What does it mean to be in the now, to be present? What exactly does that look like? What do you experience? Well, I thought I knew, but I guess I didn’t and so I’ll explain.
This article is the second in the series. The first one is here and I suggest you read it first:
This is the third part:
This is not the article I was going to write. I’m sticking this one in here to describe an experience I had this past week that gave me a glimpse of something better than I had previously imagined. You may consider what I describe here as insignificant or trivial. That’s ok. To me it was very transformative. I hope you’ll bear with the length.
To understand why this experience made such an impression on me, you have to understand a little background on my personality. People who know me, and that includes myself, would describe me as fairly (or even extremely) moody, irritable, negative, pessimistic, etc. I have a very reactive nature and get irritated easily. I have made great strides in becoming calmer, less reactive, and developing a more positive outlook. I am slower to react and the reactions are much shorter-lived. I get control of myself, but I am nonetheless still a reactive and easily irritated personality. I am a thousand times more positive than before, but I still have to work at it pretty hard.
I still constantly swear at other drivers for example. I constantly get irritated whenever normal life “stuff” happens. I thought that to minimize my reactions and being successful at minimizing them was the end-game. Boy was I ever wrong about that!
This example may seem trivial to some of you, but to me it was a very big deal. I’m in the beautiful Colorado Rocky mountains. I’m driving down a canyon road totally absorbed in the natural beauty of the place. I pull over at a particularly beautiful spot and turn off my engine. I’m totally in the moment. I’m listening to the sounds of nature and taking in the fragrance of the flowers and trees or whatever it was that I could smell. The sun was warming my skin. The birds were singing and the water in the river was roaring. Even the road noise from the cars going by was part of the whole scene. I was totally in the moment without a care in the world. I was happy.
I think I was pulling my camera out from under a sweatshirt on the passenger seat, but I’m not really sure. Then it happened – a bag of Macadamia nuts that I had been munching on spilled all over the floor. I simply observed myself watching it happen. That’s the only way I can describe it. For the first time I can ever remember, I had no reaction whatsoever; none. It wasn’t just that I was calm and held back. It was something completely different and new to me. No swear words, no drawn breath, no need to suppress a reaction. I was totally happy without a care in the world.
When the nuts spilled I momentarily stopped my movement, but after they spilled I continued on getting my camera out. I started moving again and the the next thing I saw was an open bag of pumpkin seeds, which must have been hidden in a fold of the sweatshirt suddenly fall and spill its contents everywhere – on my seat, on my console, and on the floor. It was surreal. It seemed to happen in slow motion. It was weird and wonderful at the same time. There was absolutely no reaction from me. The best I can remember, I just turned and got out of my SUV and took a picture.
I didn’t think my normal negative and reactive thoughts about the spill or about having to clean it up later or anything. In fact I didn’t clean it up for two days because I didn’t care. And when I did clean it up, I was totally happy doing so instead of being pissed at the inconvenience and time-wasting nature of the whole thing. It truly didn’t matter. It just was what was. The old Stephen would have reacted strongly to back-to-back “stuff” like that.
Of course, I didn’t think any of these thoughts at the time it was happening. This all came later upon reflection. I was aware of it, but I was also aware that I wasn’t thinking anything at all. I know that sounds strange and if somebody told me the same thing I would have called BS. But that’s the way it was.
What This Means
So why did this have such a big impact on me? Spilling nuts and seeds in your car? Not exactly life-changing stuff. Or is it? Everyone has ups and downs in life. Everyone has those great thrilling highs and everyone has the tragic lows too. But those are not the norm. They are the not the day-to-day experiences we all have as we go about our normal lives all day every day. Spilling nuts in your car is what day-to-day living is like.
What I saw in this experience was that those day-to-day experiences could be completely and fundamentally different. I started imagining what it would be like to maintain that calm, peaceful, and serene manner all the time. It’s mind-bending to me. I didn’t even know it was possible. I could have never even imagined it before, but now I can. I’ve tasted what it can be like. I’ve known for quite some time at an intellectual level that something like this was the right way, but I was wrong about what it actually meant. I didn’t know what it felt like.
I was in a state such that it was not possible for the negative and reactive thoughts and feelings to even occur. They may have been outside the door pounding to get in, but I was protected by the shield of being in the present moment. I did not have to resist them or try and push them out after they had already entered. That’s the key difference in this experience.
I’ve never been like that before. What would it be like to be in such a state say 10% of the time? For me that would be a massive improvement. What about 50%? 90%? I still can’t really imagine, but I now know that it is possible. I’m not naive enough to believe anyone can be that way 100% of the time but anything less than nearly constant is no longer good enough for me.
I want that all the time and the rather simple context of that experience showed me that it is possible. I won’t be in a beautiful natural environment all the time but so what? The same internal state is possible. Just imagine what it would be like to go through your day, every day, without anything bothering you? Just accepting life as it happens and being in the moment living it all the time and not just occasionally? I may be on some kind of natural drug, but I am now convinced this is attainable.
Am I Kidding?
Nope, I’m not. I’m sure it was easy to be present while being surrounded by all that natural beauty, during a vacation, and all alone. There is something about nature that makes it easy. There is something about being alone that makes it easy. Skeptics will say just wait until you are back in the everyday stress of your normal life. I’m sure they expect me to go back to being normal and that I won’t be able to maintain it.
In one sense that is correct. Even later that day, back in my room, I had a little accident and flashed irritation. I wasn’t focused on being present. My old habits were surfacing. I don’t yet know how to maintain that all the time. However, I caught myself quickly and focused on being present. The memory of earlier was fresh on my mind. I stayed this way the rest of my trip. Not being as serene or in the moment as I was at that one particular point, but getting close a lot of the time.
I made sure I focused on it and remembered it. I wrote this article as part of that effort. Coming down the mountains yesterday I struggled temporarily with one of my worst problems. I was stuck at the end of line of cars crawling along while being led by a million year-old driver. That was tough, but my awareness was so much higher that even then, I was able to experience a huge improvement. Ever since the nut spilling experience, I’ve ebbed and flowed below that state getting close at times, but more importantly staying on a much higher average level than normal. I still have a ton of experience to get and a lot to learn, but I’m highly motivated now. I may refer back to that day as the day I lost my nuts 🙂 Some of you may think it was the day I actually went nuts.
I’m going to work extremely hard at figuring out how to get back to that state and maintain it on an ongoing basis. It has to be possible. There was nothing extraordinary about the circumstances. Sure I had help with the environment, but fundamentally the only difference was my internal state. That was something I had control over. That was something I did. That is something I can learn to make a habit of. A year earlier I would have been cussing out my own stupidity over spilling and then spilling again. I would have been cringing at the thought of cleaning it up and I would have been irritated the whole time I was cleaning it up. Something is different now.
It will be difficult to get there because I’ve had 47 years (oops I’m turning 48 in a couple of days) of practice being completely different. I know it will be tough, because of all the people I know, I don’t think I know anyone who is like that consistently. Everyone I know bitches and complains to some degree. Everyone worries about the future and stews about the past. Some only a little and some a lot. I started watching people when I was around them later in the trip. Very few people seemed serene and happy. They were just rushing around in their normal stressful world. Even those on vacation with families seemed to be going through all the normal drama that families seem to bring out in people.
I’m going to do whatever I can to be a rare exception. It’s worth whatever it takes. If I fail, it will not be because I didn’t try and I have this blog article here to remind me. Big tests are coming I’m sure but I look forward to learning from them.
I hope this didn’t bore you. If you don’t experience things like this, I hope this article helps you understand that you can and that there is a better way to be. It’s what a few people I read talk about, but something that I now know I really didn’t understand before.
To be continued…
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