Presence; living in the moment

I recently finished reading ‘The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and this has encouraged me to set a New Year’s resolution to live in the present moment (this is a lot harder than it sounds). If you are interested in personal and spiritual development, I would highly recommend this book however I will forewarn that it will make you question your entire existence.

One of the things that I found particularly interesting was the realization that we live (or at least I certainly did) in the past and in the future, we are never really present. Many of us are actually a victim to our past because we define ourselves by our past experiences; this can result in trust issues, blame, controlling behavior, resentment, anger, depression and low self-esteem throughout our lives. We also define others by their past behavior; as part of a job application it is a compulsory requirement to provide details of a criminal record for example, something someone did 10 years ago may impact on their chances of getting a job 10 years later even though they may be completely reformed. Alternatively people may grieve for their past life, we notice this more so with the elderly; they reminisce over the good old days and resent the fact they can’t party as hard as they used to, or walk as far as they could, they miss their deceased friends and family; they forget that old age is a gift many of us are denied. Many young people however, look forward to the future and may use this is a distraction from their present situation or to manage their emotional pain from their past circumstances. I used to fantasize about having my dream career; I put all of my time, money and energy into working towards this dream career. Ironically two weeks after completing my eight-year-higher education and getting the job offer I dreamt of, I realized that life is not about getting the job offer; it is about the journey. By focusing on the end result instead of living in the moment, I missed out on numerous opportunities for personal growth, love and clarity.

there will be times where the past and the future are useful but rather than spending most of our time in the past and the future and only dipping into the present; we need to spend most of our time in the present and dip into the past and the future.

I remember a close friend of mine telling me that she doesn’t look forward to things anymore because they are never as good as she hopes. I remember at the time I felt that this was really sad, however now I understand the significance of this statement (unfortunately I don’t think my friend understood this from my spiritual viewpoint); whilst we are always looking forward we cannot enjoy the present moment, so when we get there we are never really present and therefore it is impossible to feel real ‘happiness’ or peace. It is like spending your entire life climbing a rope ladder with the belief that there is a pot of gold at the top but when you get there you find an old sack of dust, little did you realize that every 10 steps there was a pot of gold; you were so focused on the end result (the future) that you could not see the pots of gold right in front of you (the present). To live in the present moment doesn’t mean you can’t set goals; set goals but do not attach yourself to the outcome and therefore do not worry about how you will get there; do what you can do in the present moment, you will find that things progress and at a much faster rate than if you are attached to past experiences or future expectations. This also applies to our working life, there will be times where the past and the future are useful but rather than spending most of our time in the past and the future and only dipping into the present, we need to spend most of our time in the present and dip into the past and the future.

Eckhart Tolle argues that happiness is just as negative as anger because it is an illusionary emotion; it is short lived euphoria because it has conditions attached to it. We find that where there is happiness, there is always sadness because conditions are temporary, for example I am happy because it is my birthday tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow it is not my birthday so am I sad? Yes because my happiness, that feeling of euphoria was on the condition of my birthday and that is now over. I realized the impact this has on relationships; when we attach a condition to our relationship, it will almost always fail because conditions are temporary; I love my boyfriend or I am happy with my boyfriend because he is funny, handsome and patient; eight years later we have 2 children, my partner is working long hours, he becomes stressed, short-tempered and unattractive, do I stop loving him? If we learn to embrace our relationships in the present moment and for what it is now, not for what it was or what it will be, we find that our acceptance will develop into unconditional love and in turn a relationship that is peaceful, natural and long lasting. Tolle uses the term peace and peaceful because it is a sense of being, peace means freedom from disturbances; it is neither happiness nor sadness.

to live in the present moment is to live in a constant state of peace

Emotions such as anxiety, stress and worry are caused by living in the future, when you really get your head around this you understand how bizarre these emotions are; how can you be worried about something that may never happen? In most cases the situation is never as bad as we imagined it to be and even if it is, what is the sense in prolonging the emotional pain? Eckhart Tolle argues that being present, even in the most challenging situations diminishes all emotional pain. If you can catch an emotion as soon as it appears and observe it; that is to realize that this pain (the pain body or the ego) is not you, you are essentially detached from it and thus you bring awareness to the emotion, you will find that awareness makes it quickly disappear. Tolle emphasizes that to live in the present moment is to live in a constant state of peace, because presence does not have any conditions attached to it; it just is. It is a journey that requires patience, however awareness is a really positive start. If you can recognize a thought or emotion before it overwhelms you and know that it is not you, you are becoming aware, you are becoming present.

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