How To Live With Substance, Moment by Moment.

I am here now. The sun is out. It is early morning. I am breathing in and out. Everything is fine. I return my attention to the simplest aspects of what is here now. There are all kinds of thoughts whirling around in my mind. Things that I need to do that I have not yet done. Memories of the past. Thoughts about my parents. Things that I would like to accomplish but have yet to do. Emails that I need to return. Texts that I need to respond to. Things that I want to check out on-line. The thoughts go on and on and on and on. Endless. If I indulge all these thoughts, it will only be a matter of time before I am no longer present and am all stressed out. No thanks. Been there, done that.

The symphony of thoughts that fills my head can get loud. But I am thankfully aware of what is going on upstairs. As a result of noticing all the mental activity in my head I am able to make a choice. Do I want to get on that bus and get caught in all of that or do I want to just wave at the bus and let it go by? It is up to me. It is a choice. Fortunately, I am continually choosing to let the bus go by. I bring my awareness back into the present moment. I notice breathing in and out. I see and hear what is around me and I turn the volume way down.

For numerous reasons, human beings have a very difficult time living in this moment (staying off the bus). A lot of this has to do with past trauma and/or unskillful mental habits that we have indulged and put into daily practice over the course of a lifetime. Every other species (that I am aware of) on earth lives fully in the moment, but because of this sense of a self trying to keep up with mechanical time and because of our brains ability to time travel, living in the moment is a difficult skill for humans to master.

A fundamental aspect of mindfulness practice is making the choice to live moment by moment. As Jon Kabat-Zinn often says, we see life as moments to be lived rather than as tasks to be accomplished. Through the awareness we develop in mindfulness practice we see more and more how it is our habitual negative thinking that causes the vast majority of unhappiness and stress in our lives (not the people, situations or things in our lives). This gives new meaning to the idea that it really is all in our heads. Mindfulness meditation helps us see this and gives us a method or technique to stop doing it when we want to.

In the novel Walking by the great European novelist Thomas Bernhard, as the main protagonist is on a walk he says to his walking partner, “This is an observation that science can always make with regards to people. That they suddenly, at the height of their thinking, and thus at the height of their intellectual capacity, become mad.” Over-thinking or thinking too much is the cause of madness. It is what drives us insane. (Many “insane” people in today’s society are actually seen as high functioning!)

Thought is an inaccurate way to measure the actual substance of our lives. Isn’t it the substance of things that matters most when determining quality? Most of what thought tells us about our future and our past is incorrect but we listen anyways. Most people use thought to get more of what is not here now. We want more money, more security, more status, more power, more justice, more fun, more peace, more freedom, more of whatever we seem to be lacking right now. I am certainly guilty of this. I tend to get caught up in this pursuit of more too much of the time. But I am also aware that the substance of life has nothing to do with money or power or prestige or greatness or any of the things I am in pursuit of. The substance is always right here in this moment. Even though I forget this sometimes, the more I am able to pause throughout my day, the more I am able to remember (I also feel fortunate because I have a friend and teachers who are continually showing me the benefit of this through the way they live their lives).

When we chose to live moment by moment we are prioritizing being alive in this moment over everything else. We are choosing to care more about this breath, these sounds, these sensations, these feelings, this experience of being alive right now over how pissed off we are at someone or ourselves, how many problems we have, how much we have to get done, all of our future plans. Happiness or contentment or non-anxiety is only ever to be found right where you are at in the moment. Keep indulging your troubles, your problems, your difficulties- but please don’t expect to find contentment, relief from anxiety, resolution or happiness there. If you are expecting relief or contentment through indulging in negative thought, that is what is meant by unskillful action. As the character in Thomas Bernhard’s novel suggests, the only place thought ultimately leads us is towards more madness. We must be willing to put it down.

Living in the moment is just another way of saying to ourselves, “This is enough now. I am good with where I am at now. I am ok in this moment. I am breathing and I am alive now, everything else is secondary.” We still get done whatever we need to do but not at the expense of being present with our lives in this moment (in fact it has been shown that we are more productive when we can live more in the moment). We will get to what we need to get to, when we do. Worrying about it or being upset about it won’t help anyone now. When we make our morning breakfast we are just present with doing that. When we get dressed or exercise we are present with doing that. When we make future plans we are present with doing that. When we drive or work we are present with doing that. When we eat, do the dishes, brush our teeth or read we are present with doing that. Moment by moment we continually remind ourselves to be here, that this is enough. Breathe. Just fucking breathe.

As a result, we choose to live more fully (mindfulness is always a choice not a steady state) right now. We experience more freedom from the things that ordinarily weigh us down. We are less angry and worried. Our lives become much more tolerable. Even enjoyable when sitting in traffic or waiting in line. We are more fully alive (and satisfied) in this moment. It is no longer about getting here or there or judging this and that. It is just about experiencing substance (quality) now. Moment by moment.

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