Monday, August 8, 2011

To Really Be Present, Really, Interacting With the World

Today I can honestly state that I was present for more of the day than usual, I was present more often than not.

Be honest with yourself: were you present today? What does it mean for you to be present? What kinds of attributes or traits may you need to adopt and what kinds of habits or tendencies may you need to strip?

I am present when I am teaching and when I am learning and practicing. This to me, is natural (after years of practicing yoga). The work lies in being present off of the mat, while I'm driving, while I'm cooking, while I'm cleaning, while I'm shopping for groceries. Trivial and mundane tasks where it is easy to be on auto-pilot and just go. Because we know these actions well, we have done them before, and we do not need to be present to get them done again and again. We can close our eyes while strolling down the aisles, close our ears while we cook and clean, and keep one hand on the wheel while the other plans the To-Do list for the rest of the week. Because we are a future-oriented breed. Planning, anticipating, expecting, worrying.

But can you break down those habits, and interact with your world, your environment, and the people in it in a completely new way that means accommodating, adjusting, and acknowledging? That means indulging in each moment as though it were your last, that means embracing each encounter because your whole life has brought you to this moment, to this person that is standing in front of you, whether it is your lover, your boss, your neighbor, or the gas station attendant. Can you be present with this person? Be honest, be real, interact with them, listen to them, speak to them, share with them your knowledge, your experience, your insights, your life.

When the cashier at Trader Joe's asked me how I was, I gave the answer that we all give when we are not present: "good, thanks, how are you." I was hardly asking him, and hardly answering him. I gave him a standard answer because I was already out the door. I was already driving home, I wanted to be home, because I wanted to eat, I wanted to continue the projects I had started this weekend, I wanted to get a lot done before I had to teach my evening classes, so I was not there. It was not an honest answer. Even if you are "good," can you give it more thought? Can you answer the question with more sincerity? Can you slow your answer down, give it careful consideration, offer a different word, a different perspective, and really listen to the other person when they are speaking back to you? That is presence.

It didn't hit me until after. My initial inclination to feel badly about that, to beat myself up for a short time, telling myself Oh you're no good, you're not present, you're not mindful, what kind of yogi are you, how do you teach peace and presence to other people when you can't find it yourself." But not today. No, today, I said, OK. But now I know. I am aware of it. This is a GOOD thing. This is how we change. You catch yourself more and more often, and you grow and expand and move and develop from that. Not to mention, it is a practice. That means IT is moving, breathing, living, and therefore fluctuating. Just because I can't find the presence in each moment, does not mean I am not practicing finding the presence.

One glimpse of that, and you will want to stay there. Everybody that has felt what it feels like to be present, to be immersed in a moment, will work to stay there, because it is worth it.

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