You’re sitting in the meeting, someone calls your name and you suddenly notice you haven’t heard what’s been said for some minutes. In a split second your attention is back in the room and you realize you had drifted off. Not into sleep but into ‘absence’. You’re not exactly sure how long you were away! You were lost in a story that you were running on the screen of your mind. You remember now. One part was a memory of an unhappy encounter with a member of your family the night before, which then dissolved into some worries about possibly having to sell your house in the next six months.
During the course of your absence you went through a series of judgments, regrets, assessments, worries, hopes, evaluations and criticisms. You were busy in your absence! In just a few minutes you not only made yourself unhappy but you missed some vital information that was shared in the meeting at which you were assumed by others to be present. Your body was in the room but you were not!
This is something that happens to us all at some time or other. And for some it happens all too frequently. Many of us are often absent from our life but we don’t notice our lack of presence. We are not aware of making our many escapes from being fully ‘here’ and completely in the ‘now’, until we realize we’ve been away!
You could argue that ‘being absent’ is not a new phenomenon in human consciousness, and it’s definitely not a new and exclusive habit to this generation or this era. But like stress, abuse, interpersonal conflict and levels of anger, it seems it may be on the rise.
The Deepest Addiction!
One of the obvious reasons is we all now live in the ‘age of distraction’. Every day our attention is up for auction. We are surrounded and hounded by a media driven world with vast industries spending huge amounts of time and energy trying to hook our attention in order to get into our pockets. That, combined with a sophisticated array of technological windows on to the world and the result is an ‘addiction to distraction’ unknown to previous generations. So it’s easy to understand why we have a tendency to create the habit of escaping into a multitude of events, messages and other people’s lives. We have become superconscious of ‘what’s happening now’ both near and far. But this kind of ‘now’ is not an indication of real presence simply a habitual desire to know more about what’s going on somewhere else or to someone else.
And then, when we do attend the meeting, or sit quietly somewhere with our coffee, or take a stroll through the forest, the ‘habit of absence’ kicks in and we start to run a variety of stories in our heads. Absence is when we lose our self in a mental story entirely created by our self on the screen of our own mind. The stories are filled with those judgments, hopes, guilts, evaluations, regrets and many other thinking habits and emotional patterns. We are not aware that they are just stories, that we are the creators of the stories and that we are losing our self, our awareness, in the stories.
Even if someone were to point out that we are attempting to escape from the reality of our self, or from the reality of what’s in front of us now, we would probably reply with something like, “But it’s natural …or… I’m being creative…or…But we need to think about these things …or… I am anticipating and preparing for what might happen in reality”. When, in fact, we are more likely to be resisting the reality of the present moment, fighting the reality of what’s happening in front of us now or just succumbing to the habit of avoidance.
We sometimes notice however, that our feelings of sorrow, irritation, frustration and all our fears are arising from all those moments when we lose our self in our mental compendiums of fictional tales. We sometimes notice that they disturb our peace and drain our energy. It’s not easy to see, but in truth we lose our self in our own ‘interpretations’ of previous experiences or in constructions of future speculations. Even in the cinema we will lose our self not in the movie but in our ‘interpretations’ of the movie. That’s why no story that we ever run on the screen of our minds is ever ‘true’! There is always some distortion or deviation in our interpretations and re-interpretations. Which is one of the reasons why ‘truth’ can never be captured by the mind.
Living fully in the present is quite a different ‘insperience’. The inner signs of being fully present include a quiet mind which is no longer busy running stories of our past or future, or of other people’s lives. All forms of resistance to the world, or projections onto the world, have ceased, and there is a serene acceptance of what is happening in the world ‘out there’ around us. There is an easiness that feels like an ability to flow with the ever changing currents of events and circumstances alongside an inner wisdom that supplies the clarity not to just go with any old flow! There is an inner calm that seems to give us the power to remain internally stable no matter what happens in our life or in others lives.
Seeing Through the Illusions
Imagine sitting in the cinema and not losing the awareness that you are just sitting in your head, watching through your bodies eyes, as those flickering coloured lights dance across on a blank white screen ‘out there’ in front of you. You do not lose the awareness of the simple truth which says that there is no ‘reality in’ the movie…it’s just a movie, it’s just a story. You are therefore not surprised or shocked or indeed moved by any of the images or by any of the characters and events within the story. Not because you do not care, not because you are resisting the movie makers attempts to manipulate your emotions, but because you don’t lose awareness of your self as the observer and that what you are observing is not real. In fact you clearly know that the story itself is an illusion of an illusion.
The idea of being a detached observer of the movie sounds like a dull and boring life to many but that just indicates that we are addicted to our illusions. We become addicted to the mental and emotional stimulations that illusions induce, which is why so many of us find it so hard to find real, stable and consistent peace in our life. While positioned as a form of relaxation, entertainment is essentially a stimulated escape from the reality of our self and our life in this moment now!
Discovering Inner Peace
There normally comes a moment in the lives of those who consciously search for real relaxation, otherwise known as ‘inner peace’, when they realize that actually my real world is within me. The ‘real’ world is the inner world of our consciousness. It’s just that it’s not even ‘inner’, it is the self, itself! When the self is fully present to itself there is no inner, as opposed to outer, self! This is quite a breakthrough for most of us who have, for our entire life, learned to believe that our primary reality was out there in ‘that’ world!
In the world that is within us, the world that is I/me/you, ‘being present’ is the ability to observe whatever thoughts and images may arise in our mind without ‘going in’ to our minds or being carried away by ‘what’s on’ our minds. Whatever feelings and memories of emotions that arise are allowed to rise and fall and fade, as they do anyway…eventually! In this practice of watching and witnessing, the self is centred. The self is still. The self is peace. The self is not ‘thinking’ I am still or I am peace, but just is. In this ‘isness’ present moment awareness is born. And in that awareness we restore our self to ‘full power’. The peace that arises out of our stillness is also our power. But don’t tell that to Hollywood, Bollywood or Global Sunny Beaches Inc!
In this awareness of ‘isness’ the self knows the self as it really is…as nothing and no one! It’s a scary thought in theory, on paper, in writing, but that’s only because it threatens all the illusions of who we thought we were, all the identities that we have been creating within our stories, which we can now see as pure fiction! Being nothing and no one is a scary thought because it means all that we have been taught about our self is not true. Not wrong, just not true!
But it’s only scary as long as it remains as a thought, an idea, in our mind. As soon as we restore the actuality of our ‘inner space’, rediscover the reality of our ‘self’, of our being, and notice that there is no one and no thing ‘here’, except pure awareness itself, that is when all scariness dissolves. In that awareness we may notice there is not only the deepest peace but also the presence of an energy that ‘seems’ to permeate and connect every thing in ‘here’. Sometimes we call that energy ‘love’. Perhaps that’s why we sometimes glimpse in our meditations; sometimes see in our quiet moments of reflection; that the presence of love is …everything!
Question: What are the most frequently recurring stories that you find your self escaping into?
Reflection: Why do you think you often prefer to be absent to the reality of the present moment?
Action: Consciously practice being the detached observer of all that is happening around you, engaging only when you are invited to engage, and see what difference it may make to how you ‘spend’ your energy.
By Mike George