Embracing the Power of Presence: How to Boost Productivity, Reduce Stress, and Cultivate Fulfillment
Short on time? Take a moment to give the audio recording of this blog post a quick listen.
What does it mean to be fully present, and why would you want to be?
Being fully present is often described as living in the present moment – whereby you fully inhabit the moment you are living in right now because essentially there is no other. However, in order to be fully present, one cannot ignore understanding the nature of the mind. The reason for this is that it is essentially our minds that pull us out of being in the ‘now’ – with its need to dwell on the past, project into the future, get utterly absorbed in problem-solving (and pattern making) – and as a result, ruminate on all sorts of things for absolute hours. In fact, most of us are not even aware of how our minds control our lives since we are so entirely mind identified. We wholeheartedly believe our minds, without question.
And, herein lies the deep understanding. To not understand the nature of the mind means we get completely lost in the stories it tells us about ourselves. In any given moment, we will label an experience with a value judgment (good or bad) and come to all sorts of conclusions about ourselves too – whether we are good enough, liked enough, worthy enough. All of this would’ve been determined by previous experiences – more often than not inaccurate conclusions we’ve come to about ourselves. Without investigation, these background stories colour our daily experiences and very much keep us out of living this moment, this very moment, in its totality and in a sense, its purity.
Of course, the next question is, how does someone ‘dis-identify’ with the mind when surely that is who we are? This is where meditation comes in. Meditation offers us the space to observe how our minds work. Initially it is very difficult, for the very reason that we get so caught up in our minds chatter – this is boring, the shopping list, what we have to achieve by the end of the day, a recent conflict or a relationship, our next holiday to escape to. Busy, busy trying to sort it all out. How wonderful a job our minds do in trying to bring order to seeming chaos! The problem is – it’s exhausting. We get utterly lost and absorbed and completely stress ourselves out! The first thing to recognise in meditation is to ask the question, “Well, how do you know you’re thinking?”. How come you can be aware that you are thinking, in fact, how can you watch your thoughts? If you were entirely your thoughts, you would simply be your thoughts and you would not have, what is called, an observer or witness.
Developing an awareness of this ‘observer’ is key. To commit to a meditation practice is to essentially say, ‘I am going to practice being an observer – a witness to all that I am thinking’. This is the start. With practice one begins to truly recognise the ‘auto-pilot’ of the mind – indeed the power of it too. And with practice, one also starts to loosen the grip of believing in it entirely – of totally identifying with it.
This happens because with a meditation practice one learns how to focus one’s attention – on the breath, on sounds, on the body. It slows everything down. It allows you to inhabit the body more fully, to breathe – to make space internally. Eventually, one learns to just sit with the sense of spaciousness – in dynamic stillness – and a whole new way of being in the world opens up to you. Where you buy less into the mind’s ‘stories’, ‘fantasies’ or ‘criticisms’ etc and more into a sense of quiet space, peace, alive-ness. Essentially you drop into the true nature of your being.
If someone is new to meditation, this might all sound – unnecessary. However, most of the problems in the world have been caused by how we think about things. Meditative practice offers us a space to settle and come into contact with our deeper values and act from a place of truth, rather than manipulation. Bear in mind, that meditation may not come easy – to be fair – the very best of gurus out there have had thousands of years of evidence showing that it always requires daily practice. That could be seen as a testament to just how easy it is for the mind to distract us! The point is to not have a judgment about that, just to – kindly – always start again. And, as with any practice, the meditation muscle will get stronger.
There are now many methods of meditation available and you just have to find the one that works for you. Whether it is chanting, silence, focusing on the breath and body and listening to podcasts from people who can guide you – in inspirational teachings as well as practice. Ultimately you will learn to train your mind and come to live in your being.
As you grow a deeper experience of ‘just being’ – you will bring this awareness into everything that you do. It is, in a sense, a natural by-product of your meditation practice – simply because it’s infinitely more pleasant. Coming from this place makes life more enjoyable, there’s a greater ease, more space to deal with life’s ups and downs, rather than being whipped by the storm. The metaphor of the waves and the ocean is always really useful here. It’s not that there are no longer waves, it’s that you now identify with the vast, deep ocean – and the inner resource this grants you is enormous.
From this place, you are more likely to experience a sense of peace and contentment – no longer a slave to punishing thoughts. You become more familiar with ‘living in the moment’, being fully present to what you are doing. This encourages creativity and a sense of ease – a state of flow ensues.
Gratitude unfolds naturally too. I see it as the natural unfolding of a meditative mind. One begins to realise how little control one really does have, and to surrender far more deeply to the great mystery of life. When you sit in the great body of the ocean, and trust it, you simultaneously open yourself to the symphony of life – where magic happens – all of its own accord. Gratitude forms from the awe of this thing called life and that we get the privilege to participate in it.
Plato’s advice, ‘Know thyself’ could not attest to its wisdom more so than today. By committing to a practice of meditation, you interrupt the automatic reflexive actions of the mind – you instantly reduce the need to act out your anger, and gives you time to approach something from a different place. In a very real sense you would be committing to making your world a better place, because you are committing to showing up to the best version of you.