What It Really Means To Live In The Present Moment
When I used to think of living in the present moment I imagined that it would mean living each day as if it were your last. Doing everything to excess and experiencing as much as possible. All that changed when I picked up a copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This was the first 'spiritual' book I had read. I am not religious so the words 'a guide to spiritual enlightenment' on the cover made me approach with caution. What I did find was a lot of 'light bulb' moments, the essence of it is so simple you will be left wondering how on earth you haven't thought this way before.
In this article, I will explore some of the fundamental lessons in the book. This is one of the few books I have read that has the power to help move the reader into a more enlightened state:
"The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form."
Being is described as when you are completely in the present moment being your deepest self or true nature. What prevents us from experiencing this state is unnecessary thinking and being identified with the mind which is really actually ego. Ego is a projection of who we think we are:
"As you grow up, you form a mental image of who you are, based on your personal and cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ego. It consists of mind activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking."
The Ego is not really you, so it is constantly projecting itself into the past and future to ensure its continued existence. It has no real substance therefore it is very fragile and it will attack fiercely anything that it thinks is a threat to its existence. This is why some people find it almost impossible to admit when they are wrong as the ego is in such control that to admit being wrong would be equivalent to ceasing to exist! The ego would like you to think that you are a completely separate person, when in fact you are one with everything. If you have an inability to stop thinking than your ego is in control of you. When you are enlightened you are free from this unnecessary thought and use thought only for practical purposes.
How to stop your mind being in control
"Virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don’t realise you have the power to stop. Continuous monologues or dialogues.
Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry"
This can also be described as the Inner Critical Voice, which you can read about in this earlier article. In The Power of Now, however, it is called 'watching the thinker', the act of becoming aware of the voice and listening to its repetitive thought patterns. Listen to the voice but do not judge it. Notice how the voice is not you and you are merely listening to it. This act of listening to your thoughts and knowing that you are listening provides a new awareness. You are now conscious of the person watching the thoughts, which is your deep or true self. This means that the thought automatically has less power over you and will be easier to stop. When you stop a thought you will notice a space or pause in your thinking, this stillness is the present moment. In this stillness, you are fully present and the longer and more frequently you can extend these gaps will raise your vibrational frequency. A higher vibrational frequency means you will start attracting situations and people that are also on this higher vibrational frequency. Which means healthier, happier people and situations. Becoming aware of the stops or pauses in thinking allows you to focus your attention to increase them. A good way to focus in on this attention is to give physical tasks your full attention without thought i.e when washing your hands, pay attention to the feeling of the water on your skin. When taking a walk in the park completely engage all your senses, feel the sun basking on your skin and listen to the noises around you.
This links into much of Eastern spirituality. Think of the Japanese tea ceremony which is designed to enact all senses and bring complete attention to the physical task at hand. Disengaging from the mind to achieve a Zen like state.
An emotion is the body’s reaction to the mind. An unpleasant emotion will cause an unpleasant feeling in the body. The more you are identified and controlled by your mind the stronger the emotional charge will be. In the extreme, the emotional charge can be completely in control of a person to the extent that they are not aware of their actions. For example an incident of violent road rage in an otherwise calm person that was unable to deal with their anger. Or being gripped by fear to the point where you are so anxious that you are unable to give a big presentation:
"The reason why you don’t put your hand in the fire is not because of fear, it’s because you know that you’ll get burned. You don’t need fear to avoid unnecessary danger – just a minimum of intelligence and common sense"
Fear is of something that might happen to you, it is not of something that is happening in the present moment. If this fear is constant than it will become anxiety. You can become aware of your emotions by focusing in on the feeling in your body. You will then be able to just allow the feeling without needing to be controlled by it. Again you are ‘watching the emotion’, with a new awareness that you are not the emotion. If you do not stay aware of this you will get pulled into the emotion which will feed the thoughts, which keeps feeding the emotion like a vicious circle. Another example, if someone breaks up with you and you have an unpleasant sad feeling, you hate this feeling and start to resist it thinking I cannot stand this feeling, I can't go through this again etc. These thoughts are feeding the unpleasant sad feeling so it will continue much longer than it needs to and potentially lead to depression.
He goes on to explain how the deeper pleasurable emotions like love, joy and peace; can only be found by going deeper into the present moment.
Freeing yourself from pain
While you are identified with the mind you will always be subject to pain. Pain is a resistance to what is occurring in the present moment, an inability to accept it. The strength of pain depends on how strongly you are resisting what is happening, which is determined with how much you are identified with your mind. If I am very identified with my mind then I will be suffering a lot. If something unpleasant happens in the present the more labelling and judgement your mind makes of it the more unhappiness and paid you will feel from it.
Past-pain is described as a pain body and either dormant or active depending on how unhappy you are. This can be experienced in emotional triggers that cause you to flare up in anger or when you feel the need to act out in a destructive way towards somebody for no reason. The pain-body wants to survive by feeding on and creating more pain in the present. It will make you want to suffer pain, cause other people to feel pain or a combination of the two. This all happens subconsciously, so the more aware you become of it, the easier it will be to stop. When you become aware of it, you are present and 'watching the pain-body' so it can not pretend to be you anymore. Focus on the feeling in your body, DO NOT let the feeling become thoughts. Always be aware that you are merely watching it, you are not the pain.
You can buy the book here
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment- First released 1 February 2001