So, you want to learn to be present—to live in the moment? There are times and places when this may be helpful, but in Part 2 of this article I want to point out that trying to be present may be contributing to your anxiety.
Why? Because when we think about being in the moment—and “moment” is defined as an indefinitely short period of time—we are using time as our measuring stick. The problem with this approach is that most people think of time as being limited; we only have so much time. And, therefore, this approach, which is at the center of our civilization, creates urgency and angst.
Too much focus on time
Our focus on time relates directly to our focus on productivity. We want to get things done. For example, when we have meetings to discuss something, we allocate a certain amount of time. Contrast this with some Aboriginal and Native American cultures that, for example, use a “talking stick.” The “talking stick” is passed around the circle until every one has nothing more to say. That’s how they know the meeting is over. Time is not a factor.
But in our culture, time is a factor, just about all the time. And as the pace of our culture speeds up—instant messaging, emailing, and instant gratification with Amazon overnight delivery—we may be losing valuable character traits. Traits such as: patience, discipline, and awareness of the consequences of our actions—not just today, but for years and generations to come. I believe that in our time-oriented culture we are unlikely to solve the problems related to time by focusing on time. Another time management course may not be the answer. And repeated attempts to be in the moment may not be the answer.
Instead, I want to share with you a new approach to experience the benefits of living in the moment, but without any urgency or angst. So, just for a minute (do you see how time creeps in even when I prefer to avoid it?), I invite you to consider an alternative to using time as the lens through which you view your world.
Enter the world of space
When I stop using time as my measuring stick, and instead I become aware of spaciousness, I’m living within what I call, “spacious-consciousness,” and all urgency and angst drop away. As my perspective (consciousness) changes, the world around me appears to change. To quote the poet, David Whyte, “When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also.”
As I see the world through spacious eyes, instead of trying to be present—in the here and now (as measured by time)—I experience presence.
Are you familiar with the expression, “She has such presence.” When we say this we are typically referring to the way a person comports herself—the way she occupies space. We sense the person is fully present, yes, and also embodied, congruent and unflappable.
Being fully present means I’m attending to what’s happening now. Being embodied means it’s not just my mind that’s present, but I’m in my body—connected, feeling, and emotionally available. Being congruent means that I’m communicating a single message, not saying one thing with my words and another with my body language, but rather, conveying the same message with my words, body language, and behaviors. And being unflappable—calm regardless of the circumstances—is largely the result of not focusing on time.
During “difficult times” in my life (again, notice this expression relates to time), I become flappable—reactive—and my sense of spaciousness shrinks. The same thing happens when I experience conflict with another person. In these situations I’m reacting to my perception of time, because when I don’t like how I feel I urgently want to escape my discomfort. I think I can do so by running away or sometimes by asserting myself—winning—and proving I’m right.
Running away doesn’t create presence. Neither does asserting my point of view, although I may mistake assertiveness for presence, but assertiveness is an example of force, which is not the same thing as presence. Presence and force are very different. Force is born out of fear. Presence is born out of existence. Presence is part of my existential nature, the space I occupy prior to making meaning.
Space exists prior to making meaning
Think about this. There is a space that exists—a state of awareness—prior to making meaning. Victor Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space and in that space is our power and freedom.” Frankl was talking about our power and freedom to make choices. I’m talking about accessing that space between the stimulus and the response as a way to create presence in my life.
The more I learn to live in that space, fewer things weigh down my consciousness. In that space I can soar (like an Eagle :-)). For me, spaciousness is a shift in which things in the foreground—turmoil, drama, and crises—move to the background and the background—spaciousness—moves to the foreground. This shift is more profound than any other I’ve experienced.
This idea of shifting from time-consciousness to spacious-consciousness exemplifies the underlying value of the Live Conscious practice, which is realizing and remembering that my experience of the world is dependent on the ways in which I make meaning. I can make meaning by using time as my filter, or I can make meaning by using space as my filter—and the meanings I make, which drive my beliefs and behaviors, will be very different.
If you want to start living with more presence, think ’space.’ And if your first question is, “How long will this take?,” it will take you longer than if you ask, “How can I do this?” Try to stop measuring and evaluating things in time.
To begin, use the three tools I offered in Part 1 of this article. They allow you to start from the familiar perspective of time-consciousness and then open a door through which you take yourself into spacious-consciousness. As a reminder, the tools I shared in Part 1 were:
- Return to Now
- Tell fewer stories
- Learn to be present with discomfort
The next step is to start becoming more aware of spaciousness. Notice when you contract and tense yourself. Notice when you expand and relax yourself. Feel the difference in your body.
And if you don’t have a meditation practice, I encourage you to start meditating ten minutes a day. If you already have a practice, take the first few minutes of your practice to play around with expanding your sense of space. To do this, begin by expanding your awareness beyond your physical body. Allow your awareness of space to extend out into the room in which you are sitting. And, if you are able to do so, allow your awareness of space to extend beyond the room . . .