Where are you now, at this moment? I expect you are in front of your computer or tablet, physically. But the physical you is only one part of the story: where is your mind, your heart?
It wasn’t until I started Tai Chi classes that I really got how often we are all a split personality! The teacher, Alan, described a scenario which was all too familiar to me – you may recognise it too.
You get in from work on a cold winter’s day, and realise that you have run out of milk. As you reluctantly set off for the local shops, your heart is back at home, sitting in the warm, your head is already in the shop, picking up the milk and a couple of other things that you have thought of, and your body is left untended, walking down the street.
I not only recognised the scenario, I also recognised the feeling of being in several places at once, and just how uncomfortable that is, like a kind of emptiness, lack of connectedness to anything. When you stop and consider it, you realise it is unpleasant, but we come to accept it as normal, and don’t even notice we are doing it. After all, for many of us, our lives consist of a lot of duties and responsibilities, with not enough time for all of them, let alone anything we would really like to do. And it becomes habitual to be a ‘split personality’ with our heads and hearts often somewhere different from our bodies, and even from each other.
Now it may seem that this ability to be in 3 places at once could be very useful in our busy lives! However, we are not a multi-function machine, we are designed to work as a whole if we want to be at our best. The effect on us of this splitting is not useful: it is an extra drain on our energy, because these different parts are pulling us in different directions, instead of working together co-operatively, as they were designed to do.
So this habit of not bringing all of us together for the task in hand is tiring for us, because we are using extra energy to manage these conflicting demands inside us, as well as doing whatever we are doing. And it’s not great for our relationships with others either: we all know when the person we are interacting with isn’t really there with us, and it creates a gap between us. It doesn’t even work well if we’re just doing something that doesn’t involve human interaction: this is when we forget the thing we went to the shop for in the first place, miss out the spell-check phase in that important document, or drop and break our favourite coffee mug. We may feel like we’re doing lots, but none of it is really effective or heartfelt, and it is certainly not enhancing our lives!!
So what’s the alternative? To commit ourselves 100% to what we’re doing now. Simple, but not always easy!
When we do this, when our heats, minds and bodies are all focussed on the same thing, we feel very different. Everyone knows this experience: we have all had those moments when we were completely drawn into something – a movie, a great conversation, planting some bulbs in the garden – and we forget about everything else for a while. Imagine if life were always like that!
Now, maybe if I were a Buddhist monk, who had practised being mindful since he was a small child, I would be able to stay in this state more often. I do know that, when I remember to bring all of me into whatever I am doing, it does work better for me: I have more energy, I am more effective, and I often enjoy things that I wouldn’t have expected to be enjoyable. So I need to find ways to help myself to be present more often.
So how do we choose to be present more often?
Firstly, notice what automatically keeps you present, and do those things more often, so you become more familiar with how much better it feels. We all have some activities that ‘entrance’ or ‘enchant’ us – these are when we are naturally and easily present. It may be being out in nature, or dancing, or doing your yoga or exercise class. It may be ‘getting lost’ in a book, a play, a movie. It may be doing a simple activity that you enjoy for no particular reason: cleaning the car; tidying your desk; folding freshly washed clothes. And notice how you feel during and after these activities where you are naturally present, 100% there.
Then you can start adding in small extras, by saying to yourself: ‘ For the next 10 minutes, I’m just going to immerse myself in this activity.’ Don’t expect yourself to do it for long in the first place – and don’t beat yourself up if you lose it! If you realise that your mind has wandered off, or you are wishing it were over, then just tempt your mind and heart back in by noticing what you can see, hear, feel, in this situation that makes you feel good.
And keep collecting the evidence that being 100% in one place at any one time is easier on us, and elicits more positive responses from others, as well as being more effective.
As I’m writing this, I’m wondering why I don’t practise this more often – there’s no downside to it!! So I’m off to be present with whatever I do next – how about you??
Being present more often
- Notice how uncomfortable it can be to be a ‘split personality’
- Notice the times when it comes naturally to you to be 100% present, and become aware of how it feels and the effect it has on you and on others around you
- Practise consciously to be present, bring all of you into a situation for small lengths of time
- Gently bring your heart and mind back into situations when they have wandered off, by noticing what you can see, hear, feel in the situation
- Keep collecting evidence that being fully present works, for you, for those around you, and for bringing out the best in you without effort