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Chapter 4  -  Living in the Present Moment

Benefits of focusing attention on the present moment. Techniques for focusing attention.

Divine Presence is in the Present Moment

Divine Presence exists in the wonder of the present moment. In contrast, the dysfunctional ego is primarily involved with rambling chatter about the past and/or the future. The chatter of the ego is largely based on old habitual patterns, rather than an appropriate and skillful response to the present moment.

In order to experience the Presence Within, one must be fully engaged in the present moment.

Be Here Now!

Ram Dass

If you cannot find the Truth right where you are,
   where else do you expect to find it?

Dogen Zenji

Life is a Journey

All too many people are madly searching for some career, occupation or activity that will fulfill their life's purpose, but alas there is no specific career, occupation or activity required. It does not matter if you are a teacher or parent or business executive. The name or title of your job does not really matter, all that matters is how you do it.

The true purpose of your life is to be an instrument of the Divine Presence, bringing love, harmony and beauty into every situation in every moment. Life is a journey, not a destination, and all that truly matters is how one takes each step of the journey. If you take each step in harmony with your True Nature, as an instrument of the wondrous Presence Within, then you are fulfilling your life's purpose regardless of the situation.

Rising Above Self-Inflicted Drama

To live in the present moment is to be fully in harmony with what is, no longer struggling with past or future, no longer clinging to expectations, no longer identifying with or clinging to "my worry" or "my anxiety", but rather being totally aware of and totally engaged in  whatever is happening right now, embracing the ego's positive and helpful participation in life, gently letting go of all that is not beneficial.

Two of the most enjoyable and fruitful ways to move away from egoic chatter and self-inflicted drama are: enjoying the wonders of nature, and serving others.

A walk in the countryside, enjoying the sights, sounds, textures and fragrances of nature can provide not only a distraction from our chattering ego, but with some awareness we find that nature can readily provide the answers for life's most troubling problems.

As one goes further in the soul's unfoldment one finally arrives at the stage of revelation. Life begins to reveal itself, the whole of life, each soul becomes communicative... and every condition, every soul, every object in the world will reveal its nature and character to him. Sa'di, the Persian poet, has said, 'Once a soul has begun to read, every leaf of the tree becomes as a page of the sacred book of life'.

The Smiling Forehead, Hazrat Inayat Khan

In serving others, giving to others, enjoying nature, or otherwise serving a greater ideal, the energy of the ego is directed beyond oneself, and all of life is infused with great delight. In doing so, that same ego which has in the past seemed to be an dreadful adversary is happily resurrected as a mighty ally.

All those who are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desire for their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world are so as a result of their desire for the happiness of others.

Shantideva, tr by Vesna and B. Alan Wallace

Give, and it will be given to you.

Gospel of Luke 6:38

Just practice good, do good for others, without thinking of making yourself known so that you may gain reward. Really bring benefit to others, gaining nothing for yourself. This is the primary requisite for breaking free of attachments to the self.

Dogen Zenji, tr Reiho Masunaga

Gaps in the Chatter

Excessive chatter of the mind is largely an automatic and/or habitual response of the ego. The chatter can gradually be reduced by means of deliberate mental exercises. Three traditional, and very useful, exercises for gradually learning to reduce the ego's noisy chatter are called: concentration, contemplation and meditation.

In concentration, one gives the mind something specific to focus upon, rather than allowing uncontrolled chatter. Concentration is the key to mastery of the mind, and concentration is the key to success in contemplation and meditation. True mastery of the mind is within reach when one is able to concentrate regardless of any outer circumstances or distractions.

The mind of an average person may be pictured as an unruly horse that jumps and kicks and throws anyone that tries to ride it. Masters of the world are those who have mastered themselves, and mastery lies in the control of the mind. If the mind became your obedient servant, the whole world is at your service. The king of mind is greater than the king of a nation.

Inayat Khan, Githa II (unpublished)

In contemplation, rather than focusing attention upon a specific object, one looks from the viewpoint of the object, or, in other words, looks through the eyes of that object. Looking from the viewpoint of a great teacher, saint or prophet can be a powerful, and perhaps life changing, process. Similarly, looking at life from the viewpoint of divine attributes such as loving-kindness, mercy or compassion can also produce far-reaching improvements in one's life.

In meditation, one teaches the mind to accept (rather than embellish) the rambling thoughts, which then tend to dissipate, leaving a vast stillness in which the Divine Presence can be honored and appreciated. In meditation, sometimes there may be no thoughts at all, only a pleasant blissful awareness. Or, at other times in meditation there may be profound inspiration or revelation arising from within.

To further clarify the differences between concentration, contemplation and meditation, it may be useful to consider the philosophical notion of Subject and Object, in which there is an observer (Subject) and there is something observed (Object). During concentration, the Subject becomes intensely focused on some specific Object. During contemplation, the roles are somewhat reversed, and the Subject adopts the viewpoint of the Object. During meditation, such roles are entirely dropped, the Subject and Object both fade away, and only a sense of "knowing" remains.

The first signs of progress toward quieting the chatter of the mind are  when brief gaps or pauses are noticed between the episodes of the ego's noisy chatter. With continued practice, those gaps between the noisy chatter can be gradually extended, with the mind becoming more and more open to the calm and serenity of Divine Presence, and having fewer and fewer outbursts of noisy chatter.

When we meditate, we begin to still the mind. As we get more and more adept at moving into inner silence, we come to know the peace of God in our entire being. We intuitively seek union with our generating Source. Silence, or meditation, is the path to that center. We can make conscious contact with God, transcend the limitations of a dichotomous world, and regain the power that is only available when we’re connected to the Source. This is what I call getting in the gap. ... The gap is the powerful silence we access through meditation. By entering the elusive gap between our thoughts, we can access the stillness that may have been unattainable in other meditation attempts.

Our ultimate reason for meditating is to get in the gap where we enter the sacred space and know the unlimited power of our Source. Psalm 46:10 says: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Getting In The Gap, Dr. Wayne Dyer

You Are What You Think

There is an old saying: "You are what you eat",  which is as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical realm. What you feed your mind, determines what will come into your life. Truly, you are what you think.

Our thoughts pave the way for what will become manifest in our life. The sub-conscious mind is programmed by our thoughts and will strive to bring into fruition whatever we have been thinking about. The more vivid the thoughts, the more powerful the tendency toward manifestation.

We tend to become that to which we turn our attention. If we focus our attention on pain, then we will find pain. If we spent the day worrying, then we are actually programming the sub-conscious mind to find a way to create situations which will fulfill our worries!

Worry is nothing more than the ego's creation of problems, or rather, the ego's creation of what appear to be problems. Unfortunately, the sub-conscious mind, which controls the body's immune system and hormone system cannot tell the difference between imaginary problems and real threats to our survival. Therefore, the ego's creation of imaginary or hypothetical problems can have serious effects on one's health and well-being.

Take Time to Smile

Another way to help loosen the old knots and connect to the calm inner depths is to smile. Or, even better, laugh.

If in our daily lives we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.

Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh

Smiling and laughter provide a precious interlude, a gap, in which the unpleasant thoughts and rambling chatter of the ego are quieted. Studies have clearly shown that smiling and laughter, even fake smiling and fake laughter, can greatly reduce stress and can even begin to reverse some of the damage being caused by stress.

Breaking Old Habits

Much of our human behavior is sub-conscious reaction, based on habitual patterns. When those patterns are dysfunctional, they need to be replaced by new habits which are in alignment with one's highest ideals.

Trying to resist or deny an existing habit is seldom effective. For enduring change, one must consistently replace the old habit with a desirable new habit.

First, begin with visualizing the behavior which you want to exhibit. If you want to be more loving, then visualize a situation in which you are being more loving. Or, if you want to be more generous, then visualize a situation in which you are more generous. The sub-conscious mind does not know the difference between your visualizations and reality, so it will happily learn to do whatever you program it to do.

The sub-conscious mind is most easily programmed by vivid, multi-sensory events. Therefore, the most effective visualizations will include not only vivid imagination of how you feel emotionally, but also what you feel physically, what you see, or what you hear.

At the beginning of each day, spend a few minutes visualizing the desired behavior. During the day, strive to watch your behavior and respond in the desired manner. Then, in the evening, review your day, thinking about how well the successes went, and visualizing ways in which you can do even better. Do not spend any time at all groveling in thoughts about any failures, but rather only imagine how you can do better. In order for your sub-conscious mind to be efficiently programmed, the image of success must always be what you hold highest in your consciousness.

Old habits can be replaced with new habits by means of consistent replacement of the old behavior with the desired new behavior for a number of consecutive days. In many cases, 28 days, an entire moon cycle, seems to be sufficient. For most people, correcting an old habit only once in a while is not good enough. The old habit must be caught each and every time it occurs, and successfully replaced by the new behavior pattern for 28 consecutive days. Try it!

A Program for Rising Above Old Habits

The mind is very powerful and very creative. But sadly, many people allow the mind to run wild on its own, without suitable guidance. Much like a horse, the mind is not of much use when it is simply running wild, but with some tender guidance, it can become both more useful and more pleasurable.

A key point to remember is that the subconscious mind does not distinguish between fact and fiction, it simply responds to what it is being told. So, if a person strongly thinks that some problem is going to occur, then the subconscious mind will do all that it can do to help make certain that the problem does indeed occur. Therefore, our own mind often creates the very situations which we fear.

Over time, such fearful thinking or worrying becomes a habit. That is, at some point in life, through misunderstanding or misinterpretation of a situation, one learns to have a fearful response which is not useful, helpful or appropriate. So, our task is to replace that old fearful response with a new, more appropriate, more helpful, more useful response, by welcoming the in-dwelling Spirit of Guidance into every aspect of life. God is closer than the veins in your neck, and with some dedication you can become quiet enough, calm enough to hear and follow Divine Guidance.

In order to break an old habit, one must replace the old habit with a new habit. It is not helpful to try to deny or resist the old habit, but rather it must be gently and thoughtfully replaced with the new habit.

And, interestingly, this process of developing a new "replacement" habit can generally be accomplished through sincere effort for one month. Yes, even the most troublesome life-long habits can generally be broken in just one month of sincere effort!

Here are four specific steps which may be useful:

1) Intention: The first step is to have a deep and sincere intention. You must consciously express an intention to rise above the old limitations and rely more confidently on the in-dwelling Spirit of Guidance.

It is very helpful to begin by silently thinking about your intention, and then to actually say it out loud.

2) Meditation: Set aside a specific time each and every day to relax, calm your mind, and mentally envision (in great detail) some hypothetical situations in which you respond to everyday situations in a new, more wholesome, more productive, more loving, more confident manner.

Whenever any non-loving thoughts such as fear, worry, anger or impatience arise, just gently and confidently shift your attention to successfully and  skillfully handing every situation which arises, responding with loving-kindness, compassion, tolerance, patience and benevolence in every moment. Nothing can defeat love!

3) Practice: Each day, find some way to put into practice something similar to what you have envisioned in your meditation. Strive to give love, and be open to receiving love, in every moment of the day.

4) Review: At the end of each day, take some time to relax and think about what was successful and what was not.

Was loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, tolerance, patience offered in every situation? If not, strive to do better tomorrow.

 If you are sincere and dedicated, by end of 28 consecutive days of successful practice your new mental processes will be rapidly rising above the old habitual responses. If you have relapses and failures, then simply continue the practice until you have an entire 28 consecutive days of favorable results.

According to some schools of thought, it may be useful to begin this practice at the beginning of a lunar month (the first sighting of the new moon).

Diet and Exercise for the Mind

Just as many physical ailments are corrected by diet and exercise, so too can many mental conditions be corrected in similar manner by controlling what we allow the mind to chew on and digest, as well by providing suitable exercise to enhance the desirable functions of the mind.

Specifically, we need to consciously direct the mind to imagine, become involved with, and bring into fruition our highest ideals, such as love, harmony and beauty. Through the use of controlled mental activities such as concentration, contemplation, meditation and visualization, one can realize the highest of ideals.

Happy is he who is able to escape from the lower self and feel the gentle breeze of Friendship. His heart is so full of the Beloved that there is no longer room for anyone else. The Beloved flows through his every vein and nerve. Every atom of his body is filled with the Friend.

The true lovers can no longer perceive either the scent or the color of their own selves. They have no interest in anything other than the Beloved. Their heart is attached neither to throne nor crown. Greed and lust have packed their bags and left their street. If they speak, it is to the Friend. If they seek, it is from the Friend. They no longer take themselves into account, and live only for love. They leave the raw and turn to the ripe, abandoning completely the abode of the self.

Jami, Essential Sufism, James Fadiman and Robert Frager

Cause and Effect

By watching one's own actions, and noting the results of those actions, one can discover which thoughts and actions lead to suffering and difficulty, for oneself as well as others. Then, armed with such insight, one must strive to never again repeat the same unpleasant behaviors.

By recognizing the causality, or cause and effect nature of life (often called karma), one can become aware of one's own troublesome behaviors, and then proceed to break the old habits which could bring further suffering and difficulty into life. 

The whole work of building oneself, and everything else, depends on how much one is able to forget oneself! That is the key to the whole of life, material and spiritual, and to worldly and spiritual success.

The Art of Being, Character Building, Hazrat Inayat Khan

Getting Out of the Trap

There are many kinds of traps which we fall into in this life, and our immediate reaction to the situation has a great effect on the eventual outcome.

Imagine, for example, that you are out for a peaceful walk in the beautiful countryside, far from any other people, happily listening to the birds, gazing at the wildflowers, in awe of all that nature has wrought, and then suddenly, while you're mesmerized by the sights and sounds, you step into an animal trap which clamps tightly shut on your ankle. foot in trap

What happens next? Will you get angry? Will you yank and pull in violent resistance to the trap? What would you do??

Anger will not solve the problem. Resistance or struggle will not solve the problem. Any form of resistance to what has already happened will only cause greater stress, and in the midst of that stress, it will be much more difficult to find a solution. Thus, resistance causes two problems: first, resisting the present situation creates an environment of suffering, and secondly, resisting the present situation creates an environment which is unfavorable for finding a solution.

The most practical course of action is to calmly accept what has already happened, and from that place of calm awareness choose a course of action which seems appropriate (and which is in harmony with Divine Presence)... for example, in the case of stepping into a trap, might be actions such as obtaining a large stick to pry the trap open, or returning to town to get help.

The following three steps illustrate a healthy and productive response to life's troublesome traps:

1) Calm the mind. Use techniques such as calm deep breathing and/or visualization of something peaceful or beautiful. Concentration, contemplation and meditation may be useful tools.

2) Accept what is. Look with calm loving-kindness at exactly what is actually happening, accepting the present moment with no immediate reaction, no additional drama, no "poor me" story.

3) Move On. Choose what seems to be an appropriate course of action to deal with what is, and to plant new seeds for the future. A course of action which is in harmony with the love, harmony and beauty of Divine Presence will always produce the best results.

Pain and Suffering

We all encounter some kind of pain in the course of our life, but we do not need to suffer. There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is a reaction of the body, while suffering is a reaction of the mind. Suffering occurs when we resist what is. As one reduces the resistance to what is, so too is the suffering also diminished.

With practice and intention, one can learn to reduce or entirely eliminate suffering, regardless of the pain. It is not always easy to rise above the influence of pain, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Forgive and Forget

Obviously we cannot simply tell the brain to erase something from memory, there's no "erase" switch to flip on and off. But, with some practice and persistence, we can learn to be at ease with the past, having feelings of loving-kindness and compassion for everyone.

We may not have the conscious capability to utterly obliterate an old memory, but we have the power to be so completely at ease with the situation that it is no longer troubling or noteworthy to the mind. In many cases, the root of the problem is that one's ego is replaying some old memory in order to feel superior or self-righteous or perhaps even to feel wounded. That is, the replaying of the old memory is valuable to the ego because it can in some way identify some aspect of "me" through recalling that situation.

Any discomfort due to an old memory indicates that the mind is not yet at ease with that situation. In that case, one solution is to find a way to be truly grateful, truly thankful, for that old situation, completely at ease with all that happened, having feelings of loving-kindness and compassion toward everyone involved, with joyfully readiness to move on to the next lesson in life.

At first it may be necessary to simply imagine some feelings of loving-kindness and compassion for anyone beyond one's closest circle of friends, but over time the feelings of loving-kindness and compassion which initially were only imagination will blossom into the real thing.

Vivid visualization of positive attributes such as loving-kindness and compassion is a time-proven exercise which can bring life-changing benefits for everyone involved. Give it a try!

Accepting What is --- And Planting for the Future

All too often, the ego produces a "knee-jerk" reaction which is based on old habits and past failures. We can do better! And the first step toward a better way of life is to accept what is.

It is not productive to argue against or resist what already is. Our  preferences and opinions may lead us toward resistance, but resistance will only bring stress and suffering. There is a better way, and it is called acceptance. Completely accept what is, and then decide where to go from there.

I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Gospel of Matthew, 5:39

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.

Hsin-Hsin Ming, Seng-Ts'an, tr Richard B Clark

Whatever has already come into being has done so because of certain seeds which were planted in the past. Now that the harvest has arrived, it is too late to argue, and there is no viable choice other than to accept the harvest which has already arrived. We can't simply argue or whine or complain and realistically expect to turn a harvest of dreadful thorns into a bowl of tasty grapes. However, we can help to determine the future by means of the seeds which we plant in the present moment.

If we plant seeds of worry and woe, then our harvest will be filled with worry and woe. On the other hand, if we choose to plant seeds of love, harmony and beauty, then our harvest will be filled with love, harmony and beauty.

This is our great choice in life: What shall I plant in this moment?


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Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,

Oct 19, 2008

rev Feb 23, 2011