the entire planet was populated with Buddha’s. Some might argue that we were no more than savage beasts, but the thought of something being “better” only exists when there is a species able to think it, and no matter how hard one tries, comparison will always be a subjective endeavor.

There is a huge misconception that spirituality means going backwards. You see many people trying to “get back to their roots”. The key word here is “trying”. There is nothing inherently spiritual about beating on drums in a park, or dancing around a fire. Both of these things might be enjoyable, but if someone is doing them just because they are “spiritual”, it doesn’t matter how hard he pounds away, he will not be able to enjoy the experience. Likewise, if someone is giving their full attention to cleaning the kitchen, not only will their kitchen be efficiently cleaned, but he or she is likely to enjoy the experience, and even grow from it.

Your mind evolved to be powerful and complex to help you survive, not to make you happy. The present moment is so rich and full- infinitely so. The point of all your yoga, meditation, etc.. is to be able to push away the past and future when you desire, and fully enjoy it.

Catching Up

Lion and Cub

Maybe it was a book, a lecture, or a combination of similar things. Whatever it was, you have a new understanding; you are dedicated to making the present moment the focus of your life. Good riddance, needless suffering!

But wait, if I am so enlightened, why does my significant other still frustrate me so much, and why am I so anxious about the uncertain future? Buddha wouldn’t worry about his bills, and he certainly wouldn’t lose his temper over bad traffic.

Thoughts like these are very common among those just starting off on their journey to consciousness, and before long can have them wondering if they are just fooling themselves with this whole Zen thing. What is forgotten, or perhaps not realized, is that with the exception of a few, most of us take the long path to enlightenment.

The reason for this is that your mind has been constantly trained since you were born, and undoing years and years of destructive thought patterns isn’t as simple as just having a realization. This, however, doesn’t imply that your realization isn’t profoundly true.

The List:

1. Your mind needs time to catch up to your new outlook on life. The reason, despite your epiphany, that you still get frustrated in a traffic jam, is because you have trained your mind to do so. Years and years of reacting negatively to something completely out of your control doesn’t limit your suffering to that particular moment, but reinforces your mind to react the same way in the future. It will take constant mindfulness to stay present in these moments, and you are certainly going to succumb to unconsciousness at times, but given enough time and effort, you will soon find your response to these “unpleasant” situations is one of understanding.

2. Slow down. The simple act of taking your time is a very natural form of meditation. By putting your entire focus on the task at hand your mind will slowly being to settle down. If you do this enough that it becomes a habit, you will notice that in situations that used to trigger anger and frustration, you remain calm and present. In fact, you will probably find it humorous that you used to get upset so easily.

3. Be kind to your mind. As your awareness grows, you will likely notice when you begin to react negatively to an external situation. Don’t punish yourself for not acting “zen like”. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, just let yourself be frustrated. Resisting it will just bury it down deep within you, making you anxious, until it inevitably surfaces in some type of outburst. Instead, consciously observe and feel the frustration in your body. Accept it. Don’t get angry at yourself for reacting this way, but meet these thoughts and emotions with understanding; know that they are nothing more than the result of poor training.

If you want to know peace, it is imperative that you are kind to yourself; particularly inside your own head. Don’t let your mind trick you into holding yourself accountable for thoughts and emotions that are rooted in your unconscious past. Do your best to stay preset. Your mind will catch up in time.

Opinions

Autumn

Imagine for a moment that your mind is a black hole of sorts. Energy, in the form of information, flowing through space and time, passes over the event-horizon of your consciousness, and seemingly cements itself within the constructs of your mind. It soon becomes obvious the vast majority of information we encounter is not done so voluntarily, and even when we do actively seek out information, the desire to do so stems from that same place of indirectly gathered knowledge. Following this line of thought quickly blurs the line separating the observer and the observed.

The point of this thought exercise is to show you that your mind is a very structured tool; a structured tool that is capable of holding infinite varieties of information, which can manifest in an infinite variety of opinions. The ego, always looking for a way to define itself, manufactures these opinions, and will go to almost any length to defend them. This can be easily observed in many modern day sports fans. A game intended to offer harmless entertainment soon escalates into an all-out riot when THEIR team loses.

Ideas are powerful. They are the predecessor to almost all action and their practicality cannot be denied. However, if you allow your ego to take this unbiased information and derive a sense of self from it, you will find yourself facing a much more real black hole; one that despite the number and variety of opinions you try to fill it with, will remain empty until the day you die.

The List:

1. Experiment with not voicing your opinion. Next time you are in a social setting and everyone is giving their opinions on some trivial topic, make an effort to just hold yours in and observe your thoughts. It’s likely you have your own opinions on the subject and you might even feel a little frustrated at not voicing them. Don’t give in, and you will soon feel this dissipate and be replaced with a sense of peace and awareness. You will also find yourself far more engaged in the present moment, and if there is a high quality to the conversation, you might enjoy actually listening for a change, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak. This, of course, does not imply that when faced with important situations you should remain silent, but is just a simple exercise to aid you in observing your own attachment to opinions.

2. Modern psychology. It has now come to the attention of scientists that your mind doesn’t actually have any interest in finding the truth. In fact, it will flat out ignore it given the chance. Studies have shown that instead of being rational, you are much more interested in reinforcing your current beliefs. When presented with 9 facts disproving one of your opinions, your mind only needs one fact reinforcing it to justify the dismissal of the others. If you have a tendency to cling to your opinions make an attempt to observe this in action.

3. “Yet our opinions have no permanence; like Autumn and Winter, they gradually pass away.” – Chuang Tzu. Think of how many times in your life you have been convinced that your current viewpoint was an accurate description of the world. Then circumstances changed, along with it your opinions, and you found yourself with a new philosophy to live by. The point is, people are not fixed things- they are processes. The seemingly trivial act of watching a television program will leave you a different person than you were prior to viewing it. One thing is for sure though, if you find yourself in one of those “finally figured it out” moments, don’t get to comfortable, because the leaves will fall off that tree soon enough.

Expectations

Supernova

It is often said that if you are without expectations, you will be free from disappointment. It seems true enough at face value; don’t go to a restaurant expecting a perfect meal, and your likely not to be upset when you get served a mediocre dish. It doesn’t stop with sub par food though. If you have an ideal of how things are supposed to go, it’s impossible not to have a negative reaction when life inevitably follows it’s own course. Consider for a moment just how mad this really is. You, one single point of reference in an unimaginably big universe, have expectations on how events should unfold. Not only do you have a plan for the cosmos, but you’re willing to bet on it, and what do you wager? Your peace and sanity. The most baffling part of all lies in the fact that if you somehow win this sucker’s bet, if the entire universe bends to your will, you won’t even be happy. In fact, you won’t even be satisfied. Why? Because you expected it.

The List:

1. Approach life from a place of gratitude. How often do you take a moment to reflect on just how amazing and absurd it is that you exist? Your origins can be traced directly back to the explosion of a star. Everything that has happened before and since, through an incomprehensibly long chain of events, has led to this present moment; has led to you. Try to recall this the next time you are served cold soup.

2. Watch the bumper cars. One effective way to stay conscious is to observe the unconsciousness of others. Don’t let your ego turn this into “look how much more enlightened I am”. but use it as a tool to discover your own destructive tendencies. Next time you are in a crowded setting take a good look at the interactions of those around you. It won’t take long before your gaze falls upon some type of frustration, and many times this frustration results in conflict. Everyone is carrying around loads of expectations, and like a group of children in bumper cars, the continuous crash of these expectations is inevitable.

3. Subconscious expectations. Learning to guard against the expectations of a perfect meal, or smooth visit to the DMV are perfectly achievable goals, but the majority of our expectations are stored deep within our mind, out of reach of our conscious attention.

Most everyone feels a deep level of compassion when seeing a young person on their death bed , but at the same time, almost all of us unconsciously believe it could never happen to us. An expecting woman might know the statistics, but nevertheless is hit like a ton of bricks when her child is born with down syndrome. We all have ideas of what is normal, and what is normal comes to be what we expect, but life will rarely give you what you think you “deserve”. In these trying moments, you certainly won’t give a second thought to what your expectations were, and how this relates to your spiritual development, but given time, stillness and perspective will slowly come back into your life, and once again present, you will see the truth and beauty of it all.

Thought Patterns

path

It is truly amazing how one event can throw you right back into old, destructive thought patterns. This doesn’t have to be something major such as the death of a family member, or a particularly intense fight with your spouse. Even a TV show, or a song on the radio can unconsciously alter your inner state and have you operating from a place of fear. Your actions, now inspired by fear rather than love, will negatively impact all aspects of your life; trapping you in a vicious circle that all started from a seemingly insignificant event.

You don’t have to look far to see the implications of this. It is impossible that some irrevocable aspect of your life was not born into reality in a period of unconsciousness. Life does not pause and wait for you to re-center yourself before moving on. In the end, you will have to accept whatever it is, or continue to suffer, but if you train your mind to guard against these triggers of unconsciousness, you can save yourself a lot of trouble, but more importantly, enjoy your life as it unfolds.

The List:

1. Observe. Learning to observe your own thoughts is a priceless tool. Once you understand that they are no more than conditioned patterns, you can then learn not to take them so seriously. Once this happens, instead of being influenced by them, they just arise and drift away, and you maintain your peace.

2. Make awareness a theme in your life. Despite your best efforts you will still occasionally get trapped in negative thought patterns. However, instead of letting this turn into weeks, months, or even years of unconsciousness; you can train yourself to stay aware and avoid unnecessary suffering. Use meditation, yoga, or just periodic deep breathing throughout the day. Surround yourself with others who are practicing awareness. Start focusing your attention on the body instead of spending all your time in your head. Bring your attention to the present moment when you find yourself lost in thought. There are thousands of methods to choose from, but you only need one that works for you.

3. Feed the right wolf. There is an old Cherokee tale of a boy going to his grandfather for advice. He tells the old man that there is a battle going on inside him between two wolves. One wolf is a hate wolf that craves jealousy, greed, power, and so on. The other is a love wolf who craves joy, peace, enthusiasm, etc.. The young boy is scared and desires to know which wolf will ultimately win. The grandfather, having fought this battle himself, replies “whichever one you feed.”

Press Play

sunrise
Buddha said that what we think we become. Our thoughts not only have a direct effect on our current emotional state; but train our mind to think these thoughts habitually. Before long this translates into a mental and emotional “default setting” of sorts. You can easily observe this in almost anyone. Everyone knows a confident high energy individual, or the overly anxious person who just never seems comfortable. Both of these people will experience swings in their default setting when their life situation is significantly and abruptly altered (for better or worse), but for the most part you can expect them to display their familiar characteristics.

I’m sure you have experienced that amazing feeling of listening to a particularly moving song. You lose all track of time. There are no judgements or opinions. There is nothing but you and the song, and before long it isn’t even that- its just the experience. Being totally immersed in the present moment is the desired default setting, but if you cant learn to make life your favorite song, then its nothing more than a fleeting moment of bliss.

The list:

1. Rewind. Your memory is a powerful tool. There are plenty of instances when life requires you to hit this button.  You use it constantly for the most simple but necessary actions that day to day life requires, and for more complex issues as well; like spotting a destructive pattern in your life that you need to change. However, if you forget that it is a tool that serves a purpose, you may soon find yourself addicted to it. The world is full of people who are stuck in the past. Whether they are drowning in regret, or constantly comparing the present to false memories of the “good ole days”; the result is the same. If you live in the past, you will suffer in the present.

2. Fast Forward. At some point in the past our species developed a knack for predicting the future. The ability to envision possible scenarios and take the most appropriate action has served us well. There is no doubt our survival as a species depended on this, and it many ways continues to do so. 

The mind is a powerful, powerful tool but it’s ability to solve problems is only rivaled by its ability to create them. Spending your time dreaming of the future will impair your ability to enjoy the present, and since the present moment is all that ever truly exists, you will never be satisfied. Spending your time imagining all the things that could go wrong won’t leave you more prepared for things to come, but riddled with anxiety and paralyzed with fear.

3. Play. All humans have this as their default setting for at least a brief moment early in life. Young children are very rarely anxious or bored, and display an enviable sense of awe and enthusiasm at the world around them. It is likely your experience of the world is very different. Instead of viewing life as a playground you have come to see it as a great tragedy, or a repetitive chore- endlessly waiting for that next thing that will fill the void.

If you wish to reclaim your natural state you only need redirect your attention to the present moment. Whether it be through meditation, yoga, or some other method, you must break down your old conditioned thought patterns day-by-day, thought-by-thought. When a thought longing for the past or a fear of the future arises in your consciousness you must meet it with understanding and compassion, and let it go. Over time the frequency of these thoughts will decrease, and when they do arise, they will have no significance. Once the world ceases to look scary and once again looks inviting then play has once again become your default setting.

4. Pause. Every song gets old if played continuously, and in these moments nothing sounds sweeter than silence.

Conscious Power

Power

It is very common for conscious people to shy away from power, or at least feel guilty when they don’t. The word itself evokes imagery of corrupt politicians, greedy CEO’s, and war hungry governments. These types of people undoubtedly possess power, and lots of it, but is the power itself evil, or just a by-product of the source?

If power is the ability to influence others and your environment then power is inescapable. No one is completely without power, and no one can completely avoid using it. Even a hermit living in total isolation is not immune to this rule; the acquisition of food, the accidental killing of an insect, a deep breath- all forms of power.

What does this knowledge mean to conscious people? Should we limit our power as much as possible? Should we passively let others exert their power onto us? Should we “fight back”?

The list:

1. Consciousness does not imply weakness. If you allow yourself to be walked on, ego driven people will always use you as a stepping stone to some imaginary future in their head. This does not just apply to a shady car salesman or manipulative marketing campaigns, but your own personal relationships. Once acceptance becomes a major theme in your life it is very easy for your partner or family members, still in the grip of ego, to take advantage of you. When faced with a situation like this take a few deep breaths, become present, then act. It is imperative that you learn the difference between acceptance and weakness.

2. Do not fear your own power. You must not think of power as evil in itself. It may have a tendency to corrupt, but this is only because most humans are still unconscious, and power in the hands of the unaware almost always produces negative results. The greatest spiritual teachers in history all had great power, but they maintained presence in the midst of that power and changed the world. When you are aligned with the present moment your power is greater than any ego’s. This does not imply you have a bigger net impact than a powerful CEO, but that your actions, coming from a place of presence, will manifest in ways most beneficial to you and the universe as a whole. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

3. As your power grows so will the temptation to abuse it. When your actions start to produce positive results your confidence will grow. As this happens you may notice the dynamic of every relationship you have will undergo a change. This will manifest in many ways. Some will seem positive, others negative. Everyone reacts to a shift in power; it’s biological. What is important is that your awareness grows with your power. If you cannot maintain presence in the peaks of your power you will find yourself a slave to it. The mind can identify with anything, but perhaps nothing more strongly than power. If, however, you can remain conscious, you will find yourself capable of more than even your ego could imagine.

4. Power will always shape the world. You may have noticed that one doesn’t have to be conscious to wield power. In fact, people still in the grip of the ego, are most likely to find themselves in positions of great power. This is because the ego will justify anything to achieve its goals, and since it can never be satisfied, the game only ends when one awakens or dies.

There is no blueprint for humanity. No destiny to fulfill. If the power of the world continues to come from a source of ego, the status quo will remain the same; for as long as possible anyway. However, if the majority of power in the world emanates from a source of Being, a source of presence, a state of consciousness, then the world is a very different place.