Being Present

The thoughts I have while I tap out these words are already history. One might say that one’s life consists entirely of memory. Even the one present moment that is so difficult to grasp.

According to clinical, scientific researchers, our brains require a millisecond (0.001 second) to respond to a visual stimulus. Furthermore, that what our brains can identify which we notice at a glance, requires at least 300 milliseconds (0.300 second) or approximately one third of a second. That means by the time we perceive an event, a fraction of a second has already elapsed. That fraction of a second only seems like a piddling amount of time, but the fact remains that by the time we’re aware of the event, it has already happened in the past. We might further deduct that to live fully in the present is unobtainium.

With that little mental exercise out of the way, we can assume that spiritual seekers and philosophers of the past did not concern themselves with scientific analysis of neurological data regarding how we perceive time and events. Anyway, most of us are not of the mindset to read theses about this topic that have been written by scientific researchers. We cannot personally justify spending the time and energy to do so.

What we probably desire, is to cultivate the ability to be more fully aware of events in our lives at the same time we are experiencing those events. This is an exceedingly difficult practice to achieve. For instance, how often does it happen that when we are in the midst of an exquisitely pleasurable experience, yet the mind wanders for even a few moments to think about something entirely unrelated?

For example, I might be listening to the finale of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Symphony Number Three” (“The Organ Symphony”). Whilst getting goose-bumps in the process, my mind is suddenly triggered to think about another thrilling experience of the past–perhaps driving a car on a twisting, mountain highway. Such intrusive thoughts, even if they’re pleasant, obscure my intent to fully experience the luxurious sounds of the symphony’s final minutes. If I try to block the thoughts about driving in the mountains, that effort further obscures the intentional, present act of listening to the orchestra. As a result, I am not living entirely in the moment.

On the other hand, in another sense, I may have been doing so all along. If I had the presence of mind to be aware that the mind had been momentarily distracted by the memory of the mountain drive; and also aware of my mental attempts to clear away those thoughts, we might deduct that, in a certain sense, I was still living in the moment during the symphony’s finale.

Highly skilled meditators experience similar conundrums. To the outside observer, the monk appears to be seated on his cushion, thinking no thoughts, while blissfully engaging in the present moment. However, if we could actually telereceive (a form of telepathy) the monk’s thoughts, we would discover that intrusive thoughts pop up, uninvited, into his head.

Meanwhile, the skilled monk would be in the process of observing those intrusive thoughts and being simultaneously aware of his efforts to let them go. Therefore, the monk’s act of living in the moment rests on the razor’s edge of awareness. At another time, he might also find it difficult to remain fully in the present while listening to his own favorite music. He will once again take care to weed out the intrusive thoughts.

The point of today’s post is to reassure anyone who is trying her or his best to live in the present moment, that it is OK to have intrusive thoughts. It’s even better to be aware of the intrusive nature of those thoughts and to be cognizant of efforts to let those thoughts go. A fair share of living in the moment is the awareness of our disruptive thoughts and the act of allowing them to pass by. We can do this by simply paying attention–informal meditation.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. “If you abandon the present moment, you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Meanderings, philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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