Many a self-help book, blog, mediation or yoga teacher will go on about 'being present'. For many years I just took that at face value and rationalised that 'Well I am here right now in this Yoga class so TICK, I am present', alas no.
I've taken to this isolation period with a gusto for learning, and I hate to admit it but I am one of those people that has 20 web browser tabs open at once; half read articles littered through them. I’ve signed up for every webinar, all whilst listening to podcasts. I actually had to stop myself today and think about if I can really assimilate all this information, or I am just using it as a crutch for not having as much life stimulation. One of those articles suggested that right now being present is very helpful, great I thought, I can do that. But what do I really know about being present?
This morning I was doing a solo bike ride with a twist. My cycling group put on a challenge to keep us engaged during isolation. Once a week someone puts up a 30kms or new 1 hour route around the Melbourne streets, and the slowest rider has to plan the course for the following week. There is no prize, just some friendly competition and a desire to not be last. I have two modes on the bike, toddling about, or flat stick; the latter being something I find very difficult to engage without pinning a number to my back in an organised race. For some reason I cross the invisible start line on these challenges and I am willing to push myself to the point of being physically ill to do my best.
Someone once told me that if I am finishing a race with something left in the tank, then I am not doing it right. I do these in the dark, during tradie peak hour, and navigating via your bike computer on a foreign route is TOUGH. When you do all this with your heart rate up in the rafters, it is an added risk. After a few sketchy corners that I took a little too fast, a near head on with a car that I didn't see until it was almost too late, I said to myself 'You need to be present'.
I never question the loud voice, the clear as crystal voice that comes over my head's public address system. What I needed to do was focus on the thing that I was doing, rather than give in to my emotions of panic and worrying about where the corner after next was. Instead, I needed to focus on letting my legs ride the bike, my innate bike handling control, and working out how to get around the current corner…and breath.
I think in the heat of a moment like that, being present makes sense, when things like safety are on the line. What isn't as easy is being present in everyday life. There are few catalysts and rare public addresses that draw attention to presence. There are moments in life when we remember where we were, and what we were doing. One memorable moment for me was sitting in a pub on Fitzroy Street in St Kilda watching the Oprah interview of Lance Armstrong, with those take-the-breath-away 'Yes' answers. Just like people can tell you where they were when they found out JFK died, or watching the moon landing; they were present in that moment.
To me being present means being here in this moment right now. Being conscious of where you are, how you feel both physically and emotionally, and not thinking about something or someone else. I have learned through meditation that it isn't the absence of thought, but the ability to bring the thought back to now, and I have come up with two tricks that might help you 'be present':
1. Be where your bum is. Yep, literally put your mind, your thoughts and everything where your bum is right now. Not 10kms ahead, no thinking about dinner, not worrying about tomorrow, but right where your bum is now.
2. Take a deep breath and witness it. Taking a conscious breath snaps me back into my body and to the moment. I focus purely on taking the breath, witnessing the breath in and out, and bam…here I am, present.
Like happiness, presence is not a continuous state, it is a moment...a moment that helps us ground ourselves, reset and make the most of the situation.