By John Schorling
A definition of mindfulness that we use in the Mindfulness Center is “intentional nonjudgmental present-moment awareness with kindness”. Why is there such an emphasis on paying attention to the present moment? Because every moment we experience is a present moment. Our lives unfold in the present moment. When the past occurred, it was in the present moment. When we think about the past, we are doing it in the present moment. The same is true of the future. Viewed from this perspective, all our experiences are in the present moment.
It is easy to get caught up in wishing we could change something that occurred in the past. Obviously this is not possible, yet we can expend a lot of energy wishing we could. We may find we have judgmental thoughts about ourselves for something we did or didn’t do, or about someone else for their action or inaction.
Even though thinking about the past or the future occurs in the present moment, getting caught up in thoughts takes our attention away from what is happening right now. That is why we need to be intentional about paying attention to the present moment. There is a difference between being lost in thought and not realizing this is occurring, what Tara Brach calls “the trance of thinking”, and being aware of thoughts arising and observing them.
The mind is a thought generator, and thoughts occur without any conscious effort on our part. Often these thoughts capture our attention and we find ourselves in the trance of thinking. When we realize this is happening, we can observe and acknowledge the thoughts as transient events, letting them go, choosing not to feed them, returning the attention to our present moment experience.
The present moment is actually all that we can be sure we have. There is no assurance that we will experience another moment. We often live our lives as if we have an endless number of moments, when of course we do not. Each moment is precious, and may be considered timeless because it is always present.
Jon Kabat-Zinn has observed that, in this moment, “As long as you are breathing there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter how ill or hopeless you may feel.” We often repeat this quote in our classes as a reminder of the importance of perspective, and appreciating all of our present moment experience.
A friend and colleague of mine had a serious accident resulting in a number of broken bones requiring surgery who noted that their recovery was made easier by paying attention to the parts of the body that weren’t injured or in pain, not just those that were. Doing this isn’t easy, and bringing kindness to the experience of being present, even with pain, can also help allow us to rest in the present moment as it is, without wishing things were different than they are.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings