Week 1: Be Forgiving
Week 2: Be Present
Week 3: Be Connected
The best present that your life can offer you is “The Present”! This is why every second of here and now is called the “Present” moment! Unfortunately, we often spend the present moment stuck in the past or the future, and our lives are slipping away right in front of our eyes without even being noticed.
In the winter of 1992, I was driving in a very bad snow storm on the US highway 23. It was about midnight, and I was afraid that I would get into a crash because I couldn’t see the road, which was covered by snow. To avoid switching lanes unknowingly, I came up with a brilliant idea to keep myself safe: Just follow the white line and stay on the far right side of the highway. Everything was ok, until about an hour later, when all of a sudden I had no choice but to stop. There was a huge airplane parked in front of my car. I was speechless. “Holy shit, where am I?” I panicked, and I stepped out of my car, the snow was deep, up to my knees. In the far distance, I saw a building. There was a man in the building who saw me walking around in the snow. He screamed at me, “You are trespassing, this is a domestic airport! What the hell are you doing here at one o’clock in the morning?” I was scared, confused, and frozen to death. All I wanted was to be able to get home safely.
This life experience taught me a precious lesson: Being present is the ultimate key to keeping myself safe, especially when I am freaking out. My brilliant idea was narrow-minded wishful thinking. By following the white line, I did not pay any attention to the exit signs on the highway. I was not being present and aware of my surroundings. That was how I ended up running into that huge airplane!
Most recently, I saw a TIME magazine cover titled: “Mindfulness - The new science of health and happiness”. It seemed odd to me that they called it the “New Science”, since the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years. One of the most important qualities of mindfulness is the ability to be present. The benefits of being present include: better concentration and self-control, higher productivity, less stress, and increased self-compassion and acceptance. Thankfully, mindfulness is now becoming a mainstream practice in the western world.
Here is a very simple tool to help you be present. I called it “3 Boxes”. Imagine there are three boxes in front of you, on the left the box represents the Past; on the right the box represents the Future, and the box in the middle represents the Present.
Now, if you want to experience shame and guilt, which box do you focus on? The Past! If you want to experience fear, which box do you focus on? The Future! If you want to experience love, peace and joy, which box do you focus on? Yes, the answer is the Present! Just that simple!
In reality, the past is done, you can’t go back to fix it no matter how remorseful you are. The future is not here, but you can scare yourself to death by thinking about the worst-case scenario and all kinds of what ifs. You will end up being paralyzed by this kind of neurotic fear.
If you use this moment and focus on your past and/or your future, you are creating a life that is absolutely delusional! The definition of Zen is that there is no reality outside of here and now. So, why would you create a life that is delusional? Why would you choose to spend time being paralyzed? Do you have power to choose to be present? Yes! Absolutely yes!
The untrained mind will constantly take you to the past and the future. That is why it is very difficult for you to stay present. Here is a simple exercise you can do to stay present: Identify everything in your surroundings in a very quick fashion. You will notice that your anxiety goes down, simply because in the moment no one is attacking you, your house is not on fire, you are ok exactly where you are!
If you are depressed you are living in the past; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace you are living in the present. – Lao Tzu
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Wen Chi Chien, M.A. LPC