This guest post was written by Mary Jaksch, the author of Goodlife ZEN.
Do you feel like life is accelerating? Maybe you look back at the last five years and wonder where time went. It may even feel as if all that’s left is stress – without moments of joy and peace.
I must admit, I also feel like this sometimes. But when I do, I reach for the miracle cure. This miracle cure doesn’t come in a bottle. We can’t buy it.
We already have the cure for stress within us.
I’m talking about the miracle of ‘Now’. It’s quite amazing. When we enter the ‘Now’ and become present – even just for a moment – stress dissolves.
How can we become present?
Awareness is the key to becoming present. We often confuse awareness with concentration, but these two mind-states are very different. Concentration is like a narrow beam of light shining on a task.
Awareness is the soft, full light of attention.
The word ‘attend’ implies that there is tenderness at work… that we are seeing with our heart. Attention means paying tender regard to the beasts and birds, neighbors, coffee cups and pencil sharpeners. When we pay tender regard to the dishes, even dish-washing becomes a joy.
Toni Packer, a contemporary meditation master says:
Attention comes from nowhere. It has no cause. It belongs to no-one.
When it functions effortlessly, there is no duality.
What she’s saying is that when we’re attending to the present moment, we lose the sharp distinction between the self locked in this skin-bag, and the world outside.
When we attend in this way, we feel the world open. And we make friends with our body.
Suddenly we become fully aware of the tenseness in our shoulders, the little bubble of hope in our mind, or the haze of sadness in our heart. And with this awareness we find that people are friendlier and cats purr louder.
Paying tender regard is simple, but not easy.
We need to stay steady in the face of our changing moods and the stimuli bombarding our senses.
What’s the connection with stress?
When we are stressed, our mind is split. One part is firmly focused on whatever is pressing in upon us, while the other part is giving minimal attention to whatever tasks need to be done quickly in the meantime.
Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are late for work and you are rushing around your home in preparation to leave. If a loved one starts telling you something important about what they are going to do today, how much of your attention is going to be focused on what they are telling you? Not much, I would think.
When we become present, we stop being preoccupied. In the space that opens for a moment, we can breathe deeply and listen deeply. For a moment, stress slips off our shoulders. And we can learn to have more and more moments of peacefulness in our life.
A student of mine wrote:
Each moment is a new opportunity. The next one is as fresh and full of promise as the thousand before that you missed, and it is completely empty of any judgment whatsoever. Nothing is carried over that you take with you. You don’t have to pass a good-person exam before you enter, it is totally unconditional. It’s as if it is saying… “Okay, so you missed me the last ten thousand moments, but look! Here I am again… and again… and again!” And you are welcomed with open arms.
Here’s how to take the miracle medicine:
There is a very simple way to become present. And the great thing is that the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. You can try it right now.
Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Listen to the sounds around you and feel the ground under your feet. As soon as you are present, gently touch your thumb and forefinger together on each hand.
This light touch is the trigger that can help you access the present moment, and escape stress.
Whenever you feel stressed, stop for a moment, take one deep breath, and touch your thumbs and forefingers together.
Mary Jaksch is an author, Zen Master, and psychotherapist. Enjoy reading her posts on Goodlife ZEN and follow her on Twitter.
Photo by: Chris Gin
Seamus Anthony says
Great post Mary 🙂
As well as reducing stress, practicing present moment awareness tends to fill me with awe for the miracle that is life itself.
Wow, this is really an amazing concept! So simple, but definitely not easy. It IS easy, however, to get so caught up in the every day stress of kids, work, relationships.. you name it, that you don’t really take the time to appreciate where we are at that specific moment. Awesome post!
No doubt, being in and enjoying the current moment is something I continuously fail to achieve. Thanks for the tip.
Yeah, I agree with the you all. When Mary first submitted this guest post, I read it and just sat in silence for about 15 minutes. I listened to the birds chirping and the neighbors conversing. I felt the chilly tile beneath my bare feet. It was soothing.
Stephen - Rat Race Trap says
Mary and Marc, this was beautiful. Only within the last month or so have I even become aware of what being in the present was all about. It allows you to eliminate regrets of the past and forget worries about the future. It allows you to move with freedom. I think I’m going to go focus on my breathing for a few minutes. Thank you!
This is great advice. Simply being present in the present is often underappreciated. When people do creative things like playing music, painting/drawing, writing blog posts or what have you (sex, too!), these are basically ways to get fully in touch with the present moment. It is what it means to enjoy yourself.
One way that’s helped me embrace this concept intellectually is realizing that the present moment is where the past and future meets. After all, the present is the culmination of all that’s past, and the future is being created with every passing moment. In other words, today is the convergence of days past and those to come.
When I find myself mulling about past stresses or future anxieties, I force myself to look no further than the present moment (maybe I’ll try the thumb-forefinger trick heh). Suddenly it doesn’t feel as bad. The only danger with this “present” approach, however, is that it is very vulnerable to complacency. Marc, please write a post on this matter and enlighten me!
Mary /GoodlifeZEN.com says
I’m glad my post is making a difference. Isn’t it strange that small life tweaks sometimes make the most difference?
I’ll be checking into these comments and will happy to answer any questions.
Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
Very beautiful post. I especially liked the part about “attention” being related to “tenderness.” I think that perspective will help me a lot.
This is not as easy as it sounds, at least for me. It can be difficult to put aside the worries and focus on the moment.
It is a wonderful idea though and something I certainly need to practice!
Steve C | MyWifeQuitHerJob.com says
If I’m late for work, in a rush to get out of the house and my wife starts telling me something important, I damn well try to pay attention. But it’s mainly because I fear the consequences:) I will definitely give your miracle medicine a try the next time I’m stressed!
I’m not sure how this helps to reduce my overall stress, but it does bring my attention to the current moment. I guess for those few seconds, I do feel a bit better.
Mary /GoodlifeZEN says
Hi Sass – you’re wondering how this can have a lasting effect and decrease stress long-term.
Mindfulness is a mind habit. If we get used to being in the present more and more, our stress level definitely decreases over time. It takes time to change a habit, and especially a mind habit.
This miracle medicine has to taken sip by sip as often as possible during the day 🙂
“become present.” I want to make that my mantra!
Bamboo Forest - PunIntended says
This is a tremendous post Mary. And I love the quote you shared with us that one of your students wrote.
This post is going into my Delicious.
The miracle medicine really works !
thanks for sharing.
Chuck Bluestein says
Interesting ideas, but if it were that simple for someone to be in the present, then there would be no need for someone to become a Zen Buddhist. There would also be no need for someone to do a lot of meditation and become a meditation master.
Dr Wayne Dyer said that there is no such thing as stress, only stressful thoughts! Have you heard of Scientology? It is practiced by Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Did you know that the goal of it is to be in the present?
But they spend time working on the traumas from lifetimes that keep you trapped in the past. In fact they will work on one trauma until you no longer have attention units trapped in that event. When they are done with that one event, then what happens to those trapped attention units? They then automatically return to the present moment called now.
You and Mary both said it very well.
Mary said, “Mindfulness is a mind habit. If we get used to being in the present more and more, our stress level definitely decreases over time. It takes time to change a habit, and especially a mind habit.”
You said, (taken out of context) “…someone has to do a lot of meditation and *become* a meditation master.”
Often times when you take time to be present you access feelings you have been trying so desperately to avoid. This is why distract ourselves!
The image of deep, peaceful meditation is somewhat misleading. You have to work though “traumas”, and whatever emotions you have been ignoring in order to get to that place of peace. It is a journey.
To quote Mary, “We need to stay steady in the face of our changing moods and the stimuli bombarding our senses.” And to paraphrase you, we need to work on one trauma until we no longer have emotions trapped to that event, then we move on to the next.
Yes, mindfulness is a simple tool.
Yes, it takes a lifetime of practice to live in the present.
Yes, it is hard.
Yes, it is worth it.
This is perfect. Now when I feel stressed I have a way to come back to the present. I have been having anxiety for the last 8 months and this will be a great way for me to take things down when I need to. Thank you. Your posts have been such a wonderful help to me in the last several months.