I’m sitting on my porch, night is falling, its twilight. Crickets are chirping, people are coming home from dinner or from work. I have a citronella candle burning to keep the mosquitoes away. But instead of of being here in this moment, becoming dark and quiet and peace-full, I’m like a little boy peering through a curtained window at this world.
I’m looking through thin cotton linens and glass, and I don’t quite deserve or belong in the world that I’m in. So instead I gaze out, forlornly, through my window at the world and name things. It’s as if I think by naming things I earn the right to be here. And it’s not until I have named and understood everything I see, participate in, or experience, that I feel I have earned a place in the world. Obviously this is false.
I deserve to be in the world because I AM in the world. My suffering and my eventual death are the price I pay to be part of this world. But so often I’m not in the world, I’m in my little house, my little cabin, looking out through dirty glass and gossamer window dressings. Because of my labeling mind I’m always at least one step away from where the action is.
The incessant naming, labeling, categorizing, quantifying, measuring; all of this is keeping me from full participation in the world. It feels like participation because my mind is so busy with it, but it’s more like the batter in a baseball game describing the pitch coming towards him rather than just swinging at it.
Presence is like trying to see yourself from outside of yourself, like trying to get a three-dimensional image of yourself sitting in the world, but your thinking mind is constantly trying to convince you that you’re not actually in the world, through its labeling, so that you can’t live with things while you look at them.
Being present means I can’t look at the tree in front of my porch and think to myself “tree”. There is no tree, because the tree is just there. It’s not to say that there’s nothing there, but the thing that’s there and the thing that’s here labeling things…they’re both just here. It’s only my mind that looks there and labels the tree and then reflects upon myself and thinks “myself”.
Being present also means being in the Present, which is the only time we have anyway. It means I can’t fall into the traps of Past and Future.
So how can you be present? Find a quiet place to sit. Turn off your cell phone, turn off the radio and the TV. If you have a quiet place outside, sit there; if not, sit in your living room or your bedroom and look out a window. Take a few deep breaths, but don’t think of it as meditation or immediately your mind will start to label everything through a meditative lens and you’ll find yourself forcing yourself to “meditate”. Instead, just take a few deep breaths and look out the window. Imagine watching yourself looking out the window from another person’s perspective. But you mustn’t think of yourself as “myself”, and whatever your eyes fall upon you mustn’t label either, because as soon as you think “myself” or “that tree” or “the birds I can hear”, you’ve lost it. You’re no longer present. You’re back in your head, you’re like me, a little boy looking through a dirty window and screen.
Go ahead, try it now. Turn off your phone, find a quiet place in the world, and be present with it without labeling it, categorizing it, or being a separate “self” in it.