There are so many misunderstandings about the pointer of “staying present” mostly because this pointer can easily be made into a technique and then become another means to feel bad about yourself saying “I find it difficult to stay present so there is something wrong with me”. It’s easy for the brain to make everything into a means to be self-critical when it has a strong momentum of negativity going in it. “Staying present” was the first pointer that I encountered by reading the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, but this pointer is quite popular, since ancient times, in the Zen tradition as well as in many other spiritual circles. The simple interpretation that any brain would make out of a pointer like “stay present” would be to “stay alert” in the moment, but then the question arises stay alert of what – of the outside surroundings, of the inner thoughts, of the feelings or of the task at hand? The usual answer that’s given is stay alert of your inner space, and hence it’s just a way to bring awareness to your thought and feeling space – to start growing in the awareness of your negativity.
The only reason to develop awareness of negativity is so that you can ultimately start letting go of the negativity. Developing awareness of negativity, in your mind/inner-space, is like becoming aware that you are eating bad food, after you become aware you need to simply stop feeding yourself with it – you just drop it. So you “stay present” (or stay alert) only to watch the negativity operating within, and once you detect it, the next step is to start letting go of it. Some people get addicted to practicing “staying present” by making it into some technique of concentration (which gives them a feeling of control), and start using it as a means to silence the mind, thus making it into a suppression mechanism.
Moreover “staying present” (or staying aware) is not something you need to do all day long, because the brain has other things to do than just keep being aware all the time. Awareness is something you do now and then, to get a sense of the negativity in you, that’s all – it’s not a technique that you beat yourself up to perfect. With time you just feel more aware without requiring any conscious “doing” on your part, and the periods of being lost in the mind keep getting shorter.
At one point you drop the pointer of staying present
Staying present is only a temporary practice needed to develop the power of awareness – nothing more. Soon enough you will have enough awareness to detect the obvious, and subtle, patterns of negativity running inside you. It’s easy to detect negativity, in you, if you are honest with yourself – mostly your negativity would have something to do with self-hatred (or hatred towards life), belief in lack or belief in struggle. In fact, all forms of obsessive thinking in the mind (popularly known as OCD) is just a manifestation of an inner negativity – it’s not really a “disorder” of the brain rather it’s simply a repetitive thinking pattern fueled by the force of inner negativity. If you are not willing to be honest with yourself about your negativity, no matter how long you keep practicing staying present you will garner nothing useful out of it because soon you will start using it as a technique to somehow “silence” the mind, which basically defeats the whole point of the practice and makes it into another form of resistance.
As you can see a pointer like “staying present” can itself become a form of resistance if you use it as a means of suppressing your mind. Staying present doesn’t mean that you quiet the mind, or keenly observe your surroundings, because that’s just “concentration” and it serves no real value to detect inner negativity – it can easily just be a form of spiritual entertainment. Staying present is simply a pointer to observe the mind’s negativity and the negative energy in your inner-space – the more you observe the more you sense how much you are pulled around by negativity. Once you have observed this, it’s time to start relaxing and letting go – unless you relax, you can’t let go. Relaxing simply means to stay open, and allow the negative momentum to start ebbing away, because you are no longer “contracting” your focus on it. There comes a time when you no longer need to practice “staying present”, rather you just need to start staying open and relaxed, so that the suppressed negative energy can get released from your inner space and the negative momentum in your mind can start slowing down.
People find it difficult to “relax” and let go, they want to constantly make “effort”, so they keep on trying to stay alert/present (practicing it as a concentration technique) as if it’s something to perfect, some even go at it for years – it’s such a waste of time and energy if you use it as some technique of concentration. It’s illogical to even imagine that one can attain a state where one is keenly aware all day long because the brain by its very design has a very small capacity for concentration – it will get tired of concentrating, soon enough. When you have developed some awareness to watch your thoughts and feelings, it means you are “aware” enough. Now it’s time to start letting go of the negativity by just becoming relaxed – by relax I don’t mean anything spiritual or complex, just an ordinary state of being relaxed and open. The more you relax the faster you let go of negativity and sooner you come into alignment with life.
Life is inviting you to relax, can you take up this invitation?
The question is are you trusting of life enough to “relax”, because to relax requires a huge amount of trust in life. It’s easier to practice techniques like “staying alert” or staying present, but it’s much harder to just let go and relax – to stay in space of being effortless. All forms of guilt and doubts starts arising in the brain when it starts relaxing, because all along you have been ingrained in the principle of “action” and effort. To relax requires you to let go of your ego’s fears about becoming dysfunctional, and it requires a deep trust in life to take care of you. Your life-stream is already pulling you towards your natural expression which can only start unfolding when you let go of your mindset of effort – your natural expression is meant to be effortless, relaxed and in the flow. Very few have the courage to relax and let go, but the ones who develop this courage can easily become aligned with the pull of their life-stream starting with day one.
When I say “stay relaxed”, I just mean let go of all forms of struggle and resistance
– let go of trying to be right, let go of trying to get something right
– let go of trying to figure things out for a while
– let go of the questions of how,and when, life will fall in place
– let go of making struggle-based, or forced, actions
– let go of believing the negative talk in the mind
– let go of waiting to reach some perfect level of awareness
– let go of trying to live up to the outside expectations of you
– let go of forcing your body and let it move in its own rhythm
– let go of the mindset of “determination” (this is not about “will-power”, it’s about coming into your natural flow – will-power is basically a means of force). When you become aligned you don’t need any forced determination, you just move through inspiration.
– let go of all suppression, or force oriented, techniques including “staying present”
– let go of your stories of the past negativity that happened (let go of your bitterness, hatred and anger towards your past)
– let go of your delusion that you need to wait for something to happen before you can let go
– let go of your fear of letting go
– let go of the worry that you will become lazy and won’t take actions (everything that’s “really” required will get done, only the unnecessary actions won’t get done)
– let go of forcing yourself to not do, if the inspiration is there do something go ahead and do it
The pointer of letting go holds true for everything – be it obsessive thought patterns, be it confusion, be it any form of negativity; just let go of your struggle with it, and become relaxed, so that life-energy can have access to dissolving it. The negativity won’t vanish overnight, it takes time and you need to allow this time – that’s what it means to trust in your life-stream’s ability to heal, to sort things out and bring well-being.
If you don’t have the courage to let go, its best that you acknowledge it for now and stop asking “why is life not working out for me” – it’s not working out because you don’t have the courage to trust it and let go, you are still trying to use your “strategies” to make things work. Stop blaming life for your problems, it’s not possible for life to work out smoothly for you if your whole vibration is based on struggle, bitterness and distrust. If you can’t take the simple invitation to let go and relax, to allow life to orchestrate the circumstances for you and create inspiration in you for the right actions, it just means you trust your brain’s fear-based, limited, conditioning-based, past oriented and mechanical thinking over trusting your life-stream’s intelligence/capacity to set things right.
Are you testing life or trusting life?
Another problem is that people let go for a few days, and then start the pattern of – “nothing is happening, I am not getting any inspiration, the thoughts are not going, so I better start struggling again”. Letting go is not a technique that you use to “test” life’s ability to serve you, it’s a simple state of surrender and openness to the pull of your life-stream. At first as you surrender, the negative realities start coming down, your negative momentum (in the mind) starts dissolving, your inner space starts clearing out of negative energy – so for a while it’s purely a process of “deconstruction”. Once this deconstruction phase is quite done with, you start seeing the emergence of a movement towards a harmonious reality, your vibe starts becoming aligned/whole and your actions start coming from a place of inspiration, and you sense that you are finally living your natural expression.
Some people can immediately take the invitation to “let go” because it resonates for them deeply, as they have tried out all the mind techniques and seen its failure to solve their negativity. Some people are still looking for more techniques, and they even try to use “letting go” as some technique to get results instead of living it as a way of life. When you start letting go, initially there will be challenges where you need to make conscious choices in the favor of your joy/ease over struggle, its during these choices that you make it clear on how committed you are to letting go fully, to trust life’s invitation for you to let go of struggle/effort, to trust life’s capacity to bring in your well-being and desired reality – soon you will reach a point where you don’t have to make these conscious choices, because you will be well in the pull of your life-stream and from there on struggle no longer remains a choice.