The mind as we all know is a faculty within us that has the capacity to stray and wander. It does not stay with what is present. There is no wonder then that it has been compared with a wild elephant or an untamed monkey. I would say it’s like a hungry animal that needs stimulating food for its palate all the time. Whenever it doesn’t get enough interesting stuff, it searches in another place.
And that is exactly why it does not like to be in the present- Because there isn’t enough food for it to chew upon… The present is not always full of adventure or pleasure or even pain for that matter. The present may be and often is fairly neutral. You are sitting on a chair and looking at a computer screen. There is nothing greatly exciting about it. You are cooking and looking at your dish. Perhaps nothing there excites you either, at least not on all the days when you cook. Maybe it is just routine. You are driving down the same road to work for the hundredth time. Again what’s new there?! These are the mind’s interpretations of the situation, they may not be true. This is how the mind works and so it strays from this neutral, neither pleasurable nor painful activity to something a bit juicier. It can stray to happier memories of the past or to a painful memory of the friend who spoke to you rudely and put you down the other day, or to fantasies of some kind. But more often than not it strays to attempt to resolve problems that are or have become a seemingly big part of your life.
So the mind goes right back to thinking about the illness you maybe going through or financial worries or relationship discomforts or rebellious or underperforming children and so on. And the mind now has something more interesting to do than to look at the boring steering wheel or computer screen or dish.
Some of us might even believe we are being productive when we frequently think about problems. We are using our mind efficiently trying to solve problems rather than blankly looking at or experiencing something neutral in the present. So what is the problem with that? Well the only thing is…
Not being in the present comes at a cost to you
Yes you think you are being productive. Or even that you are giving those aspects of your life that are more meaningful more of your time rather than wasting it doing nothing in particular. Also a lot of times you have gotten an escape from being bored. After all worrying about the stress at work is less boring than staring at a steering wheel.
However ask yourself these questions which will help you reflect:
“Am I present in the reality that is unfolding all around me now?”
“What is really my life? Is it not a collection of all the moments that I go through second by second”?
“If I quantified my life into moments, how many moments have really been painful and how many joyful and how many neutral”?
“Is my mind experiencing all these moments? Or is it stuck in a few”?
These questions help us see that very often the amount of “Mind Space” we dedicate to problems is a hundredfold greater than the amount of time the problems really exist. We are often worrying about something that has happened in the past and brooding over why it happened that way with us or with those close to us or something in the future that we fear may happen and ruin our peace of mind.
Do we ask ourselves “what about my peace of mind that is getting ruined now”?
Aren’t you missing the minutes that pass you by unnoticed as you live in some time-frame of the past or the future?
An analogy I often give my clients in therapy when I find them preoccupied with thoughts of future anxieties is:
“If you are walking down a road, always extremely focused on your destination and very conscious of all the potential potholes that you might fall in on your way, it is very likely you will miss the flowers that bloom on the sidewalk or the beautiful litter of puppies with beady eyes that just came into existence a few minutes ago”.
In other words, we just miss the joy and beauty that life seems to offer us in the present. And this is just one small part of our loss.
The other problem, is in our mind, all those negatives that we are trying to resolve are becoming our life. The pains and disappointments that belong to just a few moments or at maximum a few hours in a day are poisoning the rest of the time.
Very soon frustration with life grows. Life feels like a pressure and it feels unworthy of living. The joy slowly gets sucked out, leaving us with a frustrated sense of being burdened with problems to be resolved and tasks and goals to be accomplished.
Simply put, if we allow our mind to have it’s way, not realizing and becoming aware of its true nature, life will slowly become focused on a handful of problems that we jostle with all the time. And before we know it, we have lost several years or decades just struggling with those problems and regrets, getting more negative, cynical and upset with time. It’s time we looked within and found the joy of being in the neutral reality rather than in the caught-up story that our mind tells us.
We will put up another blog post soon that will be on actual steps and techniques that help in understanding the nature of the mind and more questions to reflect on that help you to come back to the present.