Within my daily posts you have most likely heard me talk about “presence.” but just what is this presence and why is it important?

It’s not very hard to discover how much of the time we are running on automatic pilot.  One can easily discover this for oneself by taking the time to pay attention to whatever one is doing at the moment.  Next time you get dressed, or take a shower, or eat breakfast, or drive to work, try to see how long you can pay sustained attention to what you are doing without getting distracted and having your mind wander. Anything well-learned and well-rehearsed quickly becomes “boring” to the brain which restlessly scans the environment for something new, interesting, important, or more “fun.”  If there isn’t anything of that nature in the environment, the brain creates its own interesting fun in the form of daydreams, imagined conversations, and rehearsals for events both imagined and real.

Learning to be with the present is important because one can never be truly unhappy if one is in the present. Regret, fear, mourning, anger all come from comparing the present moment with a past, future, or alternative moment, from the tension between this moment and that moment: “This should have happened instead of that.”  All negative emotions involve a judging of the present, a rejection of it, and the comparison of this moment with another. If the mind is just in this moment and leaves off with its judging and comparing, there is just being with what is here, and that is almost always bearable.

Then one can ask the most profound question one can ever ask: What is the wisest way to be with this moment as it is? How do I respond to it not as I want it, but as it is?

Paying attention to our lives gives us the ability to see what we are doing and to have real choice about what we do.  It allows us to change.  It also allows us to be more deeply in touch with the texture of our lives, the fine details, in which a good deal of potential pleasure has been missed through the routinization of daily life. When we ask people to keep diaries of pleasurable events during the course of a week, the most frequent pleasurable events people recount are not momentous events like winning the lottery, or getting a raise. The moments of joy are usually “little” moments, and almost always moments of “contact,” whether contact with another person, contact with nature, or contact with a deeper part of ourselves.  People report that the best moment of the week were small moments like having their partner say something endearing, or being outside for a moment with nature. If we let these moments go by, or even worse, if we do not allow time for them in our lives, we miss our lives.

The sense of missing one’s life can sometimes become quite profound.  Many people suffer greatly because they feel that they have lost themselves in some way, or their life has taken a wrong turn and they are not quite sure where. Perhaps they can recall a tiny moment of awareness that they weren’t really involved with what they were doing or had an awareness which they brushed aside and didn’t pay attention to.  Maybe they find themselves working at a job they hate, never having explored what might have made them happier.  Or they wake up one morning and find that they have no close friendships, that there is no genuine intimacy in their lives, that there is a yawning gap between themselves and everyone else they have surrounded themselves with. This sense of impoverishment due to missed attention is the bread-and-butter of the psychotherapist’s trade.

The only way to regain one’s life is by investing in it with fresh attention. Paying attention is ultimately an act of loving kindness towards ourselves. If we love a child, we pay attention to that child. We watch this child thrive as we give him/her our attention. We know this works. In this way we are not different from the child. We too will thrive with attention and as adults, we have the capacity to give that attention to ourselves. Let’s practice simply paying attention, not rushing to judgment. Let’s practice “Welcome Everything; Push Away Nothing.” In that energy on that path we may just discover something of value beyond our words and actions.

Peace and Love, Jim

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