Back in the late ‘80s and early ’90s, Melissa Etheridge was my favourite singer. I loved all her lyrics as well as her tunes but, of course, I had a favourite: Bring Me Some Water.
My appreciation of Melissa’s lyrics was rekindled in 2005 by I Need To Wake Up. And, now, two years later, I find it very appropriate to make a snippet of the lyrics a part of this ongoing mind-meander on the broad topic of actively being present, i.e. energetically detached in the string of moments that present themselves underfoot.
“Have I been sleeping,” asked the singer. “I’ve been so still. Afraid of crumbling. Have I been careless? Dismissing all the distant rumblings. Take me where I am supposed to be. To comprehend the things that I can’t see. Cause I need to move. I need to wake up. I need to change. I need to shake up. I need to speak out. Something’s got to break up. I’ve been asleep. And I need to wake up. Now.”
Being in the present moment means merely observing ourselves in the tiny little present that in truth is the ephemeral present. We are aware of it, but let’s not give it a name. Let’s not qualify it or our response to it.
The present moment that links breath-to-heart only needs to be made tangible and quantified acknowledged, but not judged. It does not need to be interpreted in any way, for the minute we slap a label on that tiny, bubble-thin moment, the minute we give it a rating, that moment is already of the past and we have missed ‘being’ neutral in it. Healthily detached.
I have read it in enough books to accept that being in the present simply means shutting out the monkey-chatter, the relentless flow of random thoughts that are not part of any problem-solving process – it is about shutting down thoughts that invade our brain the minute we stop talking.
Actually, I will even go as far as to suggest that most, if not all, of our words, our physical and online distractions have evolved as sabotage against being present in the moment and in favour of robotic responses to our buttons being pushed.
“We always think our negative emotions are produced by the fault of other people or by the fault of circumstances,” wrote P.D. Ouspensky, in The Fourth Way. “We always think that. Our negative emotions are in ourselves and are produced by ourselves. There is absolutely not a single unavoidable reason why somebody else’s action or circumstance should produce a negative reaction in me. It is only my weakness. [sic] No negative emotion can be produced by external causes if we do not want it. We have negative emotions because we permit them, justify them, explain them by external causes, and in this way, we do not struggle with them.” 
How have we progressed since 1957, year of the publication of The Fourth Way? How more ‘mindful’ are we, these days? Actually, the term ‘mindful’ is an odd one within a spiritual context, seeing as the whole point is to actually ‘empty’ our mind and become ‘mind-empty’.
“Here is a little story that could have been found in the back pages of The Jerusalem Post,” Yudit wrote, one day, in her usual light-hearted manner. She lives in Israel, in Jerusalem. “There had been an accident on the highway during peak hour traffic, and a lot of cars were stopped bumper-to-bumper. People left their vehicles to have a look along with others who came out of nowhere to get closer to the action, as people like to do. The scene of the accident was very crowded. A journalist who happened to be there tried to get closer himself, but couldn’t because of all the people rubbernecking. So, he thought about it for a while, and finally, he came up with a brilliant idea. He started to push his way through the crowd shouting, “Let me get through! Let me pass! I am the son of the victim! It is my father out there!” Immediately the people parted to let him through. Once the journalist, camera held above his head, reached the scene of the accident, he saw that the victim of the collision was a donkey!” I smiled at that punchline and read on. “You see, you might try very hard to ‘get’ what you want out of people and circumstances. You might think it’s in everyone’s best interest, but you have no idea what ripples or consequences you or they would face, if you eventually got momentary satisfaction.”
Films are popular mostly because however improbable the plot, the characters supposedly react as we would. The next time you are settled in front of your screen, observe the characters as they go about their business, supposedly our daily business, and decide how much thought goes into any of their decisions. Have their buttons been pushed and they react on impulse, even if embarked on a course of action after a quick tete-a-tete with their brain? Are these characters doing a knee-jerk tit-for-tit or tit-for-tat or are they present in the moment, energetically contained, operating from a balanced view of themselves? All things equal, how would your actions/reactions be any different or any more enlightened?
Being in the moment simply means that once we have quietened our mind, we only need to focus on whatever it is we are doing at any specific moment – the moment under our feet.
When I first learnt to rollerblade at the ripe ‘old’ age of 45, I can guarantee that from the moment I would get up on my blades to the moment I unlaced them, I was totally ‘in the present’. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, always in the present. No other way but. The second I would take my mind off the stride, I would invariably end up on my bum. Whoever remembers the absolute focus that seized our brain while on our first driving lessons knows what it means to be awake – present in the moment – though, of course, there is no space for fear or posturing or any other form of self-sabotage when we are actively mind-aware in the present moment.
We just are.
Oh, of course, it is much easier said than done. But, yes, it can be done – and needs to be practised, no differently than any routine we want to ‘own’ or any resolution we truly want to cultivate.
Oppose the novice’s alert awareness to the zoning out that usually overpowers experienced drivers when we cruise on the highway, or even in our back streets. Compare it to the blanking out that takes over as we scan supermarket aisles – which may well be the same zoning out that overpowers us as we lift food to mouth over breakfast. It may well be the same as the blanks we bring home, even after a sedate get-together with friends when we only remember some snippets of the conversations and the general look, perhaps taste, of the food we ate, but we can’t remember what the person facing us was wearing or what else was going on around us – provided no one created a scene.
Being in the moment can even be made fun as we look at EVERYTHING the way a tracking ranger would observe every branch, twig, scrape in the dirt and inspect every animal dropping to get meaning out of the scene in front of her. Except that, ideally, being in the present moment means that the looking and the analysing are done through our soul’s eyes, not our 21st-century brain. In this lies the challenge that karma presents to each one of us – the line in the sand that not many wish to cross. Truly imagining that active energies that influence our moods and therefore our health can be tapped into is just too weird. Initiating an awareness of these energies seems way too complicated. It goes against what ‘modernised living’ has been made to be about for the past millennia.
Being present – being ‘mind-empty’, agenda-empty in the moment simply means understanding that whatever we are doing, or what we want to do, what we feel or want to feel might have to be put on hold or even postponed indefinitely.
There is infinite wisdom in which we need to trust since we, little blind mice that we are, have no idea of the fine mesh that settles invisibly around us until it holds us in its snare of spiritual lethargy – and of physical consequences, many of which we would love to have undone. Ah, if only we could do a partial ‘factory reset’ of our life!
If only we could edit out the decisions we once made – at one time or another – out of so-called free will, those that have led us to feel less than, unworthy, unlovable and therefore insecure, fearful and resentful in the home, at the workplace, in our teams, even in our friendship groups!
I can’t remember in which of his books, Alan Watts, the British philosopher who, in the ‘60s brought Eastern philosophy to the west had an abstract drawing of what can only be that of a bloated frog. It bore a slight resemblance to Jabba the Hutt. Underneath the drawing, the author had left a thought dangling: “If you think by sitting you can become a Buddha …”
OK, so I understand the theory, but I find the practical application, the day-to-day implementation of the theory very, very frustrating.
Shouldn’t being aware of ourselves within our present be as natural as breathing?
For me, it is as easy as breathing under water.
If I attempt a rating of the inner contentment I currently feel within my day-to-day, I can only rate it a puny 5 out of 10. That is in spite of being in good health, in a loving, enduring relationship, in spite, too, of earning ample money for my needs and living in a comfortable home. That mediocre rating is because of the amorphous lump of anxiety that sits heavily in the area of my solar plexus and acts like a lead apron that smothers even what would be my carefree moments.
That mediocre rating is the price I pay, very much unwillingly – unconsciously – for not recognising the unique newness and freshness of each moment as it presents itself. The more I think of this, the more I understand that each one is, in fact, as fresh as the proverbial morning dew.
However, I can categorically say that some moments have an imprint that seems very familiar. They look and feel and just about taste like ones that have already been played – over and over. These moments keep bringing on an “Uh-uh! Here we go again” gut reaction.
Like the ocean, our ego-persona appears to be smooth enough on the surface. It absorbs. It hides what churns below. It deals – up to a certain point. But our ego-persona [our ego-mind] has considerable limitations. Unlike the ocean, it is never renewed. It only relies on past memories. The past is static – its toxicity lingers – and memory is fallible.
Reality check #1: no such string of seconds strung one after the other, has ever presented itself to me in the past, as that which is underfoot right this moment. Not as it presents itself to me now. Not as it will present itself tomorrow. The irony of it is that I respond to most ‘new’ moments within each ‘new’ day through the jumbled and sticky mesh of past experiences. Put simply, I deal with today-moments as I dealt with yesterday-moments. Though my routine is stable, reasonably and honest, at 53 years of age, I still deal with trigger moments as I did in my 30s – as I did in my 20s. I taint them with the same energy spikes. How comforting is it to me knowing that I am not alone in doing this?
“CC, be the little white cloud in the blue sky,” Yudit urges me again whenever she knows I’m struggling with anxiety, fear and resentment, mostly in reaction to the issues I have with my mother and sometimes, too, in response to student behaviour in or out of the classroom. “Just be where you are. Be light. Don’t grasp. Don’t try to cling, manipulate or hope for an outcome you think you need at that specific micro-moment in your day or life. In truth, CC, you have no idea what outcome will truly be in your best interest in the fulness of time. So, stay light and detached. Accept What-Is and trust your soul for guidance.” Recently, I replied, “OK. Deal! I will not let myself drink Today out of Yesterday’s mug.” To which, Yudit replied wryly, “Have that painted on your favourite mug, CC.” Then, she added, “Be patient with yourself. But also, be steadfast.”
Being present in the moment also means that I cannot let writing absorb all of my time and all of my thoughts. As I type this text, there is a workman on our patio. He is adjusting the slant of our gutters. I am standing by to hear his call through the screen door, as he will want to explain this and that about the state of the rusted guttering and how he proposes to repair it. Should his call catch me in mid-sentence at the keyboard, I will hit ‘save’, and I will get up. It will be my cue to practice stilling my mind long enough to listen to what this workman wants to tell me and be in the new moment that has just presented itself to me. If Yudit were here, she would know how to decode this man’s ‘chitchat’ about the state of my gutters and give me a string of messages of symbolic spiritual relevance – such is another of her many gifts.
“Hello? Are you there?” A man’s voice calls out from the patio. Oops, quickly hit ‘Save’. Prac time!
8. P.D. Ouspensky, (1957), The Fourth Way, Random House, New York, p.71.