What does it mean to be fully present? Many religions and spiritual practices refer to the idea. But it is not necessary to follow any particular practice to acquire the awareness and skill to be present. Yet that skill is useful in becoming more fully human.
However, the task is not so easy as it may seem. As a young man reading about Zen Buddhism for the first time, I thought it was just a switch which, once flipped, stayed “on” and that was it. Yet, that little skill, stumbled upon by early spiritual practices such as Buddhism, can lead to a blossoming of confidence and compassion. It balances many issues of selfishness which arise from too much focus on “self-development”.
Perhaps it’s the way my psyche is built, but I tend to think of myself as very separate from the world, limited by my ability to “perform” on the world stage. My self-expectations precede and deflate any possibility of spontaneous happiness. I get lost in this artificial separateness and forget to just “be” and “breathe” into whatever happens.
Rather than approach these issues from a psychological perspective, I have found that practicing the following “exercise” can break the paranoid illusion of separateness from the outside world. When I am at the “surface” of my self, I can make eye contact with others without feeling invasive of their space or invaded by their probing eyes. (Yes, I feel uncomfortable with eye contact) It’s a simple way to clarify our interactions on the “world stage”, so that our character is more innocent and open, rather than being preoccupied by judgment, fear or hesitation.
When we let go of the need to analyze and carve out meaning, we let in a different kind of awareness. A primary sense of being arises. If you think of letting go a big “muscle” behind the eyes and nose, let it soften and sink open, you begin to feel something else happening. You come out into the world and let the world in simultaneously, as if a big fish tank has broken and you realize the water and air can mix just fine.
You meet the world with your primary self, or what might be called simple self or original self. When the two become well acquainted, you notice how much more present you can be during times of stress and frustration. This primary self is almost always superseded by our crazy, mental, stressful culture. We either focus intently on something, usually an idea or activity, or we space out and disappear altogether.
This practice can help with ego and selfishness. If we see ourself as something continuous between inside and outside, it becomes easier to let go of hurt, anger and frustration. Forgiveness is only possible when you let in compassion and pity. Anger is easier to release when you see that caring and understanding can be received from others. It’s not a cure all, but it helps soften the pain of separateness. We can then begin the long process of embracing connections within our large world with less inhibition and fear.