Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Post #53: Why You Want to Be Here Now

Last week we began a conversation about being present in the moment. I introduced the work of American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. All week long I've been savoring her book, Taking the Leap, and as much as I've honored Buddhism in the past, this book has really helped me understand why I want to embrace these practices even more seriously from now on. Let me explain.

As a Westerner and a dreamer, a thinker and an artist, being present in the moment has never been my strong suit. In fact, as long as I can remember, I have had trouble focusing on anything I found remotely mundane or uninteresting. No matter how important it was for me to "pay attention" to something or someone, often I would  float away into my own private little dream world. And strangely enough, I just accepted this about myself, and never really tried to sharpen my focusing abilities. I guess I thought my more interesting thoughts were more important than what was going on here and now. I knew that possessing the ability to be present in the moment was a valuable trait, but I never fully grasped why.

Pema explains this so well that I almost regret not having found her sooner. In a nutshell, she says that "reality" involves experiencing the immediacy of the present moment, while "fantasy" implies being lost in thought. When we stay in the moment, we deal with all of our thoughts and feelings as they arise. We learn that even if something is difficult, facing it and dealing with it now is preferable to running away from it, repressing it, fearing it, and having it fester under the surface. When this happens, it tend to pop up and wreak havoc later, in some mysterious or seemingly unexplainable way (i.e: a rash, headache, illness, pain syndrome, depression, aggression, passive-aggression, loathing of self, loathing of others, jealousy, financial issues, relationship issues, career issues, weight issues, addictions, compulsions, obsessions, and the list goes on indefinitely).

Wow, what a concept! We Americans were really led astray on this issue. The problem goes back to the Puritans and all that hard-working, clean living that actively rejected "impure" thoughts and everything else that hinted at not being perfect. (I thumb my nose at this mentality!)  And before that, you had the religious persecution in Europe (and beyond) that drove brave folks to jump on boats and head for America in the first place. But, humanity-wise, that's just recent history. Repression and avoidance of the moment go back eons, I'm sure.

The bottom line is that we're trained to do whatever's necessary to not have to deal with our messy humanness. Not only that, but there can be so much physical hardship and suffering in life that it's no wonder people learned to opt out of the present moment in favor of various, more enticing escape hatches that would allow them to feel better. But that's not what happened. Not really.

What really happened is that escaping from the immediacy of yesterday's thoughts and feelings created all kinds of problems that we're dealing with today. And running away from today's internal situation will have the same effect on tomorrow. You can defer suffering (maybe) but you can't deny it away or repress it away. Our psyches don't work like that.

How are you with "being here now?" I ask you try an experiment this week. When you find yourself bugged about something (either within yourself or without), notice what you do. Do you feel the need to run away from it, shut it down, repress it, grab a cookie, etc.? Instead, this week, try to just stop for a moment and allow the thought or feeling to be there, ideally without judging it. Just see what happens. When I tried this last week, I found that the anxious feeling I was experiencing dissipated very quickly as a result of not applying a fight or flight reaction to it.

Please let me know how this works for you. And enjoy your week.