Live Now – Part II

by Stephen Mills on June 6, 2009

Waterfall

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:

Living Now – Part I

This is the third part:

Live Now – Part III

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.

Stephen’s Personality

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!

The Experience

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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{ 2 trackbacks }

Well-Being is Better Than Happiness — The Rat Race Trap
June 23, 2009 at 11:05 am
How to be Content — The Rat Race Trap
July 5, 2009 at 8:41 am

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Brownson June 6, 2009 at 9:14 am

Maybe the million year old driver had been sent to see if you got the message ;-)

I think ‘Peace’ is the ultimate state. It certainly is for me although I’m not sure I have got to where you got to…..yet.

Tim Brownson´s last blog post..How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills June 6, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Tim – excellent point about the driver, or any other challenge for that matter.

Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post..Who Is Really In Control Around Here?

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Focused Awareness | Matt June 6, 2009 at 1:16 pm

What an insightful post. It’s really in the small moments that we can get a real view of our lives. How we react to the little annoyances is who we are. Your story really made me think. You were in the moments and were not dragged out of it by the little annoyances. What a strong image. I mean it’s just dropping nuts but we can all imagine times in our day when an inconvenient spill would send us over the edge. What’s different about that brain state? What is it about being in the moment that makes aggravating things like that not matter? Having a moment or two when we are really at ease allows us to call upon that moment later, when we need it. Thanks again for the insights, I’m going to try to pay attention to those instances when I am above the maelstrom of everyday life and recall those times when I get pulled back in to it.

Focused Awareness | Matt´s last blog post..Own Your Ethics

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Jay Schryer June 6, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Very cool stuff, Stephen! that’s just awesome! You described the way I felt with my recent (fleeting) Moment of Zen. For me it was a lake with a fountain, for you it was falling nuts. I, too, have wondered what it would be like to live in that state nearly constantly…all I can think is that it must be nice! :) Congratulations on a wonderful experience!

Jay Schryer´s last blog post..Tagged Again

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills June 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Stephen, you just had an Ah-Ha moment. Those are the special points in time when concept meets experience and all of a sudden you fully grasp something that had previously been obscure. Allow me to share 2 truths with you regarding this “state” that your story is about. 1) Surrounding yourself with nature encourages that mental space. 2) It can be maintained in other environments, but it is much more difficult.

I moved to the mountains 36 years ago because the benefits had become very apparent to me. When nature dominates our surroundings, we can feel the heartbeat of life the way is was meant to be felt . It resonates with us in a peaceful and pleasing way. Stress and conflict are soothed away and we gain access to our real self.

So if you feel yourself losing that peaceful state take corrective action. Go to the mountains, the beach, a river, lake , or forest. Plug yourself into that giant positive ion generator we call nature and let it correct your frequency. When you feel the need just go do it. I enjoyed sharing in your Ah-Ha moment, thanks.

Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post..Who Is Really In Control Around Here?

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Robin Easton June 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm

This comment brought tears to my eyes Jonathan. Of course you why knowing my history in the wild. But it was so good to hear you express this. So many completely underrate the soothing abilities of nature. I lived to long like that although I will always choose the wild over the hoards and chaos of “civilization”, I have reached a point where I am can let all the chao swirl around me and realize I’m no longer part of it. But I STILL choose to be in the wild. That is dream I work toward now. A move back into the wild places. Also, thank you for having this “knowing-base” in you, you definitely are kindred. Many have lost not only their connection to the truth you state here, but they have lost even the memory of it. Although I do believe it is stored in our cells just waiting to reawaken.

Robin Easton´s last blog post..Are You Still in Survival Mode?

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Vin | NaturalBias.com June 6, 2009 at 9:53 pm

It really is the small things in life that matter most!

I have experiences like this also and am on the same mission to make it happen more often. I also used to be irritated easily, but have resolved a lot of that – partially through better health and partially through better perspective.

This type of calmness and being at peace with yourself is one of the primary reasons why I’m trying so hard to escape corporate life. While I know it’s possible to make the best of any situation, I know that as long as I’m working for someone else, my potential to be living in the moment will be limited.

I think skeptics who expect you to cave under the stress of every life are missing the point. Where does everyday stress come from and why do we deal with it? Do we really need all the money we think we do? Is the bigger house and better car really worth it?

I think we all have a personal threshold for stress that we can tolerate while still being able to stay in the moment relatively well. The more basic our needs and wants are, the easier it is to stay within this threshold, but must of us are living well beyond it.

Happy Birthday

P.S. Macadamia nuts are one of my favorites. :)

Vin | NaturalBias.com´s last blog post..The Forgotten Path to Health and Happiness

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Steven Aitchison June 7, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Hi Stephen

I loved this piece of writing. these a-ha moments are rare but I believe they can be replicated quite frequently if you desire.

You unconsciously told yourself you were not going to react to the situation, more than likely because you had been in such a beautiful moment in your mind and you didn’t want to spoil it.

You now have an anchor to that feeling of deep peace. Every time you sense anger rising just imagine being back at your beauty spot and you will slip back into that moment of peace, albeit not as strongly.

Great story, thanks for sharing.

Steven Aitchison´s last blog post..The Devils dreams

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Roger | A Content Life June 7, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Stephen,

What an interesting experience!

“I simply observed myself watching it happen. ”

This is the critical point. In my experience, this can apply to you not only watching events, but also watching your thoughts. For instance, if you get pissed at another driver and you step outside yourself and watch it happen, your reaction will be different.

Roger | A Content Life´s last blog post..My First Zen Experience

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Noel Sanger June 7, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Stephen,

That’s not trivial at all. And it’s absolutely inspiring…

Respect,

Noel Sanger

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Angela June 8, 2009 at 2:02 am

Wow this was great to read, considering the ‘flashes of irritation’ I have had this weekend, just one of those spurts where everything that can go wrong, does…and I am aware of being in the euphoric state you described, for long periods; so I get this, and appreciate I’m not the only one to experience it! Thanks.

Angela´s last blog post..Zombies, Food Security and Little Shifts

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Stephen Mills June 8, 2009 at 6:10 am

@Tim, you’re probably right. I spent 14 hours in the car yesterday and I passed my test with flying colors!

@Matt, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think you are right and I’ve got that experience burned into my brain as inspiration.

@Jay, thanks! I may naive but I intend to find out what it is going to be like. :-)

@Jonathan, before I had ever heard of “being present”, I knew nature had an effect on me. My favorites are the forests and the beaches and now the mountains! I need to move to a mountain forest near a beach. :-)

@Vin, I’m with you on corporate life! That’s one thing that will test you daily :-) I also think you are right on with this: “The more basic our needs and wants are, the easier it is to stay within this threshold,..”

@Steven, thank you so much for the anchoring advice. I will definitely try that.

@Roger, thanks. I need to try observing rather than just letting it happen. Thanks so much!

@Noel, thanks for stopping by and for the support!

@Angela, hello! Thank you for sharing that :-)

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Robin Easton June 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm

This story just makes me think of what I wrote in PART 1 of this series about staying-in-the-moment becoming a way of life. Of COURSE you can do this. I have NO doubt at all. I think initially to strengthen it to where it becomes second nature…I agree with Jonathan’s advice….get out into nature…even 15 minutes to watch a sunrise or sit under a tree, listen to a creek or river or birds, whatever, but get out of the city or even to park, and be >>>ALONE<<< with nature and it will ground you immediately and bring your right back to calm. You need to do this so that you have the BODY memory/imprint of calm. Eventually the imprinting will take hold and replace old habits, much quicker than you might think. AND as hard as it may be grasp: it WILL heal you.

Also Stephen, and I want you to REALLY listen to this. You strike me as VERY sensitive. Something maybe few people have ever told you or reaffirmed for you. Or if they have “sensitive” has been put in a negative context. It is NOT a negative thing. It is a guide that will warn us and tell us when we need to destress, time alone, time to align ourselves with calm peace. When we listen to this guide and honor it we have the power to shape out lives and responses. Living in the city may totally overload your system. I can relate to this. But you may need to live in the city right now, which I also relate to. BUT the fact that you responded so quickly to being in nature is a BIG sign that you have an affinity with it and NEED more of it, much more of it. Eventually you can literally realign your whole system with Nature’s calm, to where it can let down more. For the moment I live in a small city but I spent so much time in the wild that I am able to stay in the moment no matter where I am, BUT, that said. I will
ALWAYS choose, like Jonathan said, to be in the mountains, in nature.

Please honor your sensitivity as a real thing. Your body is trying to tell you something, begging with you to give it peace and quiet. And make sure that when you go into nature that you, at least some of the time, do it without bikes, boats, and any of the other stuff, just you and the Earth. Slow, observant, feeling, seeing, — you and the Planet Earth.

Sometimes the way we heal ourselves is NOT through trying to control what we feel but through honoring it and using those feelings as a guide, listening to them and working out what they are telling us. I have learned that life is MUCH simpler than we humans realize. I’m stressed: so what do I like doing that makes me feel calm and joyous? As opposed to: I’m stressed and I better get this under control. I shouldn’t be so sensitive. I’m over reacting and I have to stop this. And what is the matter with me? I am bad, blah, blah, blah. It’s a lot easier to simply do what your “beautifully sensitive body” is begging you do. It’s a lot easier to honor and take joy in the fact that you ARE a wonderfully sensitive being who needs a calm space and time alone with nature.

You are not alone. There are many of us. :D
Thank you my friend.

PS Maybe I’ll do a post about this at some point. Running behind due to work.

Robin Easton´s last blog post..Are You Still in Survival Mode?

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Dragos Roua June 10, 2009 at 8:55 am

I’ve been there too. I mean, I had those moments and I can tell you they can be replicated or maintained.

But why are you struggling for peace so hard? Ok, you have an irritable personality, you swear at the drivers, etc. So? Is this who you are? Then be it! Maybe you are trying to make peace with others? To get a little more acceptance from them? Doesn’t work, I tell you. Or at least it doesn’t work for me.

You are who you are. And you can be loved and accepted for who you are. If peace is coming from your irritable and swearing personality, that’s fantastic, that’s an epiphany. If peace is just a way to get along better with other people, it won’t last.

Please, be irritated about this comment. Pretty please? :-)

P.S. Great, great reading. Thanks!

Dragos Roua´s last blog post..ADD stages – Assess

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Felicity June 14, 2009 at 11:02 am

Boredom has fled far after reading this. It’s really perplexing to quibble over usual ‘stuff’… that i have done earlier too. I’ve dropped things strangely, e.g. plastic bottles, kits, papers etc. from my bare hands and have come into a groggy mood. It puts one out of ease (it is applicable to me). Breaking this habit have phased my positive response by accepting the fall. In a cool, calm and collected mind, i’ve been able to control the frivolous items from meeting the floor. Not only my state of mind has been flexible but my physical flexes as well. I did not mount on a elixiharating understanding to change my attitude. More achievements would have been missed if i didn’t pull the effort to control my actions. I had to abate the nasty blunders. Our daily work performances are deeply influenced by our posture and capacity in each moment we live. Wonderful reading going on here! =)

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Tobin Hunt June 25, 2009 at 5:44 am

Although I wholeheartedly agree that being an observer of your own processes and not getting too attached to passing feelings is an essential approach, I think there can also be a danger that we come to desire certain ‘tranquil’ states, and want them to happen more often, or even all the time. Don’t forget that desire is the root of all suffering – I think somebody may have based a religion on that at some point ;)

This tendency has also been referred to as ‘spiritual materialism’, meaning – the desire to achieve certain states of mind, or ways of being, and believing that if I can be like ‘this’, then I will be content.

As “Dragos Roua” commented just above, self acceptance is important here – you get frustrated, and that’s who you are, maybe just observe yourself getting annoyed, ‘there I go, doing it again’, and let it go, without thinking ‘I wish I wasn’t like that’, ‘how unenlightened of me’ etc.

Great article though, of all the things that annoy me, it does seem to be inanimate objects doing things I wasn’t expecting them to (like the nuts).

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