I recently had the opportunity to attend an Eckhart Tolle event in California with a good friend of mine. If you haven’t heard of him, he is a spiritual teacher born in Germany who experienced a spontaneous spiritual awakening that brought him out of a deep depression. He got to such a dark place in his mind that something snapped in his brain and he separated from his ego (the voice in the head). In an instant he went from being cornered by the voice in his head that was miserable and did not want to go on to being the observer of that voice. A much more peaceful place to be.
Since then he has written a number of books including two New York Times bestsellers “The Power of now” and “A New Earth”. The conference I attended included several amazing speakers from different professional backgrounds all speaking on “Presence”. Which is the exact topic of conversation for today’s episode!
I want to begin by giving you a taste of how sitting in the auditorium with Tolle felt. Because it was profound. I don’t know if you have ever been in the presence of an awakened being… let me explain. Everyone applauded when he walked into the room and made his way onto the stage, then room became utterly silent. A room of 1200 people! So bear with me, this is difficult to share with words, but it wasn’t an empty, anticipating silence, it was more like a vibrating expansive feeling, like bliss, filling every cell of every single person and then radiating into the molecules in the air connecting us all as one vibrating being. That’s the only way I can think to explain it.
Let me try this metaphor: all humans are fresh candles and an awakened being is the lit candle with a flame that just keeps burning. When you are near that candle, you cannot help but to light up also. It’s contagious. Because we all hold within us the potential to awaken beyond the limited human experience. But our wicks get covered up by blankets and blankets of stories we tell ourselves that keep us from the truth. Stories like, “who am I to shine?” But if we were able to remove all of those stories permanently, (all the fears, doubts, worries, insecurities) our candle would glow all the time just like Tolle’s.
So the thing about Eckhardt Tolle, is that he lives in presence all of the time. He is always Here. And that presence, as I tried to share in my description, has power.
Let’s dig into this idea of presence. I will start by saying it is not a concept that can be fully grasped by your thinking mind and so it is not an easy thing to explain. In fact, I will only be able to really point you in the direction with the hope that you’ll find it for yourself… but no guarantees. Tolle talked related the difficulty of explaining what presence is to explaining what honey tastes like. You can offer many adjectives to describe the taste to someone, but until they actually put the honey in their mouth and experience it for themselves, they will not know.
So what is presence and why is it important that we pursue it?
Presence is the experience of aliveness. And the word “experience” is important here. Fully experiencing life is the opposite of only thinking about life. You can’t think about life and experience life simultaneously because of how the brain works. You experience life through your senses which happens primarily in the right brain; you think about life, describe life, judge life using your analytical mind, which is all left brain. Most of the time, most of us are swaying back and forth between thinking and experiencing. For more on the extremes of this balancing act, check out Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight. She is a neuroanatomist who had a stroke which completely changed her perspective on the human brain and who we are. Quite powerful. Highly recommended!
So ‘presence’ is something that can only be experienced and experience is something that happens when you are fully engaged with where you are and what’s right in front of you in the moment. You can’t experience something in the future or in the past. You can only experience it in the present. NOW.
Now is where all the life is happening. Right Now! Maybe you are sitting in your car or getting ready for work or sipping your morning coffee, reading this blog post. The life is in this moment right now. Your mind is the only thing that can take you out of the moment. Thinking. About this and that. About what’s next. What you might be worried about. Who you are still mad at from something that happened last week. What you are behind on. What you wish you hadn’t have said. What you did say. What’s on your to do list. What’s for dinner. ALL of that noise takes you away from experiencing presence. What’s on Facebook? Who has emailed you in the last 15 minutes? All of that is a distraction from the experience of life that is available right here, right now. And that experience only available right here, right now.
Why is ‘presence’ important? Being present is where you find your balance, presence is where all the joy is. Presence is where inspiration, creativity, abundance, radiance emerge. All the good stuff lives in the moment. Trust me; you want what presence has to offer. Presence is where all the love is. Presence is where all life happens.
The rest is just a figment of your imagination, an idea, a thought from the moment past that is gone or a thought about a future moment that may never come.
My best friend from high school came by the other day. We realized we have known each other for 39 years! Wow! We were having a conversation about meditation and why it’s important which led us to the topic of presence and why it’s important. I used a house as an analogy because she is realtor. What happens when a house gets abandoned? It starts to deteriorate fairly rapidly. With no one there tending to it day to day, other life starts to move in and the house begins to move away from human suitability at a rapid pace. Well the same thing happens with our bodies, when we are not tending to them, they begin to break down more quickly. When we are constantly thinking about the past and worried or stressed about the future we are only living in our heads. You have to be present to be in your body. And when you are not home and present with your body, you are more susceptible to illness, disease, right… the critters move in when you are not tending the house! Life is constantly trying to get our attention to bring us back home!
Our children! They are constantly trying to get our attention while we are busy being adults. They’re natural state is presence! They are alive! And calling us home. Until you put them in front of a TV or give them an IPad.
My daughter was in town visiting this weekend. She is my biggest teacher in all areas. We had just been out shopping and decided to sit outside and read for a while. I happen to be really excited about the book I am reading right now and she wanted to get started with the book we just picked up for her at Malvern Books here in Austin (If you are a coinsure of obscure works of poetry and fiction like my daughter, you should check it out). Five minutes into reading time, she begins laughing and reading little bits of her book out loud. And my initial reaction was “I can’t concentrate on my reading when you keep interjecting with snippets from your book!” Right? I can’t be in two places at once! I gotta focus. And she said, “Mom, I came all this way and you are just going to be in your own world?” (See what I mean! She’s my teacher!) Yep, straight to the truth! So I stopped, closed my book and proceeded to spend quality time with my daughter as she read to me! I came back to the present, to the now, so I could experience her which led to enjoyment and happiness from our time together.
And what about dogs! SO present. Constantly in the moment, never holding grudges (cats might be a different story). They are alive and always ready to meet you right here, right now.
And Nature! Why does it feel so good to be out in nature? The trees are showing us about presence. Demonstrating peace, acceptance, stillness. Trees don’t know stress, insecurity, worry, fear, loneliness. They are just here, wherever they are.
But learning how to be present, especially in a world with so much distraction, takes practice.
Most people are very uncomfortable with simply being. Have you ever noticed when you are sitting in a waiting room or standing in line these days, it is rare to find someone who is peacefully smiling and just comfortable being in line? How quick we are to pull out our phones or a magazine or something. I know I have mentioned this before, but I make a concerted effort to be fully present and available for cashiers. It’s a way I practice mindfulness and presence. They have to stand in line all day checking out zombies who don’t even look them in the eyes. No connection! You can tell how refreshing it is to have someone inquire about their day….and mean it.
Meditation is becoming more and more popular because with all the craziness in the world right now, people are craving calm…peace…serenity. I know a lot of the coaching clients I see have that at the top of their list. Many of my clients start off with the belief that they can’t meditate. Here is the thing. Meditation isn’t hard. In fact, it’s really quite simple.
Where many of my coaching clients get caught up is believing they somehow have to get their mind quiet before meditating. This is a huge misconception about meditation. Your job is not to quiet your mind, but rather to stop allowing your mind to distract you from being fully present. In other words, to stop identifying with your thoughts. Just let them do whatever they want to do while you meditate. When you meditate, you stop following your thoughts and they settle down on their own. The only reason it ever gets sooooo loud in your mind is because that is where your attention is. If you look at your thoughts like highly energetic children in a blow up castle, that might help. Let them bounce around and flip and do whatever. You know their safe, so just let them be. When they aren’t being watched, they will actually just calm down on their own. They lose interest without an audience.
Meditation is a wonderful practice session for real life. When you can learn how to stay present and calm regardless of what your mind is doing, then you are ready to try it out in life. You can use the same tools that you use in meditation, out in the world. When you learn how to not get tied up in your thoughts, you are able to approach life from a calm and centered place. You are more able to be present in any given moment.
I recommend starting out simple with 5-10 minutes/ day. Meditation tools are so accessible now. These meditation apps are great. You can learn everything you need to know and try different types of meditation and decide what works best for you.
And yes, every single day. I challenge you to commit to a morning meditation every day for 90 days in a row without missing one day. It will change your life and create a new habit that will move you in the direction of experiencing presence and toward living a radiant life!