Be here now
If we are not constantly attempting to escape our present, and instead shift our focus towards it, we may realise, in time, that we can transcend the dysfunctional and repetitive thought patterns that discolour the true nature of our lives. Rather than becoming slaves to our definitions of ourselves, we gain the ability to see the bigger picture. If only for a few golden glimpses of relief, which in turn can bring more joy into our lives.
How we avoid the present
We avoid the present by listening to the constant narrative running inside our heads. We either judge what is happening now by what has happened in the past or escape into fantasies and anticipations of the future. This is forever a losing battle, because both the past and future are outside of our control. What arises in the present is only sensory perception, without stories attached to those perceptions. Yet it is our stories that make us feel either pain or pleasure in relation to the now. The practice of going inwards creates the ability to notice and be present with what is happening in our internal landscape, without the external noise, distractions or expectations of ourselves and others.
The rhythm of nature and you
Seasonal changes create changes in our bodies. Hence, the external seasons can reflect different seasons in our lives. For example, during winter it is time to plant the seeds which will be collected during spring and summer. It is time to slow down, get cozy, warm and invest the energy to introspect through meditation and other healing modalities.
How do we find the deep listening to what is happening inside us? World-renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says that the dis-ease of our time is called stress. Tolle says that stress is caused by denying or resisting the present moment. What I love about this description of presence is its simplicity. It’s simple to see from this that the root cause of our suffering is our relentless belief that somewhere else is better, or more important, than the here and now. Either we are escaping into the past with our problems or old descriptions and definitions of ourselves, or we are projecting ourselves somewhere into the future, believing happiness for us lies somewhere on the distant horizon. But this is all an illusion, and as the Zen Buddhists (and Tolle) believe, the cause of all our suffering.
I was at a class recently and the teacher asked, “Where does the breath begin and where does the breath end?” This question brings us straight back to the present, focusing on the senses and freeing the mind of thought. The goal of meditation is not to stop the mind from thinking, but to be aware of thought without becoming attached to the stories. It is the incessant negative chatter of our inner commentary, the stories, that cause us to suffer.
One of Tolle’s personal stories explains this beautifully. In his 30s, Tolle ate baked beans on toast every day because he had no money and little to his name. He compared himself to his friends who were driving BMWs and felt his ego collapse — he felt like a failure. However, once he shifted his perception and let go of the inner critic and commentary, he realised in the present moment there was, without the running self-critic voice in his head, the pleasant sensory experience of eating. And with that realisation, there was liberation. It is in these seemingly difficult times where growth occurs — negative circumstances force us to go within.
Life arises in the present moment. Wishing we were elsewhere, for Tolle, “is the equivalent of living with someone you don’t like and spending your life trying to get away from them, then wondering why are they still there”. Instead we will use coping strategies to escape and avoid the present: all strategies to cope make us fall ‘below thought’ rather than rise ‘above thought’. To rise above thought is to bring awareness into the present moment and realise that your mind is as spacious as the sky, not cluttered all the time with thoughts. Going inwards allows you to create awareness that’s shining through your self without the stories.
How to be present
Yoga and meditation give us the ability to root and ground ourselves back into our bodies if we use the breath as an anchor. After a few deep breaths, close your eyes and let go of your stories. Then, just like you are waking up from a coma and don’t know your name, just notice the sensory perceptions. Notice the breath arising, notice if the body feels hot or cold, notice what you can feel and hear. By making this a regular practice, we are no longer letting the mind rule, but using the mind as the tool it was always meant to be. You are no longer in the grip of conditioning. The longing to awaken to who you truly are is experienced only by going within. As Tolle says, “In this dimension of spaciousness lies the kingdom of heaven.”
About the author
Dr. Fernanda Barros is a full-time yoga teacher and psychotherapist based in Melbourne. She teaches across several studios and holds a doctorate in existential counselling psychology from London, England. Fernanda currently works holistically via Skype and face-to-face, offering consultations across the globe. Her purpose is to improve people’s lives and get them to connect deeply with themselves and their bodies, removing any obstacles of anxiety, depression and negative patterns. She believes the body holds the key to create a better life, and if we can change our state via mind-body connection through the breath, the journey of happiness unfolds and follows. She loves teaching yoga and watching its deep transformative ever-lasting effect in everyone who commits to their practice. Her aim is to assist people to develop healthier relationships with themselves and the world. Facebook.com/drfernandabarros and Facebook.com/fernandabarrosyoga