What is it about the present moment that makes us want to escape? How much of your day do you spend thinking about the past or day dreaming about the future? I often drive around Portland in auto-pilot as I latch onto fantasies, dwell in my jealousy, or turn to the past and linger in a memory. These are tools to escape my present. Pema Chödrön writes in Taking the Leap that the three classic styles to find relief from the present are “pleasure seeking, numbing out, and using aggression: we either zone out, or we grasp.” But what is so wrong with the present that we need to find “relief”?
Ms. Chödrön says that “the ego is the experience of never being present.” I interpret this to mean that it is our ego that gets so wrapped up in the emotions that arise in our mind and body. We are unable to enjoy the flux and uncertainty of life and let each experience be a personal indication of something greater. Yet when we relax and settle into the Now, the ego is not involved since we are an observer and participant instead of ego dictating that our experience is the moment.
When teaching yoga, in poses (especially those held for periods of time) I watch students struggle with their present: they fiddle (pleasure seek), they ride on the their thought waves (numbing out), and tense up (aggression). What they are escaping — what I am escaping–is the reality of who we are. Yet the feelings we have, the anxiety, the sorrow, fear, happiness – all reside in the future or past. Feelings and emotions stay connected to an experience outside of the moment. The present is about being alert to the changes in our body and mind.
I had a realization the other day. I was working in staying in my moment — to notice the sidewalk, listen to my feet on the pavement, feel the sun and cold–and fear arose. I was afraid that if I stayed in the present moment and didn’t fixate on the future, my motivation, my drive, my inspiration would be gone. I was afraid that by being in the moment and not fixating on other things, I would lose my inspiration and creativity. How absurd! It hit me that inspiration, motivation, creativity, do not come from hashing things out in my head but from a pause– simultaneously tuning within and without. The gift I was receiving was deeper insight into how I work — fears, joy, anxiety, truth, etc.–and opening me up to witness the brilliance of the Now.
Stop, pause, be in your moment. Enjoy the flux of emotions and the unpredictability of life…that is where dreams and reality merge.