Be present. Be in the moment. It’s what so many spiritual traditions offer up as the most important endeavor we humans can pursue. But entering the present moment is much easier said than done.
Why? Because it’s hard. Really hard. Why is it so hard? Because our minds, aka our egoic selves, constantly wrest our attention away from the present and into Thoughtlandia.
Eckhart’s solution to this conundrum offers two options for entering the moment: Going outside or inside.
Looking out the window
Outside means using our sense perceptions. For example, if you’re driving through brutal traffic, feeling uptight and want to ditch the thoughts and feelings of annoyance coursing through your veins by becoming present, try looking out your window and just noticing what is there. Where I live that might be a palm tree or a bright, blue sky (thank you, Southern California weather Gods!), or people walking along the sidewalk.
Looking at things in our immediate view fosters presence. Why? Because what’s in front of us and around us is what comprises our present moment.
Something I do at the grocery store now and then when I feel myself getting uptight about a long checkout line is I find five different objects in my view. Could be Kate Middleton on the cover of People, carrots, sign saying ’15 items or fewer,’ black leggings on woman in front of me and Snickers bars. It’s virtually impossible to do that AND be stuck in your head complaining about the long line.
Smelling and listening
Or enter the moment by using other senses like smelling a flower if one is nearby. Or listen to all the different sounds at the store, like the beeping of the items as the checker runs them through. Or the loudspeaker woman saying, “Price check on aisle 5 please. Also, I need security at checkout #3. Some guy in my line keeps looking around the store with this weird, contemplative look and it’s freaking me out!” I kid…
Accessing the present moment from the inside would be closing your eyes and feeling your inner body. Maybe feeling the tingling in your fingers. Or just sensing the energy/life force/aliveness moving throughout your body.
Using your breathing
Then of course there is the old standby of going to our breath. This is the one I find most useful when I’m in a conversation that is going south. Instead of letting my egoic mind steal my attention from the present and plunge it into the angry waters of my lower self, I immediately shift focus to my breathing. It’s amazingly effective.
I’m not going to lie and say I do this every time I get into an argument. My wife reads my articles and would post a response calling BS on me, which would be quite embarrassing! But when I am successful at shifting attention to my breathing, the result is always better than when I don’t.
So that’s two ways to go straight at entering the present moment. When do we want to be present? Gee, I don’t know…How about all the time. Unfortunately, unless you’re Eckhart, Thich Nhat Hanh or precious few others, that’s not going to happen.
Outside and inside is all we need to remember
But if you find yourself perturbed, anxious or just ruminative, try going either outside or inside to become present. Or if you’re watching a beautiful sunset and find your mind trying to commentate on the whole experience, go inside for a short while, then open your eyes and watch the beautiful scene from a place of nonconceptual presence.
That’s it. When you come to a time that you want to become present all you need to remember are two words: Outside and inside. Choose whichever one works for the particular situation you find yourself.