Attention is a peaceful shelter from thought. It is certain that many of the beneficial properties of paying attention to the present have gone unnoticed throughout the course of human history. If things had been different, the selfishness that has caused so much suffering would have been replaced by the serenity and peace which result from focusing attention to the present.
Humans have a tendency to ramble and wander aimlessly. In life, we often swing between thoughts which evoke a past which never existed and thoughts in which we imagine a future that will never exist either. We find ourselves becoming distracted and distant, and the only life which actually exists, that which exists in the present, slips through our fingers. When we are unfocused and distracted, life passes us by.
This distraction is not the peaceful shelter we need. The anxiety which is born from ceaseless mental wandering is full of fears of insecurity and leads us to developing selfish behaviours which do not serve us.
This mental wandering is a compulsive expression of thought, although it is not the only expression of thought. This mental wandering is a result of the misuse of a marvellous tool afforded to us by evolution: Thought. If the goal of the evolution of life is to contribute to its preservation, the appropriate use of thought must be in its favour and not threaten its survival. This undirected mental wandering makes us ill with anxiety, isolates us from the world and creates an emotional state which is fertile ground for selfish and defensive behaviours, it is therefore a poor decision to allow this unfettered mental wandering to continue. Allowing ourselves to do this is an unhealthy and emotionally immature decision, as it hurts us and the people around us.
Living in the present rescues us from this immature conduct of which mental wandering is a part. Living in the present protects us against becoming ill with anxiety and prevents us from contaminating others with our own negative thoughts.
If we learn to centre ourselves in the present moment, we find that we have better communication, both with others and with ourselves, and at the same time see an increase in internal peace and serenity. Living in the here and now fills us with empathy for that which life searches for in order to survive. To live outside of the present moment puts our existence in danger, since distraction takes us away from the present moment and from other people. Distraction leads us down a path of isolation and with it the search for false solutions to the fears and insecurities produced by it.
Unless we are present in the moment, life will pass us by. Thinking involuntarily of past memories or dreams for the future prevents us from living the life which surrounds us and forces us to inhabit instead the narrow confines of our memories. To live distracted from the present is to damage life, damage that is undone when we pay attention to the present and accept the reality of life.
Living in the here and now affords us the opportunity of learning, as it allows us to listen to ourselves and others, without judgement or prejudice. Paying attention to the present connects us with our physical sensations, with our emotions, feelings and thoughts, accepting them as they are presented to us. Focusing attention on the here and now allows us to empathise with other people’s interpretations of the world. Centring ourselves in the present allows us to listen to others using our 5 senses, without preconceived value judgements. It allows us to discover the space that surrounds us, in which colours will become more vivid and sounds will become clearer.
Keeping our attention focused on the present requires practice and demands a conscious effort. To maintain mental awareness of physical sensations while doing what we need to do is a simple practice. We can focus our attention on one of our fists, or our nose as we inhale and exhale, or the position of our body. The important thing is that we keep our attention “turned on” and focused on what we are experiencing. This in itself will provide us with peace and serenity. It is important to clarify that as we spend more time practicing aour attention to the present on a daily basis, we will become increasingly aware of the growing impact it is having on our lives.
To grow and develop in healthy and sustainable ways requires us to live in harmony and this harmony doesn’t exist when we live outside of the present, as it produces and feeds anxiety, fear and the sensation of insecurity. Harmony presents itself to us as a way of satisfying a higher necessity. When we have satisfied our basic physical needs, the powerful urge to satisfy higher needs such as harmony and inner peace begins to emerge. It is not the same to try and satisfy the needs of relationships with others and with ourselves form a condition of anxiety and selfishness that stems from compulsive thinking, as it is to satisfy them from the serenity that comes from being present in the moment. When we satisfy the need for harmonious relationships with others and with ourselves, it is because our conduct is aligned with our values, such as honesty, humility, tolerance, acceptance, gratitude and so on.
Living harmoniously fills us with a deep joy, one that some people call “auto-realisation.” In order to create conditions of harmony and auto-realisation in our lives, it is necessary to learn to live in the present.