We all become present at times. A few of us can be present more often and stay present longer.
Practice of being present takes time. But needn’t take time away from everyday activities.
Our Attention Usually Gets Lost
We often get lost in activities and time slips by unnoticed.
Or when idle we allow our minds to wander aimlessly — allowing unwanted thoughts to take our attention.
But our attention is our most precious possession. We can have more freedom of choice of where and to what we want to give our attention.
If we put in the effort.
More often than not though, we forfeit our freedom to some well-ingrained habit.
We even choose the activity to which we want to forfeit our attention — concerts, film, books, friendly conversation and such (I didn’t mention the obvious. But I’m sure you get the idea!)
There are those special times in which we consciously give our attention to something, times when we are in awe and wonder — such things as a beautiful sunset, a double rainbow, a big yellow full moon, a sacred space.
The Pleasure of the Present
If you are like me, you treasure those moments when you are fully present.
It is natural for us to be happy.
But too often we seek it in the wrong places.
It is best found in stillness and rest which is the most natural thing you can do. And enjoy.
How to Increase Our Presence
It takes practice to be present, as in sports, stage or musical performances.
I’ve loved watching videos of the great Mario Pavarotti and Maria Callas giving intense attention to each note that passes their lips.
It is obvious that athletes, actors, musicians, divas put in enormous time practicing their art — focusing their attention fully in the present moment.
We too have that opportunity, if we just pick an activity that is important to us and pay attention fully to each move we make in practicing it.
When the mind wanders, bring it back fully to the activity and allow all intruding thoughts to leave the mind.
And practice, practice.
My Wife Gave Me a Powerful Impulse To Be Present
Since I am a hiker, it is where I most practice being present.
Thirty years ago, when I was getting acquainted with the lovely woman who I was lucky enough to marry, she dropped a casual remark that prompted a dramatic shift in my ability to stay present.
We were on a hike at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
After a few minutes of hiking, she asked, “Would it be all right if we stopped talking and did The Exercise while we walk?”
Simple enough suggestion.
But the power it has had in my life is incalculable.
I was of course pleased to please her with whom I’d fallen in love.
She was referring to a simpe spiritual exercise we’d learned at The School of Practical Philosophy in New York City.
I was a neophyte to the school, having attended for merely a few weeks, while she had been attending for a couple of years.
Students are introduced to The Exercise at the very first class, in the very first week of the first course at the school.
It is a simple way of coming fully into the present and staying there for a brief, fully focused period of time.
It is a method by which we connect fully with each of our senses, one after the other, our sense of touch, then sight, listening — dropping all thoughts from mind, becoming fully present, and remaining in there for a few moments.
It is a powerful practice. And it can be done anywhere, at any time.
Doing “The Exercise” On Our Hike
So of course I did that on our hike, while she was doing likewise. It was easy to do while hiking, for it is difficult to think about things back home.
I gave my attention to the feet on the trail. I felt the gentle play of spring desert air on my bare cheeks and hands. And I opened my listening to the quiet stillness of the rocky cliff we were climbing.
By the time we reached the top, I was enjoying the outdoors in its fullest.
My Hike Today
So hiking has been the activity to which I give special attention, using The Exercise we learned and practiced at the School.
It is now habitual.
When I take my first step onto a trail I intentionally focus my attention on the feet.
I try to feel each foot as it steps over, around or on each rock, feeling the foot inside the boot, toes pushing against the socks as I go down a grade, the ball of the foot as I step firmly on the trail track, against the side of the boot as it twists this way or that.
I move the attention to feeling my pants against my thighs, shirt sleeves on my forearms.
And allow the listening to open wide, hearing all sounds — the dull footsteps on the gritty trail, an occasional bird, even the distant roar of trucks on the highway.
I bring the attention to the tightening and relaxing of the calve muscles as I step over, around and on rocks.
I’m aware of the subtle scent of pine needles being warmed by the sun.
The Key to the Practice
The attention will always be whipped away by intrusive uninvited thoughts popping into mind.
How then to keep the attention focused?
When noticing thoughts that have sprung into mind, simply prefer to return to the senses. Pick one sense, best to pick the strongest one like your sense of touch or seeing, and prefer to return to it, opening up as fully as you can to that sense.
Trying to force thoughts out of mind is fruitless.
They are powerful and want to snatch your attention away from the practice.
So, allow the thoughts to play their game, while gently preferring to bring the attention back to one of the senses — perhaps the seeing or listening.
You have a choice, as difficult as might seem.
That choice comes only when you become aware of having lost your focus upon the senses.
You can go with the thoughts — OR — you can return to the senses.
It is up to you. Like it or not, you will choose one or the other.
You do have this freedom. It is really the only true freedom you do have.
But it it is so easily lost in rationalizations — “I didn’t want to see all that anyway.” “I have too many important things on my agenda to think about.” “It’s boring.” Whatever!
Other Situations in Which “The Exercise” Can Be Practiced
It is useful to practice mini-versions of The Exercise in various other situations during the day.
Keep in mind, though, that your prime exercise activity is the one you’ve chosen, like I’ve chosen to practice while hiking.
Keep this activity for more concentrated practice.
But, use any other situation you find yourself in to do The Exercise.
It is easy to practice The Exercise while waiting for your doctor or dentist appointment, rather than thumbing aimlessly through issues of Home & Garden. And it will make you feel better. You needn’t be rigid about this. Just do it when it comes to mind.
You can practice The Exercise while waiting in line at the supermarket, bank or Post Office. Or any other place where you have idle time.
It is a nice way of extending your habit of being present. And makes these times more pleasant.
But keep loose about it except in the one activity where you intend to make the greatest effort. For me, that is my hiking.
Whose Going to Be In Charge?
Someone is going to be in charge of where your attention is at any moment of every day.
You can be in charge, by placing the attention where you want it to go.
Or you can leave it up to that old bugger Hap-In-Chance.
But you will always make the decision to what you give your attention.
Taking control of your attention is the most powerful activity we have.
Don’t take my word for it.
Try it. See for yourself.