“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
We live in a goal-oriented society where we are taught from a young age to strive, to aim for targets, to set intentions, and to actively root out our imperfections. Many of us start every year with so called New Year’s Resolutions only to find out that a mere three months into the year the New Year’s Resolutions
we so enthusiastically set have fallen by the wayside.
But what if this whole approach to life is wrong? What if focusing all our energy on our imperfections with the intention of changing to become better is actually a flawed concept?
Many spiritual masters and wise teachers through the ages have stressed that being mindful and being fully present leads to a more fulfilling life than does obsessively striving to change and improve ourselves. Wayne Dyer explained it in this way: “the more I give myself permission to live in the moment and enjoy it without feeling guilty or judgmental about any other time, the better I feel about the quality of my work.”
Many times, when we get past mid-life, our perspective about things can change. When we have to begin facing life-changing illnesses or dealing with the deaths of loved ones, we start to realize that life is actually about more than analyzing ways we aren’t good enough, and delineating how to improve. We
see clearly that it is essential to be able to be simply present with what is, without the distraction of mental chatter. The truth is that life happens, despite our illusion of control. The only thing we have any control over is how we respond.
Mindfulness techniques can help us realize and embrace the concepts that life is a process we participate in rather than control, and that ultimately the best thing we can do is to set our intention to be present to what IS, rather than beating ourselves up about not being good enough and looking everywhere outside ourselves for things we can do to be better.
Instead of creating goal after goal for self-improvement, we can learn to simply look for how to do the next right thing. When we do that, we are truly living in the present.
Traditional psychotherapy is comforting to both the client and the therapist, but by itself it very rarely, in our experience, empowers people to effectively alter their lives. Understanding your problems is useful, but in itself it doesn’t create change. Most people develop habitual ways of thinking and behaving that control us just like we are driving through ruts on an icy road. We can know the ruts are there and even understand how they were created, but that understanding doesn’t help us drive a straight line. As smart as we are, we still watch ourselves drive into the same ruts time after time, and, when we get stuck again, we feel trapped and unable to steer out of those deeply hewn grooves.
In the Western world we tend to think of the mind and body as separate entities that operate under different and unrelated rules. Our view is that the mind and body represent different dimensions of the same thing, different realms in the same space. This is part of a concept we call the four worlds of healing. We have seen that things that change the mind and emotions change the body, and vice versa.
Emotional responses to significant life events cause a change in our physical state. Usually, this is temporary. Sometimes, however, due to the degree of stress associated with certain events or situations, our physiological responses to emotions become “locked in” and we never fully get back to our normal state. These “locked in” responses can persist even years after the precipitating event.
Once we went to a woman’s house where we had arranged to board our dog for a few days. When we got there, the stench of cat urine was overpowering. It was incredibly vile. We were choking. We could not imagine how anyone could stay in that environment for more than a few seconds.
The woman smiled and invited us in. It was obvious that, for her, nothing was out of the ordinary. She not only didn’t have a problem with the stench, she didn’t seem to know it was there. She had several cats. We never found out how many. She petted one idly as we spoke. We made excuses and left.