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Rich Living: How to Be Present

The starting point of living a rich life is to pay attention to it.  This seems ridiculously obvious, until you try doing it on a consistent basis and become more aware of how your brain can go rabbiting off from the present moment and gnawing on stupid things like What That Mean Person Said On The Internet.  Honing one’s ability to keep the mind on the moment is ultimately a lifetime process.

Think of it a bit like an exercise program.  There’s never really a point when you can say “Yay!  I’m fit now!” and never have to exercise again.  If you do, you’ll be okay for a while but eventually your body will regress for lack of challenges.  However, much like fitness, the more you do, the better you get at it to the point that a flight of stairs that would normally wipe you out completely can now be ascended two steps at a time.  (And I’m not exactly one to talk about keeping in shape, mind you; how do you think I know about what happens when you slack off?)

There are loads and loads of books and resources on mindfulness and presence, from The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh (which I highly recommend) to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (which likewise I did benefit from, though I did have some issues with.)  If that’s too woo for you, there are many nifty scientific studies on the benefits of mindfulness.

Does this mean you can’t ever let your mind wander ever?  Of course not.  But presence allows you to notice when your mind is wandering and bring it back to the moment.  You can even set your mind loose and decide “I’m going to just sit and think for a while.”  (This is one of the reasons I carry a catbook–so I can allow my mind to ramble and still remain in the present moment as I focus on the pen on the page getting all my thoughts down.)

But what if the present moment is kinda sucky?  Wouldn’t it be better to vanish into the mental clouds for a while until the moment passes?

Here’s the thing.  A rich life is not a pain-free life, nor a perpetually happy life.  A rich life has moments of agony as well as bliss, grief as well as elation, loss as well as gain.  That is how life works.  You have to be there for all of it.  But you will notice that if you accept the pain and honor the pain, it will pass more quickly than if you try to smother it.  Pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong that needs to be set right.  By paying attention to it, you can determine its source and have a clearer idea of what to do about it.  Emotional pain is much the same way.

An important part of presence is acceptance.  There are some things you can change.  If you’re in an uncomfortable position on the couch, you can shift and get more comfortable.  There are, however, some things that you can’t.  If you’re stuck in traffic, there’s really not much you can do except wait.  (Unless, I suppose, you want to be one of those people who thinks that the fact that they’re in a big hurry qualifies them for the emergency lane.)  While you wait, you can seethe about how horrible traffic is, or you can turn up the stereo, plug in some music you like and pay attention to that until traffic moves forward some more.  Your call.

Presence is the practice in which all other components of rich living are rooted.  By seeing what you are surrounded by, you are able to be grateful for it and to be curious about it.  And the best way to be yourself is to be who you are in this moment, without waiting for some better moment to arrive.

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