What is presence exactly? And how does it relate to mindfulness and living in the present moment?
Recently I had an extraordinary experience. It happened while I was walking down the street in my neighborhood. And it got me thinking about mindful presence and how we each experience our world.
But before we go any further, I want to ask you a question. How often do you slow down? How much do you press the pause button in the middle of the daily fray and let yourself drop headlong and undefended into the present moment?
Fully Immersed In The Present Moment
I do it all the time. I consider it part of my meditation practice. But I also think it’s a simple part of being human. I think paying attention to the world around you, fully immersed in the present momentum, is a big part of what makes us human.
For me, it ignites my senses. When I just stop, or slow down, and ground myself in the total physical experience of being alive right now, it never fails to be amazing. It opens all my senses and awakens me to the world around me.
In fact, I just read an article highlighting a Harvard University study that said, “27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises stimulated a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”
Ok, so we can call it mindfulness and meditation, or we can call it slowing down and paying attention in the present moment. Whatever it is, it’s obviously good for you on more levels than we understand.
We know it’s good. Our gut, our mind, our experience–and now the science–tells us as much.
The Meditative Current
So back to this experience I wanted to share. The other day I was working and after many hours reading and writing about meditation, I was swimming in a meditative current. I didn’t realize it until I stepped out into the twilight air to run some errands.
It was amazing. I walked down Centre Street here in Boston on my way to CVS and all my senses were ablaze.
Everything was incredible–the noise, the light, the silhouettes of trees and houses against the skylit backdrop. Life was simply happening and I was filled with a deep gratitude to be walking in the midst of it all feeling deeply connected to the whole shebang.
In fact, I couldn’t get enough of it, so I just walked really really slow. In that moment, just the simplicity of being was like drinking a fine wine, but better.
Of course, I can’t say that’s a permanent state or even a daily outcome of my practice. And to be honest, I don’t see that as the goal of my practice…to experience an unbroken series of “enlightened moments.” I’m not sure that would even be desirable.
Mindful Presence & The Wholeness of Life
But what I love is how meditation often brings forward this rich connection to life. There’s no division. It feels simple and whole. And sometimes that wholeness and connectivity surges to the fore of our awareness. When that happens, everything has a kind of luster or light emanating from it.
For me, occasional experiences like this help break the crust that can accumulate so easily in the daily grind. Can you relate at all to what I’m talking about?
In contrast to the often fragmented experience of being human, the sense of connection and continuity becomes primary.
Is this experience just dopamine being dripped out by your brain or it is a sign of some greater intelligence woven into reality? Those are bigger questions to be sure, and one’s I don’t feel particularly qualified to answer.
But in terms of living in the present moment, it seems to me that it’s important for you and me to have these experiences on a regular basis.
How to Cultivate Your Mindful Presence
And the truth is, those experiences are never far away. They can feel a million miles from the here and now, but they’re not. You see, that’s the power of mindfulness. At any moment, you can ground your entire being in the radical immediacy of this moment. Whatever you’re obsessing about, you can drop it completely.
Here, try it right now. Just put all your attention on listening, hearing, feeling, sensing, and living totally in this moment now.
All you need to do is follow your five senses. Give yourself over completely to your immediate experience of being alive and let it be exactly what it is. Don’t try and change anything. The key is, as Ram Dass encouraged us almost half a century ago, to be here now.
Morgan Dix says
Thanks a lot Samadhi
Thanks for this article Morgan. I appreciate the fact that mindfulness occur when one realizes the present moment by being a keen observer of his/her five senses. However, I do feel that those who are just beginning to meditate, they will find it a bit difficult. In the initial stage, an anchor is required.
That’s why in most of the traditions, focusing on just one sense (normally on breathing) is recommended. Just my two cents on your wonderful article.
Morgan Dix says
Thanks so much for your feedback and warm comments Eklavya. That’s a really interesting point. In the context I learned, it was a hard school, and the practice was all about dropping right into unconditioned awareness, and I’ve found that the 5 senses can be a real gateway for that. But yes, I think you’re right too. Focusing on just one of the senses can be an effective way when you’re starting out to keep it simple. That is also how our courses start out – with a focused awareness technique on breath observation. It’s simple, yes, but there’s no real limits to how deep that can go.
Thanks for your appreciative thoughts Morgan. In a way, we both are correct. In the end, the only thing which remains is a choice-less awareness of the present moment. This is something which is very difficult to state in words. To achieve to this state, we all have to start from the scratch- from one sense to five sense – and then to a void !
Valda O'Kane says
I’ve experienced that moment where I’m going about my normal routine in a more aware state …making myself aware of my breath, feeling my footsteps on the ground and attempting to clear my thoughts and without warning this amazing feeling of joy and happiness comes over me that it makes me smile. I shared this moment with my son and he said he could relate. It’s a feeling of being high without any intoxicant. It doesn’t happen often and I think it’s important to appreciate the moment but not be searching and grasping for it to happen. I have found that I have a greater appreciation for sights and sounds and will frequently bring my awareness to either or both
when out walking especially in nature.
Morgan Dix says
Thanks for sharing your experience Valda. That’s beautiful and I can relate too. Especially to the experience of entering into a mindful state through listening when I’m out in the woods or walking around the local pond here where the birds are chirping away :-).