A good friend of mine said something to me that really struck a chord. We were talking about the nature of reality, and about how we create our own realities through the ways we perceive the world around us. The statement she made was, “I believe all time and reality exists in the moment.” I thought, “Wow…” When you really think about it, the only real existence is what is around us at any given moment in time. It is the “right now.”
The past does not really “exist” because it is in the past. The future cannot “exist” because it has not yet formed. So the only thing, the only reality, we are left with is in the now.
But how do we actually deal with the moment? Most of us are constantly looking to the past, or to the future, to define our realities. The results are often anxiety, depression, stress, or other negative emotional states. Often times we are so focused on either the past or the future, that we become totally unaware of the moment. We are simply not Present.
What does it mean to be Present?
In Zen, satori is a moment of Presence, a moment of simply Being… of totally living in the present moment in time, without the clutter of the mind, the anxiety about the future, depression about the past. It is a moment of understanding and of complete Awareness, without judgment or emotion. Being Present is about acceptance and release.
When we are Present in the moment we are able to relate to ourselves, our environment and to others around us on a much deeper level than when we are preoccupied with what has happened in the past, or what may happen in the future.
As an example, think of a special moment when you and another have been totally immersed in a conversation, event, or other activity. When all of your thoughts and energy were totally dedicated to that person, event, or other activity at a particular moment in time. Really relive that experience in your mind, and think about the connection you had at that moment.
Now contrast that with a time when you approached another person about an important issue, and the person spoke to you about it, but while he or she was discussing the topic with you they were also reading emails, checking their Blackberry, or otherwise pre-occupied. How deep was the connection, the understanding? How did you feel about the situation? What was your internal reaction? How much was actually accomplished?
In the first example you are approaching what it means to be Present. These experiences are often described as magical, intense, fulfilling… In the second example you are far removed from Presence in the activity, and it is likely that you felt several negative feelings, and probably very little was accomplished.
Another example of Presence is what is often referred to as “being in the zone.” Its that moment when all of your focus, all of your energy, all of your attention are given to that single moment in time. There is no past, or future. Only the moment. There is no judging, no labeling… just what is. This intense relationship with the moment is the very reason we are much more effective when we are “in the zone.”
The importance of Presence
When we are not living in the Present we are rarely, if ever, accepting the world around us. The result is unhappiness and distorted perception in some form or other. When we do not accept the world around us, we build up emotional baggage that forces us to view the present and the future through tainted eyes. Thus our map of reality is tainted and inaccurate, limiting our ability to respond appropriately to our environment and succeed in the world. In extreme cases this can lead to severe emotional or psychological illness, or even manifest in stress related physical illness.
To be Present does not mean to give up on planning for the future, or learning from the past. The objective is to not become obsessed with the past or future, and to realize that the past is only a conglomeration of moments in time, as the future will also be when it comes. If you never live in the Present, you can never really learn from the past or fulfill future plans. As Eckhart Tolle puts it: “If your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional, that dysfunction will be reflected in every relationship and situation you encounter.”