Many times we are caught between the past and future, what we could’ve done and what we need to get done. Seldom do we pay attention to the present moment, where the ability to direct yourself lies.
I have spoken before of the need to enjoy what you are doing everyday. In fact, I believe this is so important that if you are unable to enjoy what you are doing everyday for some reason or another, that you need to stop completely and evaluate what you are doing.
The Importance of Presence
In any given situation there is a plethora of decisions we could make. There are a multitude of options before us. In the same vein, there is so much incoming information, that there is no way we can pay attention to all of it.
We have to focus on the relevant things coming in. If we are ordering some food at a restaurant we have to ignore the mindless chatter from the table next to us and listen to our waiter. According to the context, we shun away certain information and pay conscious attention to the more important.
This “presence” is important. It allows us to take control of our current situation. We are not distracted by the past or future. Presence was important to the Philosopher John Dewey, who wrote in his book Art As Experience:
Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive.
We can never be fully present and “alive” if our mind is concerned too much with either the past or the future.
Training Your Focus
In an article from the Harvard Gazette, William J. Cromie discussed some evidence that meditation was found to increase brain size. The particular parts of the brain that increased in size were those associated with attention and incoming sensory input.
Possible explanations include the nature of the meditation itself, which was Buddhist “insight meditation,” a meditation that involves simply paying attention to what is going on around you without processing judgment.
Easily said, not so easily done.
Pick a spot to sit and set aside ten minutes. Try to just take in the information without actively thinking about it. The creak you heard? Just hear it. Don’t try to figure out what it was. My best guess is that after 10 minutes you will have started daydreaming about 10 times. Definitely not an easy task to do.
Does this meditation have an actual pragmatic effect though? Will it help you make better decisions? While this is questionable, there is no doubt that it helps you pay better attention and control erratic thoughts. And this just may be the key.
Think about your high school or college classes. Most likely, you found yourself daydreaming or not paying attention at least once in every class. This is part of human nature. You were worried about an upcoming test, didn’t get enough sleep, or partied too hard the night before.
In any case, you missed something. Most of the time it’s inconsequential. However, sometimes it’s pretty important. Test important. On the Final important.
Shaving away unneeded worries and focusing on the present allows you to be aware of all the necessary information you need in order to solve a problem, have a conversation, and achieve a goal.
Your experience is enriched. Your presence is felt. You are wholly part of your environment, and because you are fully able to interact with this environment in a meaningful way, you are fully alive.
This is not about completely living in the moment, without fear of future consequence. This is about knowing what to worry about now, and what to worry about later. The future and past are necessary parts of any decision making process, as they are how we have been directed and how we direct ourselves.
However, worrying about what you are going to eat for supper while sitting in class at 10:30 in the morning is unnecessary.
Correct future thinking would be how to use your current lesson and apply it to your life. This engages you in the present moment. In the true sense of the word, you are “present.”
Enriching your current experience is about paying attention to that experience in a way that you are interacting and being a part of it with all of your being.
Sometimes, beginner meditators will have a gong or cue set up, that goes off in intervals. This cue’s purpose is to re-aware the person if they had happened to stray.
This same technique could be used throughout the day.
- Set your watch to beep every hour.
- At your breaks try to evaluate whether or not you have been really paying attention.
- Right before bed think about your day and what you could have done better.
Taking these small moments to “bring yourself back to reality” will ensure that you are training yourself to live in the moment, to be fully aware and fully alive.