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Living in the Present Moment

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - April 2024

Newsletter - 4.24
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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brené Brown


The issues we face today – in our lives, in our communities, as a nation, as a planet – are staggeringly complex, whether about environment, health care, privacy, education, government or economy. Resolutions touch every aspect of life – science, law, business, ethics, economics, politics. There’s no one answer, or even complete truth, to any of them; we simply can’t know enough for that to be so. All of them, however, ask us to be totally presentconsciously aware, in this very moment; thinking critically, objectively, clearly, with perspective; and open to learning, the willingness to be changed by new information.  (When was the last time you experienced that?)


This describes the realm of the conscious mind. It can handle ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity; it can hold two opposites without making one of them wrong; it can reason through often-conflicting pathways. Through its capacities, we’ve made sense of our world, unlocked secrets of the universe, and improved humanity (mostly).


But there’s an insidious problem here: instead of evoking the conscious mind, life’s complexity and uncertainty have triggered the unconscious mind. To it, they’re threats. The unconscious is here to keep us safe from life’s dangers. Survival being more important than creative genius, it puts the conscious mind on hold while it handles threats. Unlike “real” threats, however, this one runs 24/7, so the conscious mind is essentially “off.” But we don’t see that (consciously, at least). What we do “know” is that we feel vulnerable … afraid of “not knowing.”  


All the while … 1) we believe we’re thinking (we’re just auto-reacting to danger signals); 2) we pretend we’re not afraid (we are); 3) we see threats as real (they’re illusion); 4) we think we’re being present (that can’t be true if we’re in the unconscious mind because the present is what the unconscious is defending us against … it’s “scary.”) So, a “convenient” (unconscious, of course) reaction to feeling vulnerable is “pretend knowing;” we make stuff up … if only to make ourselves feel better. Again, we believe it’s rational thought, so we see no need to question this.


Want an example? Watch the news. Opinion (we’ve got little evidence for much more) masquerades as fact, gets yelled repeatedly, then defended, with blame and judgment for naysayers, all to escape the [unconscious] fear of not knowing. (A compelling falsehood is a bad substitute for an incomplete truth. Morality is a bad substitute for reason.) Yet such is our penchant for “control.” While we do this, questioning stops; thinking stops; learning stops. It’s an adaptive strategy with disastrous consequences. The conscious may scream for attention but goes unheard.


Separate from the danger this creates by making us easy prey for misinformation, it also denies us any experience whatsoever of the present moment – the “right here right now” part of life – which is the only moment anything does happen. (You can’t experience the past or the future … just this very moment.) But this moment has been hijacked … by a mind, which although “committed to keeping you safe,” is in fact, “having its way with you,” with neither your awareness nor consent. As long as you continue to remain unaware, you don’t know you’ve been had … so you live in the illusion it creates – of safety, certainty, truth. And continue to miss the present! When we need the rational mind most, it’s not here. Then we wonder why life is difficult, perhaps unsatisfying, scary, disparaging.


Four personally chosen capacities (always available to all of us!) seem to separate those who’ve learned to live in the present from those susceptible to deception: Mindfulness: If you’re more “mindful” than “mind full,” you’re less reactive, giving drama fewer places to roost. Curiosity: If your thirst for learning is greater than your fear of the unknown, your world expands to fill the space you create by trusting your sense of wonder. Courage: If, in the face of life’s inevitable challenges, self-trust offers you more strength than the perceived safety of going along with others, you’re less susceptible to fear-based thoughts. Worldview: If you see life as benevolent, you’re less likely to find comfort in illusion than if you see life as out to get you.


Exercise:  Living in the Present. How do we regain “control” of the conscious mind … a prerequisite for living in the present? Creating a new tomorrow means changing the thinking that created today. To do that, you have to know what that thinking is. Becoming aware of your thinking asks you to:  stop for long enough ... to be with yourself for long enough ... to gain felt experience of what’s objectively, non-judgmentally true … in this very moment. Awareness of your thinking – in this moment – is the most powerful tool you will ever have for evoking change – in the next moment, naturally. It’s far more effective than trying to “fix stuff.” And all it takes is listening.


When I listen (which is a lot), I tend to listen far more intently to what’s not being said than to what is being said. (This is true when I listen to myself, too!) One specific aspect of listening offers me amazing insight into what’s really going on underneath, and that’s if the thinking that evoked the words is in the present, the past, or the future. (Thoughts living in the past are often ones of guilt, anger or resentment over what has already happened; thoughts living in the future are often ones of dread, worry or anxiety over what hasn’t yet happened … and may not.) As you listen to your thinking, tracing thoughts back to the stories that created them, see if you can notice where in time your thoughts “live” … are the of the present moment, the past, or the future? No judgment; just learning.


What “stories” are you living in each moment? Are they taking you to a future of bright possibility, or to a watered-down version of yesterday? Either way, your thoughts create your future. Because you are free to choose your thoughts, why not choose ones that open new opportunity rather than ones that keep you trapped in the past? As an exercise, stop for a few minutes every day during the coming week(s), and do two things: (1) Notice what is really happening right now, in this very moment, independent of what you may have been up to. Then ask yourself what was occupying your mind – was it what was truly happening in the moment, or a bunch of unconscious thought-forms that may have been keeping you from the experience of the present. Which one is “reality?” (2) Replay in your conscious mind whatever stories your unconscious mind may have been telling you. What do you hear? “I’ve always done it this way.”  “I’ve never done it this way.” “I have to make sure I’m right.” “Life is supposed to be hard.” “I’m not as smart/lucky/rich as they are, so I can’t be as good.” Either you’re lost in your thoughts or you’re open to the experience of the present. It’s all a choice. Just notice.



Life Lessons from Nature: In nature, the present moment is all there IS. If a creation (or even a creative instant) “doesn’t work,” move on … to create more (replicate), “edit” the creative genius (improve), or inspire something completely new (invent). An example from the animal world. You’ve heard the term “shake it off,” as applied to an injury, mostly physical, but emotional hurts, too. Shift your imagination for a moment to experiences you’ve had (or certainly videos you’ve seen) of a creature, perhaps a wildebeest, narrowly escaping a takedown by a lion. It stands up, then shakes its entire body. WHY?  It’s shaking off everything about the experience, including the fear, literally shaking it out of its system … SO THAT it can return to being 100% present in the next moment … so as to be ready for whatever life may bring next. (If it carried the event around, it would miss the next lion!)



Book of the month: Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown.  All of her work is insightful, clear, helpful … and funny. In Atlas of the Heart, she speaks to the emotions that make us human … emotions that can scare us, but which can be understood, reframed and used to create meaningful connections, both with others and with ourselves. Being vulnerable is an act of courage, not one of weakness.  



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