It seems like such an easy thing this living in the present, doesn’t it? In reality it can be very difficult, after years of living your life in the past or always trying to ensure a certain type of future. I struggle with this inability to live in the now on a daily basis, so much so as I have become an Eckhart Tolle junkie, owning just about every audio book that Audible has offered me. I wrote a book review a while back The Power of Now on one of my other blogs InspirationalBookReviews.com, that you might enjoy. I highly recommend this book and have listened to it more times than I can remember.
For those of you already enlightened and living in the now fully you can just quit reading this blog right now and I hope you have a great day, but if you are not quite living in the now on a consistent basis, read on. Our minds produce thousands of thoughts per day and it seems like we have little control of all this shit that is happening in our heads. If we stand any chance of experiencing the present moment we are going to need some tools or techniques to combat all that silly shit going on in our heads. Maybe all we need is a way to quiet the mind if you will. Now what I am going to advocate is not necessarily new or unique, but stick with me here for a moment, after all we all need to find some reprieve from all the noise in our heads that is preventing us from enjoying the present moment.
Here are a few things you might try to allow you to consciously experience the present moment:
Do one thing at a time – This sound stupid at first, but think about how many times you put on your head phones start listening to an audio book and look at your Facebook or Instagram feed at the same. Even if you do not realize it, you are multi-tasking and pretty soon you missed some of the passages in your audio book as your mind focused on something visual in your social media feed. You have trained yourself to need audio and visual stimulation and your mind is trying to process both at the same time, and while this might be your version of living in the now, it is a pretty fucked up reality. Do this at work and you will find that what you attempt to get done takes longer and the quality suffers. This is really about the power of focus, which facilitates a better experience of the present moment. The lesson is try to do one thing at a time.
Yoga and Meditation – Oh now here we go again, off on the yoga and meditation tangent, please save me from this mad man. Fine, I said it for you, now let me continue. The simple fact is that it’s pretty hard to live in the past or future once you learn to practice yoga and focus on your breathing. The same is true for meditation where you can use some techniques that will help you stay focused on the present moment. I will not belabor this point, but I do encourage you to start your day with yoga and meditation if you want to experience what living in the present can hold for you.
Expectations – If you are continually filling your mind with expectations of what your life should be like or how the next thing you need to do should turn out; well then you are living in the future. We all do this shit! I can’t tell you how many times I wake up early worried about some stuff at work that isn’t getting done the way I think it should or isn’t turning out the way I think is should. How in the hell can I enjoy the present moment if I continue to have all these expectations? I can’t focus on living in the present moment until I can say fuck it. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, it just means I accept whatever happens instead of torturing myself with all the stupid expectations of the future. The lesson here is expectations are living in the future and preventing you from living in the present.
Really anything I’ve written today seems on the surface pretty straightforward:
Do one thing at a time
Practice yoga and meditation
Stop expecting things to turn out a certain way
None of this shit is easy, but each of these things is possible with a little practice, or in my case a lot of practice. Doing one thing at a time or practicing yoga not only provides an opportunity for you to live fully in the present moment, but also has many other benefits. Why do you think so many people drink, ingest or smoke cannabis, take prescription pain killers, or other forms of mind altering substances? It helps them experience the present moment and quiets their minds, but the problem is it is not sustainable and ultimately causes more trouble than it is worth.
Being the owner of a goal driven, super active, future based thinking mind I am challenged everyday to maintain a focus on the present moment. I would love to hear some of the ways you have found help you stay focused one the present moment.
In Zen Buddhism zazen means seated meditation. Without boring you to death zazen meditation is done with the eyes open and sitting in full lotus, half lotus, Burmese (legs crossed with ankles in front), or kneeling. I woke early today after somehow getting myself all worked up over my current living situation, full of anger, I decided to just getup, it was around 3:00 a.m., a couple hours earlier than usual. I was thinking about why I was so angry and feeling more upset with myself for losing control of my emotions. Now if this would have been the first time in a while it might be understandable, but this was the third time in as many days that I just exploded. I walked into my office and sat down, started up Pandora and listened to the yoga station, and began to meditate. It took me some time before I was beyond an angry state, and then other things came into my head, these thoughts lingered a while, and finally after about 20 minutes I was feeling better, and I had no thoughts. Sometimes I try to drown out other thoughts with affirmations or quotes. Here are a couple I used this morning:
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Bruce Lee
I repeat the Lao Tzu quote frequently during meditation, but for some reason the Bruce Lee quote was also meaningful today.
Regarding zazen itself, here is a good quote from one of the Zen Masters.
It appears that my recent behavior indicates I am not as diligent with my zazen practice as I should be, and in my case it may be time to make it a twice a day habit. The power of zazen is that it can help you control your unhealthy emotions, and lead you to a calmer state of mind. There are many reasons to meditate, but if you are anxious, stressed out, angry, burning the candle at both ends, consider zazen as the way forward.
I was reading a post on LinkedIn the other day and the person said that they meditate twice a day for an hour each time. To me this was a long time to sit as I am now sitting 20 – 25 minutes in the morning and this took some time to reach even this modest amount of time. When I first started meditating I was lucky to reach 10 minutes without completely losing focus and thinking about all of my issues, concerns, dislikes, and problems. I guess the message of this post is that you need to be patient and not compare yourself to those who sit for long periods of time. In my own practice it took me several months to work my way up to comfortably sitting for 20 minutes at a time. My advice to those starting out would be as follows:
Make your initial target 10 minutes, and use a timer. I use a clock app on my phone and this works pretty good.
You might try using music to help you get into the right frame of mind. I use a Yoga station on Pandora which works for me.
At first you might try counting breaths do help drown out other thoughts. This technique is really forcing you mind to think of counting each breath, say from 1 to 10 and then start over.
Find the most quiet place in your dwelling and invest in a Zubuton and Zafu. The Zubuton is a thick mat and the Zafu is a round or rectangular sitting cushion. (see below, about $65 at Amazon)
Having a Zubuton and Zafu make it more comfortable to sit, especially if you are sitting in half or full lotus.
You can meditate with your eyes open or eyes closed. If you are following the Zen Buddhism method you will keep your eyes open. I’ve done both, but prefer eyes open as I am less likely to feel sleepy.
Sit with your back as straight as possible.
Meditate in the morning if possible, as it is a great way to start your day.
Above all, give yourself a break, even 10 minutes of meditation per day is extremely helpful in centering yourself and becoming mindful. Like I mentioned it took me months to work up to 20 minutes a day, as there were lots of things going on in my mind and it can take time to stay seated for longer periods of time. What I can say is that being consistent helps, if at all possible meditate on a daily basis. The more you sit the easier it becomes.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading the The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau. The book provides an insight into Zen Buddhism history, practices, and principles. This is really a wonderful book that anyone with an interest in Zen should read. I warn you that there are a number of words translated from Chinese or Japanese that you will need to look up to really understand what is being presented, but it is worth it. This means that reading the book is a fairly slow process where you may only read several pages at each sitting, needing time to digest what is being said. If you have an interest in meditation you will find some guidance in what Zen Masters call zazen, the Zen form of seated meditation. In the book they claim that zazen is not a typical form of meditation, but I’ll let you be the judge.
The goal of zazen is to suspend all judgmental thinking, letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them; clearing the mind if you will. It should be noted that zazen is the core discipline for Zen, and carries with it some very specific practices that help you achieve a clear mind one unencumbered by the past and future.
One of the specific practices is counting breaths to help clear the mind. I’ve been doing this because I can’t seem to stop thinking about other things, so the counting helps me block out other thoughts that want to surface as as I sit. One method is to count to 10, counting each breath as one then two, etc. The reason you limit yourself to 10 is that even counting to 10 can be a challenge as other thoughts keep coming up and disrupt the counting of your breaths.
Maybe you will find this method helpful as you try to quiet your mind. Remember the goal here is to clear your mind of the past and the future, coming to grips with being present and aware, but not thinking about anything. I know this may not make sense, but your goal should be to be present but non judgmental, just be. I will continue my reading of the Three Pillars of Zen and share the best of this book with you.
I’ve been doing some reading to find out just how yoga came into being, and the answer is not clear. A number of sources claim that yoga predates the written word and is over 5,000 years old. The evidence of this comes from archaeological dig sites where yoga poses have been found. There is some conjecture that yoga evolved from Hinduism but Hinduism’s religions structures were developed much later and incorporated yoga but did not create it. Initially yoga was passed down from teacher to student through oral instruction and by demonstration.
One of the earliest texts on yoga came from a scholar named Patanjali, who created a book named Yoga Sutras anywhere from the 1st or 2nd century B.C. to as late as the 5th century A.D. Patanjali wrote about a system called “Ashtanga Yoga,” or the eight limbs of yoga. There are many (hundreds) schools, styles, and types of yoga but some of the more common include:
Hatha Yoga: The physical movements and postures, plus breathing techniques. This is what most people associate with Yoga practice.
Ashtanga Yoga: The system is based on six series of asanas which increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. In class, you’ll be led nonstop through one or more of the series. There’s no time for adjustments—you’ll be encouraged to breathe as you move from pose to pose.
Bikram Yoga: This method of staying healthy from the inside out was designed by Bikram Choudhury, who sequenced a series of 26 traditional hatha postures to address the proper functioning of every bodily system. Usually this form of yoga is done at temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the idea is that you will sweat out the toxins in your body.
Raja Yoga: Called the “royal road,” because it incorporates exercise and breathing practice with meditation and study, producing a well-rounded individual. Raja yoga was first described as an eightfold or eight-limbed (aṣṭanga, ashtanga) path in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.
Jnana Yoga: The path of wisdom; considered the most difficult path.
Bhakti Yoga: The practice of extreme devotion in one-pointed concentration upon one’s concept of God.
Karma Yoga: Of the four paths to realization, karma yoga is the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is derived from the spiritual life. Karma yoga is said to be the most authentic way to progress in the spiritual life. Found in the Bhagavad Gita karma yoga is a part of nature. Karma yoga is taught by teachers of zen who promote tranquility.
Other styles include: Iyengar, Power Yoga, White Lotus, Kali Ray TriYoga, Jivamukti, Viniyoga, and on and on and on.
Even by these definitions one can see that it is difficult to separate the exercise component of yoga from the meditative aspect. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” bringing the body and mind together into one harmonious experience. The system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation; all three components must be in harmony to properly practice yoga. My next post will begin to focus in on Ashtanga one of the forms of yoga mentioned above in more detail. Remember you can make up your own sequence of asana’s for your practice, but understanding a few of the more popular disciplines will help you gravitate to what suits your personality and desires.