Have you ever been lost in thought and missed your turn? Or tripped because you weren’t paying attention? Where was your attention? Just the other day, I almost walked right into someone because I was so preoccupied. She said something that startled me so much I just about jumped right out of my shoes. I had no idea she was there. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that I needed to get out of my head and come back to the present moment.
There’s only one thing that stops you from being in the present moment. It’s your thoughts. Thinking takes you out of the now, as Eckhart Tolle calls it. You can think or you can be present. It’s impossible to do both. Thinking and being are incompatible.
Our challenge — as people are seeking to be present and aware — is that we live in a world that is based on endless thinking. The alarm sounds and we’re immediately thinking about all the things we need to do that day. We drink coffee to stimulate our brains and we’re off to the thinking races. There’s always plenty to think about. And, if you happen to have a thought-free moment, your brain will immediately fill that perceived void with something – anything — to keep the endless chatter going. For your brain, not thinking is death.
One of the things I’ve heard time and again from people who’ve tried meditation is that they can’t make their brain be quiet. There’s a common misperception that you’re supposed to quiet the mind. That if you’re doing it right, you won’t have any thoughts. You can just enter a thought-free state of bliss. Well, it’s a nice idea, but it isn’t going to happen — at least not for most of us. My brain never shuts up. How about yours? Have you ever discovered that your brain was silent?
There are two keys to living in the present moment:
• Accept that your brain is never going to stop thinking. Thinking is its job. And it’s very good at it. The more you try to make it stop, the louder it’s going to get. When you try to make your thoughts stop, your brain sees that as a threat and goes on the attack, creating even more thinking. So, forget trying to make your brain be quiet. A far more productive and successful approach is to accept that it is never going to be quiet. Stop trying to make it do something it won’t do. Trying to quiet your mind just leads to more noise.
• Realize that the voice in your head is not the voice of your true Self. It is the voice of your ego, your thinking mind. In other words, you’re not your thoughts. The beauty in this is that since you are not your thoughts, you don’t have to listen or believe them. You can just be you. Being puts you in the present moment.
Your voice is the voice of your inner spirit. Some people call it intuition or inner knowing. You’ll find it down below your neck. But, don’t expect words. It doesn’t use words. Words are a creation of the ego. Your voice, the voice of your true Self, is a wordless presence. Your brain is all about thinking things up and making things happen. You are all about experiencing what’s happening, which is the essence of the present moment. In other words, find your inner voice and you find the present moment.
To be in the present moment is to be an observer. Practice observing as often as possible. Observe your thoughts, knowing they’re not you. Observe the world around you, paying attention to how you respond in your chest and belly. Allow the smells, sights and sounds of nature to speak to your inner spirit. If you find your brain thinking about what you’re experiencing, stop and return your attention to your inner awareness. The more you practice observing, the better you’ll get. Your presence will grow and you will gradually spend more and more time in the present moment.