Awareness and the Power of Now
So, we find ourselves back at the what if game again. We have taken several different perspectives on you might be creating your experience of life, and made a number of suggestions about ways to use what is present to gain more awareness, perceive more desirable outcomes, and make better choices.
We have suggested that everything, as in everything, that you experience is a result of a choice you have made somewhere along the line. We have even gone so far as to suggest that there are positive reasons for negative experiences.
You may be noticing that it keeps coming back to developing awareness. Awareness is the key to moving forward, creating more of what you want, avoiding what you don’t want, and pretty much the whole ball of wax.
If you didn’t have nerve endings in your hand, you wouldn’t know the stove was hot until way too late. So, even pain has a role in developing your awareness.
The constant trick is first to notice, then to determine whether your experience is “on course” or “off course,” and then to make the next choice or response. And then notice all over again.
So, let’s look at the first part of the “trick.” How do you notice in the first place?
The tricky part of this trick, is that you have to be “present” in order to notice much of anything – even the hot stove!
If you are one of my fellow geezers, you may be old enough to remember when “Be Here Now” was a commonly tossed about phrase. I won’t try to reconstruct the era, but suffice it to say that a whole generation grew up either listening to and following “Be Here Now” as a philosophical admonition about the correct way to “be” or heard the refrain and went the other way.
“Be Here Now” grew out of gestalt psychology and was perhaps first introduced by Frtiz Perls and then popularized by Ram Dass who wrote a book by the same name. The key message was around the value of “being present.” That still is a key message, at least as far as this work is concerned.
So what does it mean to “be present,” to “be here now?”
Being present is perhaps the ultimate description of, and prescription for, being aware. Awareness is something that only happens in the present.
You probably know a fair bit about the opposite of being present. If you drive a car, then you have probably noticed a few occasions where although you were behind the wheel, someone else must have been driving, because how else can you explain the fact that you zoomed right past your exit without even noticing. You know the experience – you were driving the car physically, but your mind was somewhere else. The “somewhere else” can be described as daydreaming, being preoccupied, or any other collection of words that ultimately mean you were focused on something other than what you were doing.
And whatever you were doing, you were doing it “now,” even though your mind was somewhere else. When you find your mind “wandering,” where does it go?
I would argue that seldom does your mind wander in the “present.” You may have noticed that something can happen “now,” “in the present,” and you are then “reminded” of something that already took place some time ago. As you are “re-minded,” your mind takes off in time, going back to the previous event or experience, and “re-lives” the event or experience.
Other times, something happens “now,” and you find your mind trying to move forward in time, imagining what something will be like, hoping for a set of positive experiences, or perhaps fearing for a set of negative ones. Some of us are so good at moving forward in our mind, that we can construct images and feelings so powerful that we can swear they are real.
Earlier on, we suggested that the mind cannot distinguish between a well imagined thought and reality. Remember the idea of thinking about a particular food and having saliva appear in your mouth (or other imaginary happenings that the body responds to as though it were present)?
When your mind goes backward to a previous event, or moves forward to an anticipated one, you are no longer “present,” you are no longer “here and now;” rather, you are “there and then.”
Now it can be kind of fun (or scary) to go “there and then” from time to time. The problem is that if you are “there and then,” you tend to miss what is going on “here and now.” That’s the awareness thing.
To go back to the driving example, you can be rehashing an old event or imagining a future one and go zooming right by your exit. Or you can be “daydreaming” in the kitchen, and not notice the hot stove or pan, and wind up burning yourself.
Of even greater consequence: what happens when you are “there and then” in your mind and something important is happening “here and now?” Think about your most important relationships, say with your spouse, or with your children. Have you ever been physically present with the person, but mentally “there and then,” when they are trying to tell you something important – or at least something important to them?
Have you ever had anyone ask you if you are listening? Have you ever had to ask someone to repeat the question because you weren’t “home” while the conversation was going on?
Surely you have had the experience of talking to someone else who was off on some mental exploration of the “there and then” while you were trying to address something important to you. If so, you may have experienced them as distant, inattentive, rude, insensitive, etc. Rarely would you choose positive descriptors in this kind of instance.
We can sometimes be “generous” in our defense of “there and then” behavior. We may excuse our own or someone else’s behavior by saying something like, “oh, they were just distracted,” or “I was just multitasking” or something similar.
If you are on the receiving end of the distracted multitasker, you probably would not describe the experience as one you like or prefer. The same is probably true for the other person when you are the distracted multitasker.
So, now we come back to the question of what kind of experience(s) are you seeking in life? How about the quality of relationship you have with other people? If you prefer intimate, caring, loving, etc, does being “there and then” help? Probably not.
What kind of relationship are you seeking with your own self? If you dig underneath some of your more painful experiences in life, whether that might be literally burning your hand on the stove, over to a relationship that ended unpleasantly, I would be willing to bet that we can find some form of not being present as part of the source.
Now what gets tricky with this one is that all of us can easily point to relationships we are glad to be done with. There are some folks out there who demonstrate behaviors that we just don’t like. Fair enough.
The question might be how did you wind up in a relationship with someone whose behaviors you don’t like in the first place? One hypothesis might be that even when you were first meeting the person, you weren’t “getting to know them” as much as you were telling yourself stories about how you imagined them to be. Any you probably got really good at “knowing” who you imagined them to be rather than who they truly are.
There are lots of psychological terms for that kind of thing, like projection, for example. One of the simplest ways to think about it might be that instead of being “present” and simply noticing (becoming aware), you instead either went into the past and brought up old images or feelings or you went into the future and made up images and feelings. In either event, the common thread is that rather than experience “what is,” you began to make up stories about what you hoped would be, and called those stories “the truth.”
I have a friend who is a delightful person – warm, enthusiastic, caring – just about as good as you can get. And she gets herself into difficult situations time after time because she keeps making up stories about how wonderful or perfect the new person is that she just met. Instead of simply staying present and noticing, she notices a few things, leaves the present and enters into an imagined future, and then decides that the imagined future is true.
Now the difficult thing here is that just about everyone is magnificent if you can see who they truly are. My own personal version of the world is that everyone, as in everyone, comes from God, is made up of love, and would prefer a life of loving, caring and peace.
It’s also pretty easy to look around and see people who are just about anything except loving, caring and peaceful.
So, in my construct of the world, there is a difference between who someone truly is and how they live their life. Not everyone who comes from God and is made of love, knows that they come from God and are made of love.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it?
Well, my friend seems to be really good at “seeing” the positive. The challenge is that she isn’t so good at seeing what is present. So, what that turns into is a string of disappointing relationships. The person who started off as magnificent somehow changed and became less stellar. The truth is that the person was always the same, complete with magnificence and flaws all at the same time.
The source of the disappointment appears to be something about the other person; the reality is that real source is the imaginations or projections that my friend places on the other person. Inevitably, the other person will “fail” to live up to my friend’s expectations. And the expectations were entirely made up in the first place!
If she can just learn to live in the present, she will be able to “see” the magnificence in the other person while at the same time experience the rest of who that person is, including the behaviors or tendencies that will sooner or later become apparent.
We’ll look more at the dynamics of relationships later on. For the moment, we just want to keep the focus on the notion that staying in the present enables us to expand our field of awareness and that from expanded awareness come expanded choices.