“Stay in the present moment!” I must have heard this hundreds of times during my yoga classes but it never made much sense to me. Far from making sense, it sounded Chinese. I have always been proud of my turbo-speed, multitasking, ability to switch between thoughts in a split second. What exactly the yoga teacher meant by saying “stay in the present moment” was a complete mystery.
35 years have gone by and there was never even a millisecond in my life without a background chatter in my mind. The background chatter would either be heavily criticizing the past; “i allowed him to take advantage of me / oh i should have just turned and walked away / if only i said yes then i would be ... now/ i wish i stayed ... Or it would be dreaming about the future “in my next job, i will be more assertive / when i travel to Asia i'll take a lot of photographs / i'll make sure that my next boyfriend will be more emotionally mature”... Millions and millions of thought particles either dwelling in the past or fantasizing wildly about the future. It was very tiring, every night when I went to bed I would be exhausted. Not because I did much or showed a lot of effort towards something. I was constantly lost among my thoughts and didn't have a way to stop them. Just as my legs would be tired if I ran all day, my mind was tired of a similar pace of thoughts rushing in and out.
At the age of 18, I tried Transcendental Meditation because someone told me that it gave him that millisecond window of “no thought”. There I was sitting in my lotus and constantly repeating “i'm still thinking, i'm still thinking, when will i have my moment of silence, oh the meditation time is almost over and i still didn't have my moment of silence... damn, maybe it'll come tomorrow”. Yeah, that was meditating a là Esin, and of course the extreme craving for a moment of stillness brought nothing but an even more chaotic and disappointing stream of thoughts.
About a year ago I went out with a friend; our plan was dinner followed by an opera. He would then continue the night at a club with his friends. He spent the entire time in dinner calling his friends to brag about getting the tickets to the opera, hence had no idea how much and how fast he ate. Then he fell asleep during the first part of the opera and then spent the second part sneakily texting to decide which club and what time. Poor guy enjoyed no part of the night, because he was constantly trying to make the perfect plan for the next hour. That observation was probably the first time I got a sense of what it meant to be staying in the present moment. Oh well, we don't always learn by positive examples do we? Sometimes an extremely negative experience in our faces would worth a million wise quotes.
That seed began to sprout very slowly. I don't know when and where exactly it happened, but about 6 months ago, I began to get a hazy sense of being present. I realized how much I missed the “now” when I was spending my time planning the good days to come. I was in Asia, traveling, doing as much yoga as I wanted, meeting amazing people but my mind was stuck on when I'm going back and how much money I would have left by then. I had the time of my life, I was happy every single day, yet I was focused on something in the future that I didn't know when and how would happen... From that point onwards, slowly but very slowly I tried to let go. Whenever I caught myself planning for the future, I would say “i am blessed for being here, for experiencing whatever i am experiencing and for being aware of it”. It worked.
If I am really agitated, I would just close my eyes and focus on my breathing. There is nothing as “here and now” as an inhale and an exhale. It is always there, it is a constant flow yet each and every breath is unique. Sometimes I breathe very shallow, sometimes one nostril is blocked, sometimes an inhale is hot... Whatever it is, each breath is a gift and it is unique to the moment it happens. I cannot plan for the 5pm inhale, nor can I regret that an exhale last month didn't fully empty my lungs...
I am light years far from being a master of my mind, being constantly present. My mind is still like a dump site of all irrelevant thoughts, but what I am slowly learning is not to be stuck with it. Even occasionally shifting my attention to only here and now, not dwelling in the past or the future is a major progress for me. What I've noticed is that on days when I can do that, I sleep so much better and feel rested with even a few hours of sleep. It's an interesting state of inner calm, that gives energy. It's definitely more difficult to do that in Dubai, where there are so many stimulants and barely time to close my eyes to feel blessed for being here, for experiencing whatever I am experiencing. I am hoping that it's only true that difficult things are more rewarding at the end.