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The Power of Now.
On the quest for better health and longevity, I’d improved my body through nutrition, increased my strength and was in the best shape of my life. I then decided it was time to focus more on the mind and the spirit to truly have optimum health. Even with the greatest nutrition, if the mind was never at ease, surely you could never fully benefit, or reach your true potential.
After much searching and reading, I discovered a book called ‘The Power of now’ by Ekhart Tolle. This book challenged my very way of thinking. Many subjects were discussed, but the one of most interest to me was around where our minds were. Ekhart suggested that the majority of us have thoughts that are primarily focused on the past or the future, rather than on the present moment. After making an effort to become more aware of my own thoughts I realized that this was the case, as it was for many others I asked. The question then remained. If so many of us have thoughts locked into the past, or projected into an imaginary future, then what becomes of the present moment? What becomes of the only moment we can live our lives in? I began by becoming aware of my thoughts throughout the day, and once I was confident this had been accomplished, I then made an extra effort to ensure as many of my thoughts as possible were focused on the present moment so that I could note any changes.
Thoughts of the past.
Perhaps thoughts of the past can be beneficial when used as a learning tool, but if one spends most of their time in the past, then how can they live in the present? Some thoughts that are focused on the past could be as simple as wondering whether you locked the windows, switched the heating off, or left your car headlights on. Slightly more complex ones could be when a person thinks back to events that occurred many years ago, wishing they made a different decision, or walked a different path (figuratively and / or physically). They may find themselves asking ”I wish I didn’t lose my temper that night”, or ”I wish I could turn back the clock”, ”what if I did things differently?”, ”why did I let this happen?”, ”why me?”. If one was unaware of such thoughts, and they spent most of their day thinking them, could this drain their energy? Surely such thoughts also bring with them emotional energy, and if a person was thinking back to a traumatic past event, then perhaps their emotions would also match the energy of that past event. Could this increase anxiety? Since the past cannot be changed, what would spending all day thinking about it accomplish?
Thoughts of the future.
Reducing my level of thoughts of the future meant no longer fixating on thoughts about the approaching weekend, unnecessarily looking forward into an imagined future (unless absolutely necessary), watching the clock at work (unless it was required for a time sensitive activity), worrying about what might happen later, and as much focus as possible on all that was occurring in the present moment. The only moment where life could unfold. Initially I was unable to focus on the present, and always found myself thinking about home time, the next allocated work that was supposed to arrive, or whether everything at home was secure. I was beginning to realise that such thoughts could not change anything, and therefore were not useful.
Making the mundane sacred.
After one week of practicing this different way of ‘thinking’ I started to be able to remain more present. Suddenly the simplest task took on a new meaning, some of the more repetitive tasks were no longer tedious. This made me think back to a quote I read some years ago in a Buddhist text “make the mundane sacred” and a quote by Dogen “In the mundane, nothing is sacred. In sacredness, nothing is mundane.”
I stopped trying to escape the present moment because I had surrendered to it! I had no concerns about the weekend, and when I arrived at work on a Monday, I did not feel the need to complain about missing the weekend anymore. Monday no longer held a different power to a Friday. I appreciated each day much more, as well as the people I worked with. I hadn’t realized that it was taking me much more energy trying to be in an imagined future, than it did to simply be present. I had more energy left at the end of each day. I also discovered that being more present reduced the number of thoughts I had overall. This made sense because when I observed my thoughts, the bulk of them were rarely, if ever about the present moment. This new way of thinking meant I started to feel more relaxed too. Perhaps some anxiety was related to thoughts of the past or the future (worrying about things that may, or may not happen), therefore when you are more focused on the present moment, perhaps you have less thoughts that generate anxiety.
The benefits of being present.
I discovered that by focusing on my breath, it was much easier to remain in the ‘now’. This led me to set aside 20 minutes a day where I would sit in silence and practice being present. I found that by starting at 5 minutes and gradually increasing it to 10, 15 and then to 20 was more achievable.
After several months of this new way of thinking and being, I observed a change in my own behavior and how I felt on a day to day basis. I developed more rational, calm responses to others because I was reflecting on the present moment and had more stillness. I was easier to be around, and I was able to give the people around me more concentration and time during conversations because I was calmer and more focused. I also found a new appreciation for everything in life. Overall I found both my personal and professional relationships in my day to day life improved.
By learning to live in the now, has allowed me to wholeheartedly endorse these words….
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
There is much debate on the origin of the above quote, as it appears that no sources point to a definitive author. Some suggest ‘ Lao Tzu’ while others credit Rev Run, author of ‘Words of Wisdom .’
Living in the now, especially during challenging times, having the ability to appreciate the present moment, no matter how simple, perhaps allows us to have more energy, gratitude, abundance, peace and ultimately more contentment.
Tolle, E. (2004). The power of Now : a guide to spiritual enlightenment. Vancouver, B.C.: Namaste Pub. ; Novato, Calif.
Stenudd, S. (n.d.). Fake Lao Tzu Quote: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the moment.” [online] www.taoistic.com. Available at: https://www.taoistic.com/fake-laotzu-quotes/fake-laotzu-quote-If_you_are_depressed_you_are_living_in_the_past.htm [Accessed 10 May 2020].