To be present means to cease doing things that take your awareness away from now. If you did nothing at all, you would automatically be present. We are present, because our bodies are in the present and our experience is of the present. There is no when or where else we can truly be than here and now.
And yet, mentally we do things that pull our awareness from the experience of now into imaging some future and digging up the past. If we are future seeking, we turn the present moment into a stepping stone. If we are past dwelling, we similarly turn the present moment into something less important. The past and future, for many, is an entertainment we use to distract ourselves from the present. To be present…the here and now must be the priority.
We enjoy too much the imaginations of our minds. We daydream and create fantasies for our own amusement. Instead of fully experiencing the now, we retreat into the mind and get lost in thought. To be present…we need to be 100% devoted to the experiences we are having right now of the present moment.
Among our imaginations is our critiquing of the present moment and our judgments about the present moment. To be present…we need to allow the present to unfold without critiquing, judging, labeling, or otherwise mentally reflecting on it. These thoughts are really about the past…just a moment ago (hence reflection).
Furthermore, to really be present – we need to cease all resistance to the present moment. All things are impermanent and change. Yet we try to hold on to what is only for now and resist its parting. Or we try to repel or push back what appears to be coming.
To be present means surrendering to the flow of life. Accepting what comes and what goes; neither clinging nor repelling. Understanding that resistance is futile. So being present also means accepting what is…as it is…for as long as it is.
To be present also means to cease digging up the past. Adopt a beginner’s mind. Look upon and experience things as if it were the first time. No experience is exactly like any other. You can’t step on the same piece of water twice in a flowing river. So be aware of what is different…what is unique about this time, while appreciating what has not changed and appreciating what it is that you are experiencing.
To be present also means to cease imaging future scenarios (good or bad). You can still plan and make goals, per se. It is like hiking in the woods. If you don’t keep your eye (from time to time) on the mountain ahead, you may find yourself walking in circles and never reaching your destination. But you only have to look up very occasionally, otherwise you will find yourself not noticing the vines that will trip you or the pits you will fall into in the here and now. Outside of guiding points, future imaginings have no purpose and are a distraction from the present without helping you get anywhere.
In addition to not playing the mental game of past and future, being present means fully experiencing the present moment. Many of us live far too much in our heads. We need to get out of our heads and into our bodies.
While seated, close your eyes and place your hands on your knees. Then raise one hand about a foot off your kneed. Without moving…and assuming there isn’t sunlight hitting your hand or air moving over your hand or some other stimulus…ask yourself – “how do I know my hand is still there?”
With so little stimulus and not moving your hand, the mind might say – “I don’t know”. But feel for the hand. You may feel a heat, a tingle, a pulsation, an energy, or something else. Basically, can you feel the life of the hand? It is living…can you feel it? Perhaps you may feel the life energy or aura. Who knows how much you could feel? The deeper you dive into feeling the hand…you may discover things you never knew before.
When you feel one hand deeply, then move the attention to feeling both hands. Then feel both hands and both feet. Feel the torso and connect to the limbs…or move from the extremities to the torso. Be aware of the breath and all that it entails. Do you feel the air passing through the nostrils or mouth and down the windpipe? Do you feel the chest and belly…expand and contract? Also be aware of the heart beat…do you feel it and where do you feel it pulsating within the body?
How much of the body can you experience at once? But also, how much of the world around you can you experience? What is the taste in your mouth? What do you hear – birds, planes overhead, neighbors, etc.? What do you see (if your eyes are open)? What do you smell? What do you feel with your skin? What do you feel emotionally (going internally again)? Internally and externally simultaneously…how much can you experience right now? How much can we be aware of what is happening right now? Pay attention to now and only the now. I don’t mean mentally…I mean kinesthetically. Feel it.
Pay particular attention to the “life force”. This is something you can feel in a flower while being aware of a flower. There is a unifying force that can be felt. Some may call it space or spaciousness or any number of terms. If you are open to it, you may feel something non-physical – although I would say it is physical, but science hasn’t created a device to measure it yet.
You are putting every sense to work. If thought comes, don’t pay attention to it. Thought is always about the past or future. Thought is never about the now. Experience and awareness is about the now. So if thought comes, let it go immediately. It is not about the now…and so tell the thought, “not now.” Then bring the attention and focus back to now, which can only be experienced through awareness.
The more deeply abiding in the now you are (and not paying attention to thought), you may find that thought slows down or stops entirely. When thought stops, you are very present. You have no when-else you can be. This is what it means to “be present.” Being present in the now is the only place we can truly be alive and live our life.