The primordial importance of being able to be Present, “Here and Now”, has been asserted over and over again since the dawn of human spirituality. This is one of those topics most Sages and wisemen agree on. There is simply no real awareness, no actual evolution of human Consciousness outside of this Instant, the Present Moment. Interestingly enough, it is a common trait shared by almost all high level performers! From samurais to business investors, be it in arts, surgery, sports or meditation, the importance of having their whole being entirely Present, into what they are doing when performing is indeed a common ground, at least to some degree. Don’t get me wrong though! Lots of things can be accomplished and created outside of this very specific state of Consciousness. They are just not the expression of one’s greatest potential and as such, hardly promotes real evolution and in the end, real fulfillment.
It is indeed the only “place/moment” where we are free, free from the conditioned mind that otherwise rules over our lives. Learning to be Present is actually coming back to reality, taking off the virtual “lenses” and other filters we have, altering our perceptions of reality. Whether we do not have a definite purpose in life or whatever we define as a goal from a “non-present” mindset, we are still governed by subconscious and unconscious conditionings. These beliefs and motivations can hardly bring the kind of Peace we, knowingly or not, really aspire to. Again, it is in most cases, better to have a goal than not to have one. Yet, the real motivators feeding that goal, if coming from the non-conscious parts of our psyche, will almost certainly, sooner or later, lead us to some form or another of disappointment. Strange as it may seem at first, it is to say that it matters less if we achieve our goals or not than to be aware of the actual REAL motivation backing it: The Why. Clarity and alignment on the “right” why will actually bring some very different energy to our projects. It makes us naturally happy, right then and there. Not just the superficial enthusiasm that lasts for a while and then, most of the time, brings us back to square one! No, we are talking about a real, deep joy and vitality coming from inside that no external circumstance seem to be able to tamper with.
So what does it really mean and how do we know for sure that we are Present? Are there reliable signs or “symptoms”?
First let’s make it clear: there are many levels of Presence. From merely focused on what is going on right now in one’s environment, to being aware of the subtle nature of things beyond appearances, to literally accessing other levels of reality, and more… There is a whole lot of different degrees of Presence. And even more states of Consciousness that would look like Presence yet couldn’t be any different! Having what some would call spiritual experiences, in the form of visions and other extra-sensorial perceptions, even accurate ones, doesn’t necessarily mean Presence. Being able to sit still for hours meditating, doesn’t automatically imply a deep level of Presence either. Being able to withstand difficulties or discomfort in a more or less stoic way, could be the fruit of being Present, or not! It could just be a massive Psychological Reversal!
What is it then? As usual with Consciousness phenomenons, only direct first hand experience will tell. Yet, let’s see if we can help with some clear guidelines. As stated before, it all starts with coming back to the Present moment: Being aware of what IS, Here and Now, external circumstances or inner state alike. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The main part is: How do we relate to what IS? And talking about reliable signs of Presence, one way to know for sure where we stand and to monitor our progress is to pay attention to “What happens inside of us and how do we behave when things don’t seem to go our way?
Most of us start with the perception that how we feel is the result of what happens in our daily lives. Becoming more Present starts to change that perception by de-correlating the events from our feelings about them. In other words, we start to realize that the same events could elicit very different emotional responses, in a less automatic way. We become more aware, almost spectators of the reaction mechanisms at play in our psyche. This distance, this space inside, around our thoughts and emotions is an important sign of us being on the right track. This makes us less reactive, less prone to feel that we have to defend an opinion. Not that we do not have those anymore, not at all. They just do not appear as important anymore, we may feel like we are much more aware of their transient nature. Opinons come and go, even the “big ones”. Without having to change our Values in essence, we may further clarify them, reframe them in a new context and end up realizing that what we believed to be so important was actually bounded to our situation at the time. Things may indeed be quite different now. Those who do not go through that kind of process at some point may actually find themselves stuck, with little hope for evolution or growth.
This ability to Observe what is happening and what we think or feel about it, without diving or dwelling into it is the first big change, the first big perk of being more Present: More Freedom. We are now less stuck in certain forms of behaviors. We could say that Presence helps us naturally evolve from:
- React to situations: On automatic, conditioned behaviors with little if any room for choice. We could hear ourselves (or others) say things like: “Did you see what happened? I had to … do this or that, I had to!” or “When someone does that kind of things in front of me, there’s only one way they should expect me to react!” or even, “I don’t know what took over me, I could see myself saying those things but couldn’t help it”.
- Respond to a situation: There is already more space, more awareness about what is happening inside of us. So much so that we could feel like we can actually choose to react a certain way. It may still require some effort but there is definitely more freedom of choice regarding how we act and so, ultimately about how we feel about things. This stage may evolve into a much more poised and relaxed mindset regarding events and situations.
- Act appropriately: Free from any negative feelings about a situation, we are much more able to then actually Choose to do something about it, or not. Sometimes the best course of action is not to do anything physically or mentally about the situation. It differs from the previous stage by the level of awareness, of emotional freedom regarding the situations. It is not to be confused with coldness or other types of “suppressed feeling” states that would be no more than forms of Psychological Reversals. It is not to be detached so much as it is to be non-attached to what the situation means, the outcome, etc… Although this may seem like a superior state of Consciousness, and it is, we may all have had experiences of it at some point. When witnessing a situation and naturally, without looking for it, “knowing” what to do with perfect timing, even more so if we acted on the “knowing”.
Even though reacting is automatic, it can usually be trained to become more coherent with one’s aspirations in life. It may actually prove quite useful to reach specific goals and learn specific skills. Yet, as satisfying as the results may be, we are still a long way from the kind of inner freedom related to real lasting fulfillment. Becoming able to respond, with more and more clarity, is gradually freeing us from the bondage of our past conditionings and by so doing, helps us to bring more awareness and more Life force to our life experience. But it is only when we are free from automatic reactions, free from negativity or attachment to situations and events, really free to act or not with real equanimity, that we start experiencing what all this is actually about.
With more emotional freedom, there is basically more Life flowing in our lives. Aliveness, genuine creativity, synchronistic favorable events, … a lot of unforeseen advantages are now free to flow into our experience, much more abundantly. The key though is not to do it as a mean to an end. It would just constitute another thought we would need to be non-attached to. We are Present just for the sake of Being, everything else is added to it, spontaneously. The deep inner joy, the springing aliveness and genuine creativity are actual manifestations of Presence. Many strive to manifest those without actually knowing their natural source. It is the “fake it ’till you make it” mind set. Not that there is anything wrong about it. It may be helpful and produce some results, to some extend. Yet, it is nothing compared to what happens spontaneously when one is Present and really commits to deepening that Presence. The positive thinking approach may then seem like shooting repeatedly in the dark hoping to hit the target at some point. Again, it can produce some results, yet there is only limited change in the actual level of awareness. Being fully Present, Observing and Allowing things to be as they are first, on the other hand, is like letting the Sun shine in by just opening the windows.
The image of a GPS could also be useful here. In order to be of any benefit, the GPS first needs to locate our position as precisely as possible: Knowing where we are, right now. It may then be given instructions for a destination we would like to be guided to. Interestingly enough, the main GPS feature is to be able to “know” where things are right this instant. Its distance from the earth and ability to focus on any point on it, gives it the accuracy and wide perception angle necessary to do so. The GPS is always in the Now. It is never trying to predict the future or dwelling on the past. It takes all the information available and designs the best route to connect two points. If things change along the way though, the GPS will automatically re-evaluate the new situation and propose a new course of action. The allegory goes even further. No matter how many times we get out of the suggested path, it will keep re-evaluating and proposing a new optimal course of action. No judgment or criticism, no “how many times do I have to tell you …?”, just seeing things as they are now, adapting and defining the best course of action, for Now! Of course, the GPS is just a machine and I am not suggesting we should strive to act like machines! Absolutely not. It is believed by some to be a common trait of our technologies to (often not consciously) mimic natural human features. That kind of thinking views the telephone, the television or the internet like reflections of our natural telepathy for example. The work of scientists like the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake is quite interesting in that regard. Our point here is to use it as a working hypothesis: If indeed, we create technologies that mimic the functioning of our own minds, how can we access these abilities directly, from the inside?
Many paths to such freedom have proven effective. Literally any aspect of our lives could be used to bring more Presence in our experience. A rather simple and quite effective one focuses on the sign mentioned earlier: How do we behave when facing challenging or otherwise unpleasant situations? It could be described as follow:
1- When anything happens that is not to our liking, first accept to see things as they are. It doesn’t mean to resign to staying in the situation, at all. It is to first accept to take the full measure of what is, without resistance or jumping to try and change it. It means accepting to be aware of it first, as factually as possible, without judging it, categorizing it or trying to understand or justify it. It is also to be aware of any reaction, thought or emotion manifesting inside us regarding it.
2- Eliminate all and any negativity about it, as much as possible. Here, some energetic practices and other emotional release techniques may prove very useful. A great variety of really effective techniques exist and are available nowadays. It ranges from the use of acupuncture points, like TFT (Thought Field Therapy), of sounds, colors, movements and postures, breathing, or just Observing what one feels, and so much more! It is indeed a vast subject, with a lot of possibilities. All the information available not being necessarily reliable, my own findings on this topic may be the subject of a future article. It is indeed a theme worthy of our attention.
3- Only after the second step has been successfully achieved should we then decide to distance ourselves from the situation, act to change it if ever possible and relevant or just fully accept it one hundred percent.
To begin with, these three steps may seem quite exotic, to say the least. It is indeed a very different process than what we may be used to. Yet, it is definitely worth practicing on very simple, non dramatic situations at first and progressively moving into more challenging scenarios. The key here is obviously to go progressively. It is quite guaranteed to fail, possibly painfully so, if undertaken lightly, without the proper preparation on too big of a challenge to start with. Yet, done properly, with no force, consistently, listening and adapting to one’s own feelings, it will bring results and benefits beyond words.
Stress and challenges can indeed be promoters of progress and positive change. Or they can do the exact opposite and precipitate decay. This is a very important point. Stress and challenges are almost certain to arise at some point in one’s experience. There is hardly anyway to avoid those completely and permanently. We might as well learn to address them in a constructive, growth promoting way. This is one of those occurrences when going slow, adapting, improvising at times and above all persisting, persisting, persisting, … will prove to be invaluable assets.
This is just the beginning. Other ways to promote Presence and awareness will continue to be discussed in future articles. The work of Eckhart Tolle and his three books “The Power of Now”, “Stillness Speaks” and “A new Earth” can also be a great asset to anyone willing to deepen their understanding on the topic.