My wife said, “Why don’t you not think?”
That sounds like some snarky advice, but she meant it. I was actually packing my things to go on one of my few personal retreats I take each year to read, think, plan and strategize my next big steps in life. But I was worn out and my wife sensed it. She knew I needed this weekend, but more so, she knew I needed a different type of weekend: one in which I did nothing at all.
It took me an hour and a half drive to reach my friend’s mountain home, situated in the woods and on a large pond. His dock extended peacefully out into the cove of the pond. I plopped down in an adirondack chair and cracked a book my brother had recommended to me, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Little did I know this book would profoundly shape my life.
I ate the book up and I read for a solid hour. The sun was out, and its rays started warming my skin and I felt myself starting to get sleepy. I put the book down, let my eyes fall shut and drifted off in sleep, comfortably reclining in the adirondack. I woke up a couple hours later, and just sat there. I took in the pond, the birds, fish making ripples on the surface of the pond. The silence was powerful. I thought about nothing. I just sat there and was able to be. The experience is somewhat inexplicable, but my post-nap awakening was one of the most profound moments of my life.
The rest of the weekend I would read a little, but more or less I just soaked in the experience. I wasn’t trying to solve any world problems or create my next big move. I’d read and then sit. I wouldn’t even think much about what I read, instead, what I wanted to do was just to notice. Just sit. Just be. Just take in the sounds, the sites, the smells. Sometimes I’d be sitting in a chair and think to myself, I should probably get up. And then an hour would go by and I hadn’t moved nor did I feel like moving. I’d continue sitting there, noticing, being. Sometimes my mind would drift or latch on to some back-home thought, but I’d nudge it back to where I was: Now.
Ever since that weekend, I’ve been very purposeful about being in the now. I want to be where I am. Yeah, I know, that sounds really “profound.” But if you think about it, it is profound. I realized I spent much of my time in the future or in the past. Rarely in the now (mainly the future). There was always something better coming down the pike, so I liked to stay there, either worrying about something bad that was going to happen or about how to make things better.
Life happens, however, in the now. Right now. If this is a new concept to you, the idea is to just be. To witness your mind and all of its crazy talk. As Tolle said in The Power of Now, the mind is an organ that is made to think. And think it does. But we are not what our mind thinks, and I don’t know about you, but thank God, if I were all of the things my mind thought, then I’d be locked up by now.
So being present, being in the now, simply means just being. And when you start just being, you notice things you’ve never noticed before. You hear sounds you didn’t know where there, you see things that have always been there but haven’t noticed. In order to be, you must develop the ability to witness your thoughts and be okay with those thoughts sliding by. In short, you become free from the activity of your mind. And when you can do that, it frees you up to be present. To be 100%. Not to be thinking about something else when someone is talking, or instead of being present at the dinner table, thinking about the presentation you have to do tomorrow.
The benefits are incredible. By being more in the now, I can give someone my attention for what I would guess is a 100x improvement of what I was able to do previously. I also notice that when my mind starts to drift in a conversation, I can quickly get back into presence. Because I’m awake and notice more, my ability for appreciation is more and I make better decisions.
Overall, my mind’s state is now quiet. It’s calm. Before, if you walked into my mind it was probably like walking into a rowdy tavern with a circus act going on. Now if you walk into my mind, it’s probably the equivalent of walking into a spectacular library--with the circus act blazing through about every 10 minutes! In other words, my mind is still my mind, and I accept that. However, my mind is way more calm, but crazy thoughts (or perfectly good thoughts) still zip through the library of what my mind has become.
What I’m saying is that I’m not perfect. I haven’t arrived. Being in the now, being present, takes practice and it’s much more about the journey than it is the destination. In addition to practice, it takes discipline. For instance, to develop myself to be more in the now is I developed a meditation practice which I talk about in another blog. I meditate daily for 20 minutes a day. This has taught my mind to be still, relaxed and peaceful.
Another thing I work on is to try and minimize distractions. I used to have an Apple Watch for instance. I used to love that thing. But in my quest for presence, I realized the Apple Watch was a distraction machine. Seriously, I’d be talking to someone, totally in presence and connected to that person, and my watch buzzes with a text message from my wife asking me what I want for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, +1 for my wife! But man, I allowed myself to be buzzed out of presence. What a bummer. My Apple watch has since been retired.
As it goes for my mobile phone (iPhone), I minimize all distraction settings. I disable badges on apps, reduce app notifications if at all possible and my phone doesn’t vibrate or ring. My phone is a tool and is there for me to use it, not for it to use me.
“Why don’t you not think?” Was some of the best advice I’ve ever received. My wife’s intuitive advice, combined with a timely book recommendation from my brother launched me into a life of practicing presence. Although the benefits of a calmer mind, more peace, less stress, being able to fully listen to friends, family and coworkers, to be focused and fully be with whomever I’m with, etc. are all awesome benefits, the real gift of being present is presence itself. It’s as if God said, “I gave you this amazing life and this amazing world, and you spend 99% of it in the past or in the future. How about just enjoy what I gave you, now?”
Now. Be. Presence. All the same thing, and when you can consistently find yourself there, that in and of itself is the real reward.