Mon, Jan. 20

The presents of presence

It happens a lot. I get behind a slow driver and I suddenly feel all this pressure to get where I’m going fast! Impatience hangs heavy in my gut. I realize that my hurry-up mode has whisked me out of the present moment into thoughts about the future and “getting there.”

A few years ago, I read Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. At the time, it seemed like a tall order to put into practice the varying ways he suggested to live in the present moment. My mind would jump into the past, rehashing events and grievances and regrets. It spent a lot of time in “if only” and “woulda, shoulda, coulda.”

More often, though, my mind leaped into the future with “what if” scenarios. It would imagine the worst, especially in the area of money and finances. My stomach would tie itself into knots, and the fear felt like a fist thrusting into my solar plexus.

Through the years, I kept practicing staying present. Though progress was slow, I’ve noticed that I’ve improved in the amount of time I’m able to keep focused in the present moment. Some realizations helped the process.

I saw that past and future don’t exist. The past isn’t real. It exists only in memory. And my memories don’t seem to jive with memories that others have of the exact same events, so how real could they be? I saw how, when I (and others I know) dwell on past occurrences, it often leads to depression.

Similarly, the future doesn’t really exist, either, except in imagination. None of it is happening now. I noticed how, when I allowed worst-case scenarios to play out on the stage of my mind, it resulted in worry and anxiety. The anxiety became so intense at times that I would lose track of my surroundings. And I would blame others for my anxiety, making myself quite unhappy.

I realized that guidance and direction for life penetrate only the present moment. If my mind happens to dwell in past mode or future mode, I miss the direction that Life shines into the Now. If I’m present, I “hear” it. I perceive where the directional flow leads, and I can then follow it. If I’m in past or future, forget it. The guidance is still there, but I miss it.

Lately, I’ve been noticing how free I feel when I’m in the present moment. In presence, I am unencumbered by what used to be or what might be. As a result, I don’t get upset about something that happened yesterday or last week or last year. When I stay present, I don’t worry. In spite of all the anxiety-producing events occurring in the world, there’s peace. Colors appear brighter, sounds more pleasant, smells more intense, and my enjoyment of life more pronounced.

Staying present does not mean that I don’t plan for future situations or events. It simply means that I live in the process without dwelling mentally and emotionally on the outcome.

I have three favorite ways to bring myself present: focus on my breath, be aware of what my five senses experience, and slow down my movements. From now on, when I find myself behind a slow driver, I’ll use all three. I’ll make sure my breathing stays even and slow. I’ll enjoy whatever I’m seeing or hearing in the passing scenery. And I’ll back off the accelerator so as not to tailgate the person in front of me.

So if you see someone tailgating you and you notice it’s me, pull out a copy of this column to show me. I may need reminding!

Dr. Marta coaches people to practice Presence in their lives. To contact her, call 928-451-9482 or write

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