Being Present means being fully conscious of the moment and free from the noise of internal dialogue. It’s often associated with feelings of stillness and peace. Sensations often seem sharper. Those who inhabit this present state frequently report a sense of experiencing life “as it really is” and being “free from delusion”.
Staying in the Present State
We are all present from time to time. But being able to summon this state of mind—and staying in it for lengths of time—takes practice. The mind wanders. It revisits the past. It explores and plans for the future. That’s its default mode.
The mind also narrates the present moment and tries to make sense of it. When we can’t make sense of what’s going on, the mind represses, distracts or fixates. These strategies are designed to protect and support us—being able to recall the past and plan for the future can help us survive. But this process, when uncontrolled, prevents us from being truly in the present.
When the Present is Painful
When we are present, we feel things fully. The good and the bad.
When the “now” is pleasant, it is easier to disengage from thoughts. We have a better chance of experiencing the joy and pleasure of the moment.
However, when the present moment feels painful, staying in that experience can be daunting. Our mind, left to its own devices, will help us by dissociating or blocking harsh realities. We won’t truly inhabit feelings of sadness or embarrassment, for instance.
The mind’s defenses unfortunately make it much harder to see reality as it is—and deal more constructively with our problems.
The Mind As a Tool, Not a Master
The mind is a wonderful tool for planning and problem-solving. An untrained mind, however, can color and shape our reality in ways that are not resourceful. The tool, in some sense, becomes the master. As author Brian Thompson writes, “The stories you tell yourself create a “you” which is not true.”
The voice inside our head comments, judges, complains, likes, dislikes and so on. We tell ourselves stories under our breath, and thoughts bubble up ceaselessly. Buddhism refers to this unconstrained state as “monkey mind”, because it’s almost like the mind is a tiny monkey running amuck and making noise. In this distracted state, we do not experience true reality.
We unconsciously identify with our mind until we have trained ourselves to realize something pretty profound: we are not the thoughts in our minds; we are what hears the thoughts. Whenever you observe your mind objectively, you are no longer trapped in it. The monkey puts down the drum. You feel peace. This is the beginning of freedom.
This is a crucial insight on the journey to self-discovery.
Start by impartially listening to the voices talk. Realize that you are not your thoughts. Listen with compassionate, open awareness. Distance yourself from this internal prattling.
When the mind is quiet, there is a gap in the mental stream. These gaps of “no-mind” take you to a world beyond thoughts, a world of experience. By looking inward, you can feel stillness and peace inside you. That’s being present.
The Present Moment Is All There Is
By disengaging from the mind and becoming more present, you tend to feel more alive, more alert, and more at peace.
It sounds cliché, but the present truly is all there is. It is the space where our lives unfold. The past is gone. The future hasn’t happened yet. Past and future are essentially fictions—just constructions of the mind.
Introspect and see the world as it really is. You can go there at any time, merely by directing all your attention to the now.