I hear a lot of people saying, “Live in the present”. They chant it like a mantra, post it on LinkedIn and Facebook but don’t know what else to do with it. It is easy to get comments, likes and reactions from a desperate audience who applaud the poster as insightful but don’t practice it. The words “live in the present” have become another Fix (like alcohol, Netflix and serial dating), something intended to distract you from introspection.
We have mistaken distractions as happiness boosters.
Yes, for that moment, you are living in the present, you are reading that post, you are envisioning a vacation surrounded by mountains and whispering trees. But since I find people rarely thinking deeper about how to apply that statement in their daily lives, here is what I hope, a thought provoking guide, to understanding yourself and your present (consciousness) at a deeper level.
We live the present in two ways —
- Externally (focusing on the things that surround us) and
- Internally (watching and becoming conscious of our thoughts and behaviors).
Most cliched viral posts exploit the External aspect — they make you focus on a mountain or a stream and say it is the key to meditation and happiness. Since most people are not internally self-aware, they do not focus on the Internal aspect of living in the present — being aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions; understanding why you do things and changing yourself — thereby allowing yourself to grow.
It is easy to chant and meditate till you go mentally numb. But that is not living in the present. Meditation or being present or aware or consciously walking or any of these synonymous words are intended to help you understand yourself, not (1) numb yourself, or (2) shut out the world.
You don’t need a mountain, you don’t need a far-away resort, you don’t need a yoga mat. If you are really interested in understanding yourself, all you need is peace and quiet, which you can find in your bedroom, the nearest coffee shop or beside a dumpster (where no one hopefully objects).
The Cycle of Pain and Release
Growing up, I was a happy child. I am a happy man today, but that’s besides the point. Spiritually, as babies we are clean, we have no thoughts, no emotions…just needs. If our needs are fulfilled, we are content. If our needs are not fulfilled, we feel pain, BUT we are not unhappy. Babies do not know unhappiness, they know need, satisfaction and pain. But not sadness.
Pain is not sadness
We feel pain when we don’t get what we want mentally or emotionally. This has nothing to do with physical pain, or the BDSM industry wouldn’t be thriving today. Massages create pain, but the release of the hand pressing down our shoulders creates relief. We mistake this relief as pleasure.
When I say pain, I do not mean sharp jabs. Pain can also mean discomfort or unwanted stimuli (someone jabbering in your ear?).
We value release only because we experience pain.
Let’s talk about sex (in a humorous context). Arousal is confusion, frustration and madness. We tumble around as our mind shuts down all ‘non-essential’ activities like you know, taking care of your kids, food, homework, your job and so on. Your mind acts the same way it acts on an alcohol addict seeking just a sip.
- It plays you tantalizing videos of your partner or fantasy
- It tells you that you can’t work without getting this need fulfilled
- You need to do something about it…right now
Pain is any feeling that overpowers your body to the extent that you are unable to choose what you wish to do. Pain is loss of control because one stimulus has taken complete control. The only way out of pain is relief. Or release.
Sex does not not make you ‘happy’. Sure it floods you with endorphins and dopamine…in other words, with pain medication and anti-depressants. It is the release we crave at the zenith of our needs, not happy cuddlies. We seek release from the temporary “depression” and “pain” we feel before sex, alcohol or drugs.
Release and relief from pain is not happiness. It is a cyclic trap.
Back to the baby. We feel sadder as we grow up because we learn (because we are taught) to divide what we get into good and bad. We learn to analyze the motivations of what is given to us. We become “educated” and socially “responsible”. We are taught that a good man or woman is one who constantly takes on the burdens of others around him or her.
When you are taught that the only way to “be happy” is by constantly solving other people’s burdens and sadness, we lose our personal power and identity. We lose our boundaries. We lose our peace.
You can’t be happy when society keeps teaching you to make others happy at the expense of yourself. You become like a candle struggling to stay alight in a constant gust of wind.
Society teaches us that
- if you are happy with who you are, you are selfish
- If you are unhappy with who you are, you are depressed and unstable
- If you are half-happy with who you are while making others happy, you are a disappointment (or should work harder on your dreams)
There is no making society happy.
By celebrating and propagating this confusion, we are now in the clutches of an epidemic of discontent. Discontent is sadness. Give yourself permission to make yourself happy.
Do not harm, but make sure your candle is lit brightly before you light another. It is nice to say that “ a candle loses nothing by lighting another”. It is crazy if your candle (with a struggling flame) gets extinguished in the process of sharing its flame.
We have become like a person trapped alone at sea in the midst of a thunderstorm, buffeted by wave after wave. We have lost all sense of direction, of who we are. Sometimes, all we want is to get out of the cold…but more importantly to get onto land…dry, hard, stable land.
It is okay to want to be happy.
Living in the present requires two things:
Stop trying to control your mind and thoughts — it is okay to have thoughts about anything, yes seriously. Random curiosity about crime doesn’t make you a creep. Movie directors, cops and doctors think about it all the time. Accept your mind completely for what it is — just a thought generating machine. This was the premise of the movie: Minority Report.
Thinking about something doesn’t define or shame you, your actions do.
We have hundreds of thoughts and emotions every day, what you choose to act upon defines you — your thoughts are just options given to you by your mind.
The frustrated mother who thinks about strangling her screaming children in the middle of the night doesn’t do so. She gets up, cares for and nurtures them. Between the hundreds of thoughts you have and action you take, there is a space, a choice. That is where your soul decides what you need to act upon. That space — the entity that makes that choice is your true self. It shows you your true values. Your true self is hidden behind the noise of your thoughts and mind.
Your mind is noisy, but rarely makes good decisions. Your true self is silent, but takes decisions aligned with who you really are, at your deepest core.
Know your true self.
The next time you read a social media post on “enter the silence” or “60 days of meditation complete, Yay!” and wonder why it leaves you stone cold, you will know why.