To Be Present

June 10, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Letting the mind wander allows for thought development, but the mind must maintain a force, a desire to trace that thought. To be present with a single thought, live in it and travel with it. This idea of presence draws us in a single direction, but seems to disregard time and space. Instead, we are to focus on one idea, one thought. We are pulled in many directions: the mind, senses, emotions, or to the immediate environment. When someone says, “let me be”, they mean to be left alone. Avoid their space, in other words. This is a physical notion, however, and being alone rarely removes the problematic situation from one's mind. So, there is a separation of being that arises from the seemingly simple notion of presence. The mind can be in a separate space from the body and vice versa. Are we to be made aware of this? Are we to attempt to sit with a moment both physically and mentally? But how can the mind learn to disregard time?

In Moments of Being Virginia Woolf claims that the perspective of the past deepens our awareness of the present. She writes, “The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river. Then one sees through the surface to the depths. In those moments I find one of my greatest satisfactions, not that I am thinking of the past; but that it is then that I am living most fully in the present. For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else, when the film on the camera reaches only the eye. But to feel the present sliding over the depths of the past, peace is necessary. The present must be smooth, habitual. For this reason - that it destroys the fullness of life - any break causes me extreme distress; it breaks; it shallows; it turns the depth into hard thin splinters... I write this partly in order to recover my sense of the present by getting the past to shadow this broken surface. Let me then, like a child advancing with bare feet into a cold river, descend again into the stream.” (Read more here.)

According to Deepak Chopra, however, letting the mind wander opposes the idea of being present. He says instead that following the many thoughts that jump through the mind is simply a distraction. He claims that being present is a “highly aware state” and that many qualities can affect (or overshadow) this awareness. Often, people are distracted by emotion, worry, doubt. Even the effort to stay focused is a distraction. It is interesting, however, that Chopra uses the same metaphor as Virginia Woolf. He writes, “What the Buddhists call mindfulness has to become a natural state. You can't struggle to attain it, but you can learn to go deeper than the superficial mind, with its constant activity and its need to escape. The simplest metaphor would be a river, which is turbulent on the surface but becomes more still the deeper you go, until at the very bottom there is no current at all. Yet, notice the river is made of the same water at every level. The same is true of the mind. Whether turbulent or still, it is made only of awareness.” (Read more here.)

Trying to develop a single thought seems very different than trying to be still with one self and yet both are very active mental tasks. In holding still, one must repress the myriad associations which present themselves to the mind. More than associations, the mind must unlearn all that it knows about the mind. Disconnect from sensation instead of connect, which will, ironically, create some sort of connection. After all, the point of being present to oneself is self-connection. Being in the presence of something whole is exceedingly rare – as is the feeling of being whole.

It is ironic that the same function can develop such a variety of spaces. The mind and body can be unified by the mind, they can also be separated by thought. In other words, letting the mind wander away from a physical space can create two possibilities: first, the sense of being whole within ourselves, or second, longing for wholeness. This second function offers moments and memories that we perceive as holistic, but are instead, segments of reality coupled with memory. This kind of nostalgia lets our minds (re)create moments which grow into an actual physical presence. The moments then assume space, time, dimension and function. They do this all within the space of the mind. Much of this composition includes emotional attachments and residue from specific memories. These may, in the end, distract us from being whole.

Image ID: 347658884. Copyright: rdonar.

Image ID: 347658884. Copyright: rdonar.

"Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Next week, we will further discuss this idea of being and discover what type of presence derives from it.

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