How to live in the present moment?

We always live in the present moment. The question therefore should be, what makes it appear to us that we leave the present moment? Usually, these are regrets about the past or anxiety about the future. Pleasant memories are okay. Excitement about a holiday next week is also okay. The problem really is not about the past or the future, but our negative emotions associated with these dimensions of time. Let’s look at this.

Most of the time, when we start worrying – either about the past or the future – there is a negative emotion associated with these thought patterns. This can be sadness (regret) or fear (anxiety). Sadness and fear are the primary emotions. And these don’t feel good. This subtle rejection of sadness and anxiety kick-starts the train of thoughts. What I should have done. What I can do tomorrow. How stupid I am. How annoying others are. Such thoughts are like weeds in a garden. They sprout up naturally when we run away from facing our emotions. Whenever you start worrying the next time around, gently ask yourself – What is the underlying emotion that I am experiencing? This is the first step. Then slowly, bring your attention to the emotion. Look at it squarely – without any judgment – without trying to plan or resolve anything. Just let it be. This ‘allowing’ severs the link between feeling and thinking. This brings our attention back to our bodies. This can feel terribly uncomfortable and the natural tendency is for the mind to desperately try to think. Again and again, bring back the attention. Use the breath if necessary.

Understand that emotions are always in the present moment. It may be triggered because of an event in the past or the future, but the emotion is felt in the here-now. When we bring our loving attention to the emotions we automatically come to the present moment. We don’t need to discipline ourselves or stop ourselves from thinking. When we rest with the emotion, we notice that thoughts automatically subside. Always remember that emotions are stronger than thoughts and therefore they can serve as a valuable anchor to the ship of awareness. Use emotions to your advantage.

By and by through diligent practice, we gain the ability to quickly come to the emotions and stay there. This saves us from a lot of misery in life. This is the beginning of freedom. Over time, we gain the ability to let the emotion stay and smile. We know that we are not inherently harmed by them. This then is the beginning of presence – living in the present. And that is a freedom worth having.

An Ipomea surprised me on my evening walk. Bangalore. 2022.

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