There are two things about life that never cease to amaze me, one is how painful it can be and the other is how simple and beautiful it can be. When things are going well it is very easy to grab onto that experience and expect life to remain good and comfortable but inevitably it changes and we experience pain and difficultly which we tend to want to avoid or push away. You could say that this process of attachment and aversion is one of the main causes of suffering and dissatisfaction in life because we can’t hold onto the good stuff and we can’t avoid the painful, the one constant in this is change. Often we are not aware of the way we hold onto or push away parts of our life. We can pretty much count on almost everything being temporary and this is just a reality of life which doesn’t need to be a problem, but when attachment and aversion arise it quickly becomes problematic.
When you look at the times in your life when you are suffering the most, how much of that suffering involves the past and/or the future? It is interesting to honestly look at how much time we spend feeling guilty, angry or depressed about something in the past. On the other end how much time is spent anxiously anticipating or fearing the future? While there are certainly times we need to revisit the past and plan for the future neither of them truly exist right now except as thoughts and feelings and yet we often react to these thoughts and feels as realities. This is a reflection of how much we identify with our minds and our thoughts and the degree to which we see life through this filter. Our state of mind constantly changes just as external situations do, sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are angry, sometimes we are sad. Whatever our state of mind it has a dramatic impact on how we see the world and how we see ourselves if we identify that state of mind as who we truly are. A balance to this is the practice of allowing ourselves to be fully present in the here and now and experience life directly putting our state of mind aside for a time. In so doing we have a chance to experience life directly without a conceptual overlay, without the filter of me, realizing that we are much more than our thoughts and feelings.
How can we learn to reconnect with the present moment when we get lost in the mind? One very effective way is simple awareness meditation. Whenever you are feeling emotional pain, fear or just confused and ungrounded the first thing to do is to stop, to pause. When you pause you create space and space creates the potential for a shift in perspective. So you can pause and sit (or stand) still for a moment and bring your attention to your breath. The breath has been used as a tool for meditation for thousands of years because the breath always takes place in the moment, it is body oriented rather than all in the mind and it is a reflection of life itself. As you focus on the breath you can just be aware of it flowing in and out, feeling the air in your nostrils or the sensation of your abdomen going in and out. You can also allow yourself to be aware of the sensations in your body as a way of grounding further into the moment. Once you’ve done this for a few moments try reflecting on the question – “when I become fully present right now, is there any problem?”, “are my problems a reality I need to deal with in this moment or are they an imagination from the past or future?”.
When you fully enter the present moment you become intimately connected with the immediate reality of your life, of life itself. Here there is simplicity, clarity, power and peace. Whatever you consider to be your problems may still be there in the present moment but when they are engaged in this way they often cease to be problems and instead simply become challenges, things that need to be dealt with in some way. From a present grounded place you can often see more clearly what needs to be done or when there is nothing you can do but accept the reality of the situation and let go of resistance. It is amazing to consider the possibility that most of the complication, confusion and difficulty in life may be unnecessary and created by the mind and that real simplicity and clarity are always available to us right here right now.