One of the hardest things we have to do in life is cultivate presence away from our meditation practice. Trust me; there is a huge difference between being present during a meditation session and being present while having a conversation with your spouse.
With a dedicated and consistent practice, most of us have access to some presence during meditation, but imagine what it would be like if we could be present when we’re stuck in traffic or when we have deadlines starting to pile up at work.
Here’s the thing about presence: it’s always there and you can tap into it at any time, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to cultivate. In other words, being present requires focus and concentration.
The other day I went on a hike with my wife Chante in the beautiful area of Galena Forest here in Reno, Nevada. We couldn’t have picked a better day to go for a casual stroll through the woods, as every leaf and tree seemed to be emblazoned in red, yellow and orange. Fall had just begun and instead of walking through the lush green forest, we found ourselves walking through a barren and fiery landscape ripe for winter.
As we walked along the windy path, we came across a small meadow that seemed to have come out of nowhere. Considering most of the forest was covered with tall trees, the empty field took both of us by surprise.
Of course, Chante and I were intrigued, so we altered our course and headed for the batch of flowers. As we approached the flowers, we were both immediately struck by their beauty. Each flower seemed to be in the perfect place and in perfect order despite the juxtaposition of naked trees and fallen leaves.
Before sitting down to hold the flowers, I told Chante to pretend as though she didn’t know what a flower was and asked her to look at each one as if she was a child again. I knew that reframing her idea and narratives about what a flower was would give us access to a dimension of the flower that otherwise would be overlooked.
Sure enough, as we continued to observe each flower with all our senses, my wife suddenly looked up at me and said, “Wow, I’ve never seen a flower like this before!” I told her I hadn’t either and as I watched my wife continue to observe the flowers with an almost child-like curiosity it suddenly hit me - maybe the key to presence is focus and curiosity, not willpower.
Maybe, instead of trying to force ourselves into the present we can simply choose to focus on our surroundings while simultaneously being mindful of the old tapes like, “This is this and that is that” playing in the background.
I’ve always known that focus can bring us into the moment, but what I didn’t realize until after seeing those flowers for the first time was that the more you focus, the more presence you cultivate. As we walked through the forest I could definitely feel an underlying level of presence, but it wasn’t until we stopped to actually look at these flowers that I really felt like I was in the moment and experiencing the ephemeral “now.”
In other words, there is an appreciable difference in quality of presence that manifests itself through intense study compared to presence cultivated through passive observation. Now, we all know that being in the present moment is great for us, but here is exactly what I noticed as my wife and I observed the flowers with overt curiosity:
First, we both became more relaxed and calm.
Strangely, taking time to truly observe something as banal as a flower wasn’t a waste of time and didn’t create more anxiety. In fact, it had the opposite effect! The more we study what is, the deeper we can go, the more at ease we feel because we fall deeper and deeper into the eternal truth of the present moment.
The second thing that I noticed was that intense observation brought about intense gratitude.
Gratitude for the experience of the flower, gratitude for the experience of being present and gratitude for life itself. What amazed me about taking the time to really know what a flower looked like is that it brought Chante and I closer together.
At one point, when my concentration on the flower was at its highest, I couldn’t distinguish between where I ended and the flower began. In other words, the more I studied the more I felt connected to both the flower and to my wife…
After what seemed like 15 minutes, my wife dropped the last flower and said to me half-jokingly, “Why have you never told me flowers could be this beautiful?!” Of course, we both knew the beauty of a flower had always been there but its secrets weren’t revealed to us until we stopped what we were doing and studied them intensely. That’s the beauty and perhaps the tragedy of the story.
There is beauty all around us and the eternal now is always available to us, but unfortunately many of us miss it because we don’t know how to focus and concentrate.
Every time we make the choice to be in the present moment we are choosing to be one with life and part of this existence. Every time we bring ourselves into the now we tap into a universal truth that has the power to restore and reinvigorate our souls!
So the next time you feel like you could use a little presence in your life, pick up a flower or any other mundane object and study it as if you’ve never seen one before and remember this; intense study can lead to intense presence…
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This is a guest post written by J.C Conway. You can email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JCConway1
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