Being present is simple, but not easy.

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So what does it mean to be present?

Simple.

Just notice.

Just notice what is happening right now, and allow that to happen.

Notice your thoughts, your feelings, your physical sensations, and let them be.

Just notice.

Simple.

 

Being present is simple, but not easy . . . because when we first sit down to be present, everything we’ve been distracting ourselves from rises to the surface for our attention. and initially, this is experienced as an increase in pain. so we turn to distraction . . . because we are well-trained in the art of self-distraction – whether through watching TV or shopping, eating chocolate or having sex, avoiding conflict or inciting conflict, reading a book or exercising, drinking alcohol or talking about spirituality.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that these activities are inherently distractions.  It’s a matter of usage.  Do we eat chocolate to savor its sweet earthiness, or do we reach for chocolate in a moment of stress, in an attempt to escape?  Do we sit to meditate as a way of welcoming our experience and allowing it to be, or does meditation become another way that we abandon ourselves in pursuit of not-here-now?

All of the ways that we habitually distract ourselves from our present experience are like addictions. We feel the scritchy familiar discomfort or pain arise and we reach for our addiction of choice, in effect turning away from what’s present within us. So being present is simple but not easy in the same way that letting go of any addiction is simple but not easy.  How do I stop smoking?  Simple. Just stop.  Don’t pick up another cigarette.  But not easy, because stopping means having to sit with the pain that arises, the pain that I have been avoiding by smoking.

So why would anyone decide to be present, if being present means facing pain?  Because the alternative is suffering.  Because on the other side of the pain is a vast, expansive sense of wholeness that can only be reached by letting go of the project of escaping ourselves.  Because when you are already soaking wet and cold in a rainstorm, it is more enjoyable to relax and maybe splash in a puddle than it is to cringe and cling to a broken umbrella.

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