How Present Are You?


“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment,”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace.

When 2021 rolled in I had high hopes that the pandemic situation has been dealt with worldwide and now the vaccines are here, we can go back to the new normal. The expectation led to higher disappointment when the covid situation worsened and the upsurge was so massive that we had to cancel our travel to Rishikesh for a retreat on past life therapy that is organised by us every year. This is the second time our plans got dampened because of the Covid19. The 36 participants who were flying in from across the globe had to drop their plans.

Yesterday, my son’s matriculate examination also was shelved. He’d been working too hard and was looking forward to giving the board examination, even though his friends were relieved he wasn’t. I realised that the anticipation turned to dispiritedness. Covid indeed has challenged us in a big way. Not just the business or education sector but families have been impacted to a great extent.

Last Friday I stood outside the emergency ward for my family member whose oxygen saturation fell below 70, it was the second time I was observing the fleet of ambulances driving in patients to emergency wards, families panicking, guards apathetically brushing them aside, visitors waiting patiently to hear about a loved one, relatives negotiating with the doctor for the life of their folks. The first time I stood outside the hospital emergency ward was for my dad in October 2020, for me it was my second encounter with the pandemic.

What I noticed in the moment, in both these incidences, was that we are capable of finding strength in any dire situation. I observed some leaves sprouting out of a concrete floor outside the emergency ward and I associated it with hope and my dad came back home safe and sound after 14 days. This time I noticed feathers and I chose to believe that angels are taking care of my relative and he will be fine and in 3 days we got a call that he has recovered and his oxygen support was taken off and he is responding well to the medicines.He had so many complications that we were warned by the doctors to be reasonable in expecting improvement in his condition but miraculously he healed and is recovering well.

My family including me are affected by covid and we all are once again isolated. The fever along with tremendous body ache is making me sluggish and fatigued.

The fear of this lesser known disease and the remorse on the inability to understand what went wrong despite taking so many preventive measures in the past had put me under enormous stress. I picked up a book from my library to divert myself, It’s called, The Book of Ichigo Ichie, literally it means, “In this moment, an opportunity.” It is an International bestseller authored by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.

Everything we experience in this moment is unique treasure that will never be repeated in the same way again, so if we let it slip away without enjoying or learning from it, the moment will be lost forever.

This made me think, how present am I to this present moment, which may be a present waiting to be opened.

The old adage indeed is true, “why worry when you can do something about a situation and why worry when you can’t.” In the former situation, take action and in the latter accept it and move on.

Another memorable expression of latin origin is Carpe diem which means “seize the moment” or rather let the moment seize you.

The book beautifully talks about how the root of most of the emotions is either in the past or in the future excepting happiness which is felt in the moment. When anger is felt, tell yourself to come back from the clutches of the past experiences and associations. When sadness visits nudge yourself to wake up, feel and free yourself instead of letting the emotion freeze in you, when fear haunts command yourself to return from the worries of the future. When happiness arrives at your doorstep say, Ichigo Ichie! Live this unique and ephemeral moment now.

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That is what is the crux of Eckhart Tolle’s popular offering, The Power Of Now. It is a spiritual guide to release pain and suffering and find serenity in the now. To do that we need to be free of the false identities by asking ourselves who am I? and what do I stand for? If our answers are connected to job titles, roles, material possessions, social status, education, abilities, relationships, beliefs, religion and even family history then it is a derived sense of self not the real one. Buddha also preached awareness in 6th Century BC to be the ultimate path to enlightenment along with the four noble truths. The common thing is to not be controlled by the mind and thoughts rather be able to use the power of mind to find peace and your real Self.

To free yourself of your mind and rise above your thoughts you need to learn to observe it impartially. Constantly ask yourself “what is going on inside me at this moment?” and “am I at ease at this moment?”

Bhagwad Gita also talks about being in the witness state, “sakshibhava” observe your thoughts and they dissolve and you are left with nothingness, in which you discover yourself. Isn’t it why we meditate? “Take a deep breath”, we hear it often, isn’t it? Breathing brings us back to the here and now and grounds us.

The expression “fly on the wall” also is used for a nonjudgmental observation and taking in an overall perspective rather than sticking to a biased viewpoint. Being alive in time and aware of the workings of the mind is all we need to make positive changes.

More than a decade ago, in The Time Paradox, Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo described the mind that is attentive to the present:

When you are mindful you are fully aware of your surroundings and of yourself in the present. Mindfulness increases the time that you swim with your head above water, when you can see both potential dangers and pleasures. When you are mindful, you are aware of your position and your destination. You can make corrections to your path.

In 2019 I got initiated in Transcendental Meditation, where we use a power word or mantra to attain a thoughtless state and fall in the gap where we feel totally calm and composed. TM was initiated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and he has proven through various experiments that in the state of meditation, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who is a global spiritual leader, peace activist, revered throughout the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace states that, “through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment—the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world.” He reminds us to be present completely whether peeling an orange, praying or sipping your tea, In his book,Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, he quotes “Only the present moment contains life.”

Yesterday is dead and tomorrow is unborn. So come back to where you are and be here.

Be it Zen in Japanese or Chan in Chinese or Dhyana in Sanskrit, they all bring you to the present moment and that ultimately liberates you.

Memories are stories that you choose to tell yourself time and again, choose the happy ones and let go of those that distress your “now”. Remember you are the storyteller and script writer of your life. Every moment brings with it a choice. Choose to whine or shine.

I picked up the quiz below from the book, Ichigo Ichie, check out your score. Make the corrections in your approach if needed.

Check your Results Now!

Results:

A’s are 0 points, B’s are 1, C’s are 2

Between 6-10 points (POOR) : You project yourself easily into the past or the future as a result the stress and anxiety that prevent you from enjoying life. You need to come back to the present.

Between 3-5 points (ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT) : Your level of nervousness isn’t a cause of concern, but if you spent less time brooding over things, your serenity could increase, you’d no doubt be happier. With a little training, you’ll be able to manage it.

2 points or less (GREAT): Even though events might take you into the past or the future, you know how to return straightaway to the preset. your are a master of “NOW” with the potential to be an inspiration to the others.

Finally, I feel rooted and have made a list of activities to do in the quarantine period and ensure me and my family is safe, secure and healthy. I prepare for the coming days indeed, but I take the action in the moment. I do not choose to wallow in the fear or sadness or indulge in the emotions of boredom and apathy, knowing that they do not belong in the current moment.

The retreat we had planned is altered to a new hybrid model, wherein most of the syllabus shall be covered online while a weekend trip for the practicals to Rishikesh will be made by all participants when travel is safe, hopefully by the end of this year.

My relative has returned from the hospital and is doing much better under our watch at home.

My son video called me and we both chuckled at the turn of events. We find new ways to thrive in the now. With his exams called off, he has time to cultivate friendship with Storm, a golden retriever puppy who’s a new addition to our family while I am writing and reflecting. We both remind each other to take care. Sometimes we have to live by ourselves. Another important learning from the quarantine diaries has been self-reliance. Wouldn’t you agree?

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