Many people, both famous and obscure, have written about having an enlightenment experience. In describing this, being present is always mentioned, so it is easy to infer that it too requires some great epiphany.
Yet being present is not that inaccessible, and to see why, it helps to look at its contrasts, the past and the future. Even primitive species incorporate these. Learning what plants are bitter or what insects are dangerous incorporates the past as memory. Catching prey by anticipating its path is to model the future.
With the advent of the fore-brain and language, our mental models of the past and the future have allowed us unprecedented control over the natural world, and our thoughts operate like an additional sense about the world, one that sometimes disagrees with our existing senses. No, the sun does not move across the sky. No, lead pipes are not a good plumbing choice.
These dual and frequently dueling perceptions are why we are so often conflicted. Our fore-brains speak to us in one language, while our older animal intuitions, incorporating millennia of experience, speak to us in a completely different language, that of the body and the senses. Being present simply means listening to that language as well.
It’s impossible to shut the fore-brain up entirely. Instead, realize that there are two conversations going on simultaneously, and just like at a party, you can choose which conversation to listen to.
You can experience being present by paying attention to your senses as well as your thoughts #quote Click To TweetBeing present with someone means giving them your full attention; not just their words, but their tone of voice, their stance, their hesitations and where they look and how they fidget. Remember, these cues are non-verbal, you are absorbing holistic information –don’t try to break it down with your thought mind. Sure, you can find words to categorize them and pass them to your fore-brain, but this is a different form of knowledge, just as hearing a bird and seeing a bird are two different things.
We often cannot see what is in front of our eyes until it is pointed out. The message of our senses exists but is usually drowned out by our brain loudly giving its opinion. Learn to distinguish the two voices and use them both. When you pay attention in this way, you are not formulating a response to what the person is saying, you are not passing judgments on them, you are potentially ego-less. You are there with your full self, absorbing all that you can of the other.
When you give your full attention to someone, they feel heard and seen, and they will offer more of themselves; they feel less defensive, more accepted and they most often share more intimacy. This pulls you both into the present and creates the possibility of an adventure, of something creative and new, something that exists only in the present.
When you can take this level of attention into the world, whether it be to nature, your coffee shop, or your relationship, there is the possibility of slipping the bonds of ego, of escaping your identity, of being, even if only for a moment, a part of that landscape. In that very real sense, you are being here now.