This word gets tossed around quite a bit in the self-improvement world. It’s also creeped its way into hipster crowds, as Pinterest fanatics post numerous quotes like, ‘Live in the Now,’ or ‘Just Be.’ Are we skimming the surface here? Is this topic being breezed over in an attempt to feel more connected with others? Presence has not been an easy concept for me to grasp. Though it may come off as a simple idea, living it fully on a day-to-day basis requires more grit than sharing a photo or a quote to your social media account. I wonder, can we move beyond talking about our spiritual work and actually integrate it?
Presence can be a beautiful, liberating practice. When I first began to detach from anxious thoughts, I felt a huge relief. I finally understood how to ”manage” emotions, which turned out to be the opposite of what I had imagined. I put manage in quotes because living in the present moment gives us the opportunity to let go of control. Instead of putting effort into changing, explaining, or expunging emotions, we are invited to let them flow through us and feel them completely. As soon as I dipped into this practice, I was able to notice the positive changes in myself. I no longer felt the need to feed my emotions, sinking myself into a deeper hole of sadness, guilt, or self-deprecation. Instead, I accepted my emotions, dismissed thoughts I didn’t believe, and loved what was. However, I also came to find the darker, more challenging side to being present.
What if we don’t like the moment we’re in? No–let’s go deeper. What if we hate it? Some moments of life hit us directly in the gut without warning, leaving us feeling broken and hopeless. In these moments, acceptance is key. As I said, this work is not easy. It’s not butterflies, spa music, and mandala beads (although I love all of those things). Put on your big-girl pants and get ready for the real part of this practice. It begins by letting go of this idea of the ”good” and ”bad”. For example, It’s good that I got this job or It’s bad that I lost my job. We love to categorize things. However, the more we can let go of these labels, we can see life through a lens of acceptance. We can begin to love what is. No good, no bad. Simply…divinely occurring.
It took me some time to grasp this concept, and it continues to be one that I think about often. No good or bad? That seems wrong. Although, when I break it down, I can see the truth inside. Joy and sadness are both parts of life. There’s no denying this. If you’re familiar with The Work of Byron Katie, then you may have an understanding of how our beliefs about what’s happening to us cause us stress. As soon as we label an event as ”bad”, we invite in a host of pain, feeding and confirming this belief. What happens when we let go of these beliefs? Freedom. Peace. Acceptance. Love. We come full circle, back to the present moment, unattached from the pain of the past, but rather loving it.
Now that we’ve touched on the founding concepts of this practice, it’s crucial to see how it looks in action. For me, the clearest way to understand the integration was to look at regret and worry. I consider these two the biggest fighters against living in the present in my life. Meet Regret: he lives in the past, where solutions can no longer be created. He torments the mind by re-playing old scenes. He is useless, not helpful, inefficient, and painful. Next is Worry. I used to spend a lot of time with her. She grows from fear of the future. She creates problems that don’t exist and may never exist. She sends images of everything that could go wrong, and can almost convince the mind that these images are real. She is powerful. Both of these masters rob us of the present moment. They trick us into thinking about the past or the future, neither of which we are living in. Being present requires-yes, you’ve heard it-acceptance. I accept the past, including my choices and what’s happened to me. I accept the future and trust that I will solve a problem when it comes. The trust piece here is also key. We are incredible problem-solvers. The moment we are given a problem, we take intelligent, instinctual steps to find a solution. This doesn’t happen through worry; it happens in the present, when we are in the thick of it.
Living in the present moment is more than a claim to happiness or a gimmick to promote spirituality. This practice involves letting go, truly accepting, and freeing ourselves from labels. For me, it is a life-long process of re-training my mind. The more I integrate it, the more I feel at peace with myself and my place in the world. How might you begin to step out of the past or future and into the now?