Present Moment Awareness
April 2, 2020
I have parked my car to go into a building to meet someone. I complete my Meeting, I come out, and I am utterly blank about where I parked my car. I have no memory or awareness of where I had parked my car. Another example- I get introduced to someone at a social event. I engage in a conversation. Ten minutes into the chat, I have forgotten the person’s name. Even as I was having the conversation, I was zoned out. These are examples of classic autopilot moments where I am entirely “mindless” – so engrossed in my thoughts that I lose all awareness of my present experience. My life just leaked past me without my being aware.
Our life is like a movie streaming through our frame of consciousness. There are moments of intense awareness, but in the main, we operate at a very superficial level, just bringing in the minimal level of awareness, to be functional in doing whatever we have to do in our life.
Awareness is the ability to attentively soak in the present moment of our life with all our senses. To give an analogy, I can say when I am aware, I experience the moment in HD quality and not a low-resolution impression.
Being present at any point in the day with persistent awareness is a challenge with all the distractions around. Any free moment that I may have, it gets captured by the buzz of my internal thought process. There is a stream of an inner monologue with myself about things I should have done, should do, or should have to do—imagined experiences, Ideas, worries, judgments.
If every second in our life is a frame, then our life is a movie playing at 60 frames per minute, 3600 frames per hour, and 58000 frames in a day when I am potentially conscious and not sleeping. Logically, every frame in my life should be full of awareness savoring the present moment.
Unfortunately, this does not happen. My attention is hostage to imagined situations that are rooted either in the past or the future.
When I am with my wife, I am thinking about something I need to do at work. When I am at work, I am thinking about an argument I had with someone, or when my child is speaking with me, I am distracted by a WhatsApp chat with a colleague.
Building present moment awareness is a skill. The benefit is obvious. I am more focused, more creative, more productive, and, most importantly, I cannot be in the grip of stress, worry, and other imagined issues. Awareness is lousy at multitasking. It is binary. Either I fully engage with the present moment, or I don’t.
How do I get better at being present and aware? I wish there were some easy, quick fixes for this. Unfortunately, there are none.
I have developed three simple rituals to keep myself anchored to a state of being aware as much as possible.
I focus on my breath. As you read this, just run your attention to the flow of air through your nose into your lungs as you inhale. Feel the sweetness of air in your lungs and feel the warm air coming out of your nose as you are exhaling. You are present and aware, in the moment.
I walk barefoot in my garden. I pay attention to the feel of the soft earth and grass beneath my feet; I experience the sweet caress of the morning breeze against my face, I see and appreciate the beauty of nature around me. I look for grasshoppers or butterflies or ants and observe them. I am engrossed in the present moment.
I sit in meditation for at least half-hour. Thoughts keep flitting in and out. I just observe my thoughts in silence.
I remember seeing a cartoon somewhere. Two monks, one old and the other young are meditating, sitting side by side. The younger one is looking at the older one quizzically, to which the older one responds, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”.
If you have read the last paragraph with no other thought distracting you, this is it. You are in the present moment with full awareness.