Huh? What does being present mean? But am I not in the present?
It is quite natural for you to be perplexed when someone suggests that you are not in the present. You see, we all live in the present. The laws of Nature and Physics won’t let you live in any time other than the present, but most of us do not know how to be in the present.
What is Being in the Present?
Living and being are two entirely different states of existence.
Being in the present means being aware of what is happening around you and inside you. The watchword here is awareness. Awareness is a state of mindfulness or conscious attention where you soak in stimuli from your environment, non-judgmentally.
You see the colors, shapes, and textures around you, but you don’t try to categorize them. You are aware of the people around you, but you don’t try to judge them. You are aware of the feelings churning inside you, but you don’t try to label your feelings as good or bad. Being present means switching off the autopilot mode and being, just aware.
Let's consider an action that we all tend to do without being aware of it. Breathing.
Here's what being present with your breath would mean. You inhale, and while you do so, you focus on the inflow of air through your nostrils. You feel the air moving through your body, reaching your belly, and expanding it. As you exhale, you feel your belly contracting as it gently pushes the air up and expels it through your nostrils. Because you are just focusing on the breath, you do not think if you are breathing too shallow or too fast. You do not think if you should take in more air or whether you are breathing deeply.
Why Would You Want to be in the Present?
Not many of us know how to be in the present. Here’s what an unmindful life looks like.
You play with your kids while thinking about the presentation you have to deliver the next day. You are at work, but while you draft a report, you think of what to rustle up for dinner. You are watching your daughter’s ballet performance, but bills and mortgages are at the back of your mind. You are living in the present, but you are definitely not being present.
You would want to be in the present because
1. You want to appreciate life.
You miss out on the details of life when you are not in the present. When your mind is busy judging situations and people, tagging events, searching for flaws, and slotting experiences into categories, it misses the beauty of the small things that make up life. When you are in the present, you can sit back and enjoy life.
2. You want to be more productive at work.
Research has shown that multi-tasking is counter-productive. When you devote all your mental faculties to one task, you are sharper and more efficient than when your attention is divided between multiple tasks. You are less likely to make mistakes, overlook details, and forget instructions when you are present at work. You turn in flawless work.
3. You want to have clarity and perspective.
The untrained human mind is like a windy lake. The wind churns up waves on the surface, so you can’t see the bottom. To have clarity and perspective, you should be able to see reality as it is. You should not be distracted by what your mind says to you. Frustrations of earlier experiences. Worries about the future. Anxiety about what everybody around you thinks of you. Feelings of low self-esteem. These thoughts prevent you from focusing on what is happening in the present.
4. You want your intuition to speak to you.
You need a calm mind to be able to hear that little voice inside of you—your intuition. You want to be the still lake where you can see all the way to the bottom. When you are in the present, your mind is not distracted by your thoughts, emotions, memories, and fears. A still mind can tap into the intuitive powers that we all possess in us. A still mind can discern gut feelings that we all get from time to time when our sub-conscious mind wants to warn us or gently guide us towards our good.
5. You want to cultivate loving and nurturing relationships.
The greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of your presence. When you don’t judge the person in front of you, he feels accepted. People tend to open up to you when they realize you are just listening to them and not trying to find out their flaws. When you are present while interacting with somebody, you can hear the silence between their words and feel their unspoken emotions. You can thus empathize more with their situation. Empathy is the building block of loving and nurturing relationships.
6. You want to create a good life.
Rome was not built in a day. Success is not achieved overnight, by waving a magic wand. The life we create for ourselves is the result of the efforts we put in throughout our lives. What your life looks like today is the result of what you did every day till yesterday. A good life is created when you choose to create a good present.
Being Present and Being in a Creative Flow
Being present is an essential requirement of being in a creative flow.
And why would you want to be in a state of flow?
Being in a flow is a state we are all familiar with. We have all been in this state at least a few times in our lives. It is when we are totally absorbed in a favorite project and forget the world around us.
Remember when you used to practice playing the guitar? Or when you locked yourself up in the attic to build a toy airplane? You forgot time. You forgot to eat. You forgot it was time for your favorite TV show. You were in the zone at that time, and you came out of it feeling satisfied with the results of your efforts and more confident of your abilities.
According to psychiatrist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, being able to enter into a state of flow is essential to being productive. It is the state that musicians, dancers, athletes, and artists report being in when they strike the keys of the piano, glide across the dance floor, or run in the field.
Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi says that when you are in a flow, "your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." When you are in a flow, you operate from a state of optimal intrinsic motivation. You are not bothered by other people's opinions. You are not held back by fears. You are absolutely focused on the task in hand. No details slip your attention. Your intuition opens up, and you gain clarity and perspective. Ideas flow. Solutions seem to appear magically on your mental radar. Actions flow seamlessly from one to another. Being in a flow is that state when you BECOME one with your work.
When you are in a flow, you are more productive. The more often you reach a state of flow when you engage in your craft, the greater are your chances of achieving your highest potential.
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, being in the zone does not only create an immersive experience but also imparts a feeling of empowerment. You feel "as if you are the responsible, active, creating center of your activities." You realize that you are in control of your circumstances. Your environment does not control you, nor does the agenda of other people. This is the empowering feeling of being the creator of your own destiny, NOT the sense of hopelessness of a victim. When you are in the flow, you are inspired, and you boldly move forward with your ideas.
How Can a Meditation App Teach You to Cultivate Presence?
Cultivating presence is easier said than done.
You have to undo years of feeling "compelled" to react to every stimuli that hits your senses. That's a lot of unlearning. But in an age of smartphones, Netflix, and Instagram, it is hard to be anywhere where you are not bombarded by distractions.
Then there is our tendency of being swayed by every emotion that rises in us. Our fears cripple us and prevent us from responding to the present. Our expectations blind us to reality. Our memories color our perceptions of what is happening in the present. It is difficult for the mind to focus and be aware unless it is absolutely still. The Meditable app guides your mind gently into a state of stillness where you can focus. It is an app that teaches the mind how to work with its inherent powers.
In short, the Meditable app teaches you how to meditate. Meditation is a powerful mental relaxation technique that teaches you how to still the mind, so you can control and channel it. Here's how meditation helps you cultivate presence:
1. By teaching you to shut out distractions.
Meditation teaches you to shut out distractions, both internal and external, so you can focus on a single thought, a single act, or what is happening in front of you. Meditating calms the mind.
2. By teaching you non-judgmental awareness.
Meditation calms your mind. Meditating regularly teaches you to "surf" your thoughts and emotions, so you can choose not to react to them. Meditation teaches you mindful awareness, a state of attention where you take in the stimuli from your environment, non-judgmentally. When you are mindful, you can be fully in the present.
3. By creating a quiet mental space where you can visualize yourself being in a state of flow.
Visualization is a powerful exercise to "convince" your sub-conscious mind that what you see in your mind is real.
Our sub-conscious minds shape our lives in profound ways. Our ingrained thoughts and beliefs influence the way we respond or react to the world outside. Our hopes, fears, and experiences determine the place we carve for ourselves in the world. So it is imperative that you feed the right thoughts to your sub-conscious mind.
Your sub-conscious mind has to believe that you CAN cultivate presence. Your sub-conscious mind has to believe that you can enter a state of creative flow.
Meditation creates the quiet space where you can visualize being present and thus enriching your life in a myriad ways.
If you are not in the habit of meditating, easing into this practice might be a tad challenging. In a hyper-competitive world, it is natural for you to worry about your job, the bills you have to pay, and how you are going to build a tidy nest egg. In a hyper-connected world, it is natural for you to be distracted by the blip of your phone. A guided meditation app helps you create the habit by retraining the mind and teaching it to focus.