I have recently been trying to understand the concept of being present. I think I am finding slightly difficult to grasp and certainly don’t feel that it is always beneficial. However, on occasions I begin to think that it a very profound and helpful idea! Is there a danger of us losing sight of the future or not remembering and learning from the past if we stay ‘present’? Certainly the feeling or being present is great… but is it actually beneficial in terms of day to day activities…? It just seems that being in a strong state of presence can be harmful to one’s goals or purpose…. Wasn’t it Sou Yen Shaku – the first Zen teacher to come to America who said – ‘do not regret the past, look to the future’…this seems to contradict the idea of being ‘present’… Anything you have to say is much appreciated – as usual!
This seems to be confusing to many people. You often hear the phrase “Be Here, Now,” and that’s usually a reminder to keep your mind on the present moment and focus on the now, as opposed to worrying about the past or future. We often move through our days more or less on “auto-pilot,” doing routine things without paying much attention. Do you remember putting on your socks this morning? Do you remember the first sip of coffee/tea/whatever you had today? How about the physical sensations of putting your key in the ignition and starting your car? Some of us do these things day in, day out, and give absolutely 0% conscious thought to those things.
Where is our mind when we do these routine “no-brainer” activities? Usually wandering around in the future, working out what we’ll be having for breakfast tomorrow or about that conversation with the boss later this afternoon. Or perhaps reliving the past, thinking about what you should have said to that jerk in the subway yesterday. Or maybe you’re just off in a complete fantasy, thinking about last night’s episode of LOST. The problem is that you aren’t paying any attention to the now.
It’s perfectly OK to make plans and have hopes and expectations for the future. The future is going to become the present eventually, and we all like to be prepared for that when it happens. The trick is not to get attached to those hopes and plans, and not to move through the present while on “auto-pilot.” You have no control over the past at all, and only a little control over the future. On the other hand, your present is entirely yours.
Right now you’re probably sitting in a chair reading your computer screen or a printout with these words on it. Some of you are listening to my voice on an MP3 player while you are doing something else. Are you paying any attention to the background noise in the room you are sitting in? Can you hear birds or cars or music or children playing? Are there any smells in the room? Is your chair perfectly comfortable or does a part of it painfully poke you somewhere? Were you aware or midful of these things before I mentioned them? Being in the present means really experiencing the present, as much of it as we can at any time.
When we are meditating, it’s common to get yourself to the point where you feel your attachment to everything around you (“one with everything”). That’s great if you can do it in a silent, meditative posture, but can you do it right now without stopping what you are doing? This idea of being in the present is one reason Zen monks (and probably others) work so hard. It’s just as valuable for them to be outside working in a garden or washing dishes as it is to sit in zazen. Experiencing life in the present is a big step toward realizing your oneness with everything around you.
It’s easy to do when you give it active thought, but it’s so easy to get lost in day-to-day life that it becomes a real challenge to stick with it. Try not to fly through life on autopilot.