Practicing Presence Is A Way Of Life

Recently I undertook the challenge of meditating daily, I recognised within myself a lack of presence, and was far too influenced by the happenings of my external world, and the inner demands of my swinging emotions. Trying to consistently practice 20 minutes of meditation has come with it’s challenges, including one I didn’t anticipate.

“Release, release, release, release . . .” Whispering inaudibly under my breath, I followed the meditation instructions of one such Brendan Burchard, rags to riches author and world famous motivational speaker. He makes meditation sound so simple and like it would be fun, my experience tells me otherwise, and my nagging to-do list in the back of mind seems to support my initial assessment. I’ve become distracted again, I refocus and restart the mantra “release, release . . .”  I’ve been sitting here in a losing battle for about 5 minutes, trying to battle the waves of random thoughts that seem to impede on my consciousness constantly. Why am I doing this again?

For a long time I have recognised the benefits of meditating, I needed a way to develop more control over my own mind, and from personal experience in the past, I know it has the ability to calm the raging storm within ones mind; within my mind. Or so I was hoping. There have been countless studies done on meditation, that prove that it can have vast effects on most anyone’s life when practiced on a regular basis. One such study indicated a significant improvement in the participants ability to regulate their emotions, and other studies support these findings (here), there is also a remarkable increase in brain functions associated with productivity including attention span, memory (after only 4 days too!), and creativity. If I had a shopping cart, and went to the self improvement store, I might be inclined to pick these things up, along with a few other tantalising perks.

Almost everyday I sit in silence, concentrating on the most minute and seemingly insignificant happenings around me, 20 minutes seems to be the consensus minimum effective dose, so that is exactly what I have been trying to do, trying against all odds to battle against the influx of thoughts that that swarm my mind, while I try to pay attention to my breath like it’s the most interesting thing in the world. It’s like a ship at the mercy of a raging a sea, being tossed  and thrown, but continuing to attempt to find it’s heading. A losing battle is only lost if you give up, and in this case persevering is my only option.

In between torture sessions (as they have affectionately become known), I’ve been listening to the audiobook ‘Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfullness‘ I heard a story that perfectly summed up my experience: There was a businessman who attempted to learn to meditate, unfortunately his experience initially was less than positive, every time he would get into a meditative state, he found that his mind would start to race with thoughts and ideas, occasionally somethings that were completely irrelevant to anything would storm his mind for minutes at a time, when he approached his meditation teacher regarding his experience, she pointed out that when he was meditating he was giving himself an opportunity to actually hear the craziness that was going on in his mind, it had been there all this time, he was only now giving himself the opportunity to finally hear it all.

Constant distractions have become the norm in daily life, and it’s not just a problem with a few people, but has become a systemic issue in society. Technology allows us to disconnect in multiple yet simultaneous ways, and it provides an opportunity for so many cheap pleasure grabs. Grabs that we don’t need to work for, but then we complain about the hard work involved in pursuing anything meaningful long term. I have been a big culprit of this, I have been caught switching between 2 or 3 games on my iPhone, whilst watching a movie and trying to carry on a basic conversation with my wife (although I think the cat can converse better than I in those situations). Whatever the opposite of presence and mindfulness is, I have been practicing that for some time now, and I know I’m not alone, in fact I may be part of the majority.

It’s been almost 2 weeks of beginning to practise meditation, and within only a few days, I realised that it was going to take more than 20 minutes a day to overcome my insane monkey mind in any reasonable time frame; I was going to have to take things up a notch. Increasing the time meditating was an idea, but I struggle with 20 minutes as it is, and doing it multiple times a day is an option that is about as appealing as cutting up onions. I have toyed with the idea of doing a silent retreat (there is a 10 day one not far from my home), something I would love to do someday; maybe when I finally find the time and money to skip work for a couple of weeks. So I came up with the solution of practising presence as a regular habit. Budda had a saying that has always stuck with me ‘When walking, just walk!’ This is the idea of focusing on only doing the thing that you are currently doing, and not switching your focus from one thing to another regularly, it’s also about seeing things through to completion, and not giving up on tasks when you get bored of them.

Now, on top of practising my daily meditation, reminding myself to be mindful at every opportunity is the new goal, when walking just walk, when driving just drive, when eating just eat, and when playing games on my iphone, just play one at a time, when my wife walks in to talk with me, put the phone down – or pause the movie, and just talk. The more I can do this, the faster I can start to see those results that I am after – internal flow, self-control, and mental clarity. I also know that once I gain some semblance of these goals, that I will have truly integrated mindfulness into my life, and can continue to practise it as a way of life. The day I realise the fruition of these things, is a day I greatly anticipate right now, but in time I hope to anticipate a little less and appreciate the journey for what and when it is – happening right now!

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