It was a cold, grey and windy morning in New York City, one of the thousands I’ve experienced here where everyone’s neck automatically shortens by two inches as they are attempting to shrink into their winter coats while holding onto their Starbucks coffee and battling through the crowds in Manhattan.
The train was more crowded than usual thanks to the presence of people who would otherwise walk or bike to work, and I stood for what seemed like an eternity with purses rubbing against my back and elbows in my ribs, while attempting to ground my energy into mother earth and breathe in the mixed aromas of BO, coffee and stale subway air.
On days like this I could really use some divine guidance, but I knew enough not to expect an ascended master to show up in the subway car and grace me with a pair of wings to fly out of the dark tunnels. My wings had to come from myself, and at that moment, my only savior was to practice allowing, or being in the moment without judgment or resistance.
Being In the Now
The practice of being in the now has always been a struggle for me and I cannot even blame New York for it, though I have noticed folks outside of New York are a lot more laid back and do not lose it when they have to wait more than 8 minutes for their food to be served at restaurants.
We live in a time where we have a million ways to escape the present moment such as replaying past scenarios, obsessing over the future, multi-tasking, watching reality shows, throwing tantrums on Twitter or in real life, the list goes on and on. No wonder drugs such as Ambien, Prozac and Xanax are household favorites next to sugar and Plasma TVs.
Lao Tzu said it best, “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.” How many of us are actually at peace? What is the cost for living outside the now?
Come back to the breath, come back to this moment. I could either allow it to unfold, or I could launch into full attack mode by fighting the smell and the crowd with endless mental chatter that would contain occasional R rated rants. Speaking from experience, I had never won that fight and despite the ferocious battle in my head, reality would always go on like the love from the movie Titanic.
The mind loves to categorize, judge, speculate, worry, project, complain, compare and compete. The mind convinces us its voice is the absolute authority because it has the label “commander-in-chief” written across its forehead. The mind wants us to believe we are that voice and there is no separation between our thoughts and our essence. The dirty secret the mind refuses to share with us is that its voice is always filtered by the belief system we currently hold onto and our past conditioning, so if we were bitten by a dog when we were kids, even if Fluffy the poodle yawns in front of us, we are given a dose of anxiety and commanded to run. Left untamed, the mind can turn into an over-indulged tyrant like Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones who wants to convince us eating the entire pie of pizza plus the tres leches made by granny with 3 bottles of wine is a far more pleasing option than eating spinach and seaweed for dinner. Throughout the years, I had to learn the hard way not to trust everything my mind eagerly shared with me on a day to day basis.
Back to the breath, the breath that connects us to the source.
Back to the moment, the moment that is neither good nor bad, it simply is.
Back to the now, the now that anchors us in our Being.
Back to the present, the present that can only be claimed and opened if we invite ourselves into its space.
Life’s Gentle Reminders
As I walked out of the train into Time Square, I realized I was running a little late for my appointment and since I had a rather long walk, thoughts of worry began rushing into my mind like the Manhattan traffic and the “Do Not Walk” sign at every red light simply did not help.
Had I not believed my thoughts, I would have seen it as one of life’s gentle reminders for me to slow down and center. However, since I chose to believe the priority at that moment was to squeeze as many seconds out of the present moment as possible, something that would have made Lao Tzu turn in his grave, that led me to the rather unconscious and self-sabotaging decision of running through red lights just because my life was obviously not as important as those 15 seconds (though I was hoping for 45) I would have gained from throwing myself in front of the buses that were crossing and honking.
Eventually, life’s reminders became not so gentle and with a loud honk, I began running like a maniac from a cab that apparently auditioned for The Fast and Furious. Living in a city where it is not only the norm but also an encouraged practice to race against time, even if it does not get us physically killed, to be constantly rushing from point A to point B whether they are physical locations or life goals leads to mental and emotional death that is characterized by continuous stress, restlessness, inability to show up in the current moment and living like the walking dead while staring at the iPhone. When we are constantly living elsewhere, it drastically reduces the quality of the life we are living now simply because no one is here to live it.
We have made a rather interesting agreement with divinity and that is, whenever we play small, to me it means surrendering our free will to the mind, our external environment reflects the inner helplessness right away again and again until we shift out of our unconsciousness and come back to the present moment where full consciousness resides. Life’s gentle reminders can turn quite fierce when you ignore them, and running from a speeding cab proves the point. For some people, reminders show up as illnesses so they are forced to take care of their bodies and for others, failures and endless misery in careers and relationships direct their attention from external solutions to internal insights.
I know moving to a more relaxed environment such as Costa Rica like we have been planning to would help my sweetheart and I live a more balanced life, but I do not for one second expect the shift to come from the outside. If I do not practice presence while I am in New York City — which has to be one of the world’s finest “presence practice classrooms” simply because I have nowhere to go butinward — I would probably be shifting the responsibility of my inner peace to the mosquitoes and howler monkeys while I am meditating on the beach in Costa Rica.
The mind is all about Doing, and the higher self is all about Being. Without mastering Being anywhere, even the most tranquil place on earth cannot offer the gift of stillness because stillness requires a conscious choice. Inner peace is not the product of the external but rather the result of an internal decision of being present, and presence comes from stepping out of the mind and into the divine observer (soul, higher self, true self, God presence, etc) which is who we truly are. The moment we choose to become aware of our stream of thought and observe it without feeding into it, we are fully conscious. In that state of presence, there can be no feeling other than peace and connectedness.
7 Ways to Access Presence
There are many ways to be in the now and one does not need to be in the middle of Time Square surrounded by stressed out New Yorkers, or in an ashram in a remote location of the world to embody it. Breath work, yoga, and meditation are certainly great ways for us to center, but watch out for the mind’s favorite way to get out of surrendering its power by providing you with a list of seemingly valid excuses as to why you cannot do this thing. They include but are not limited to: lack of funds, lack of time, lack of energy, lack of interest, yoga studio is too far, meditation is too boring, I cannot sit still, my apartment is too small, the traffic outside my window is too loud, I don’t believe any of it will work, I have to take care of “real life,” my cat doesn’t like it, my dog barks too much, etc.
Below is a list of my go-to practices that even the busiest person on Earth can adopt to cultivate presence. (Consistency is key.)
Just Breathe: Pay attention to the breath and consciously slow it down to a pace that is comfortable for you. Do it for a few moments. Repeat several times a day or as many times as you desire.
Meditating With the Senses: If sitting in a corner with candles and crystal singing bowls isn’t your thing, you can meditate literally anywhere. Whatever activity you are engaged in, bring in all of your senses and allow them to guide you. If you are taking a walk, take in the scent of the air, the texture of earth beneath your feet, pay attention to your surroundings and colors, feel the air around your fingertips, imagine tasting the air if you want to, feel your body moving, etc. You can engage your senses in any activity in life which means anything can turn into a meditation.
Let the Consciousness Flow: Anchor your presence in the body by moving your consciousness to different parts of the body and allow it to linger there for a moment. Combine it with deep breathing if you’d like. You do not need to be visual, just imagine, or pretend the consciousness is in the head, make a note of what it is like. Now drop it down to the throat, then to the heart. What is it like now? Acknowledge it and move it to another spot. Again this can be done any time, anywhere.
Channel Your Inner Michelangelo: Channeling your creative energy is a great way to cultivate presence. Even though our New York apartment does not allow me the space to spread my oil paints, I have taken to the hobby of adult coloring which is extremely soothing. My sweetheart is a drummer and can always step into his inner-bliss in his Brooklyn drum studio. But please remember, you don’t have to be Leonardo da Vinci, a Mariinsky trained ballet dancer, a Berkeley graduate or the understudy for Phantom of the Opera to do this. Singing in the shower, drawing stick figures, baking for your neighbors and making crafts for your Etsy shop are all fantastic ways to embody the present moment.
Why So Serious? Laughter instantly brings you back to this moment and this is why Seinfeld is still having its reruns. No one needs to be taught the physical and emotional benefits of having a sense of humor, even the joker from Batman, among all his faults understood the importance of letting his hair loose though he has obviously taken the idea too far. The point is, reality is really happening in our heads and two people can have two very different responses to the same situation. That BO in the subway is not dissipating whether I grind my teeth or laugh at my own silliness for attempting to fight it with the thoughts in my head. It is up to us to find humor in life and laugh whenever we can.
Popping Bubbles: My mind used to be like a yenta who didn’t sleep, as a result, I didn’t sleep for over a decade. I decided with everything she said, rather than entering a conversation with her which would only strengthen the yenta, I would imagine the thought being a bubble and watch the bubble rise from the bottom of the lake to the top. As the bubble surfaced, it would pop on its own. It was a fun way to passively allow the thoughts go if I did not get too carried away by the effort of creating bubbles. Nonetheless, the point here is to practice being aware of the thoughts without resisting them or giving them your energy.
That Thought Is Not Mine: This one takes a bit of practice and self-awareness. Most of our thoughts are not ours. At birth, we are born into a tribe whose very beliefs, values, fears and judgments are passed onto us. In addition, our thoughts are influenced daily by media, politicians, and anything that makes its way into our mind. Without constant self-inquiry and inner house cleaning, other people are essentially telling us how to live our lives.
When a thought enters the mind that says, “I am a failure,” “I am fat” or “I need to risk my life to run across the street to save myself 2 seconds,” you can bet that thought has been filtered by a limiting belief that does not belong to you because your higher self always speaks to you with love, compassion and inspiration. A simple way that depletes the energy behind the thought without declaring world war on it can simple be practicing saying to yourself, “That thought isn’t mine.” If the source of the thought naturally comes to you, more power to you. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Just the acknowledgement and believing in this statement renders the thought powerless.
Embrace the present.
For now, living in a city that never sleeps – my home for the past 22 years – I am making a pledge to allow and embrace every moment knowing that this is why I am here: to call forth my Being so I may embrace the Present.
Will you make the same pledge, wherever you are?
“This moment is as it should be, because the whole universe is as it should be. The moment — the one you’re experiencing right now– is the culmination of all the moments you have experienced in the past. This moment is as it is because the entire universe is as it is.”