Updated: Aug 9, 2021
A moment is never long enough. We live for thoughts of the past, and dreams of the future, but rarely stop to live in the moment of our present reality. At times, our mental and emotional detachment is understandable, we are stressed, tired, in pain, or living through any range of uncomfortable feelings. In other moments, we can’t even identify why our presence is lacking. Family gatherings, holidays, vacations… all moments that we should be highly invested in, and yet our mind is busy wondering away from reality.
For many people, exercise is one of the premier times to detach themselves from reality. Just the thought of ‘needing’ to workout may prompt thoughts of avoidance in your head. You consider all of the reasons you shouldn’t, and if you actually make it to the gym, you are lost in events of the past, or needs weighing on you in the future. But have you ever heard someone say, “going to the gym clears my mind”, or “it helps me relieve stress”. This is an example of presence in action. A person’s mind is clear because they are focused on the moment, and their stress is relieved, at least temporarily because they are free of what has happened, or what will happen; they are simply focused on what is happening.
Moments of Clarity:
To be so heavily invested in a moment is liberating. These moments are free from forethought or afterthought, and are sometimes even hard to identify until it has ended. We can’t fake ‘being in the moment’, but rather we must identify times throughout our day that we can aim to achieve such a level of presence. Actions such as reading, writing, exercising, meditating (perhaps even meditation through an activity, like walking), and having conversations with someone that we care deeply about, are just a few moments that people find themselves invested in the present moment.
It’s important to seek these moments out, and to consistently act on the things that help you to find a deeper level of presence in your daily life. The absence of presence brings along with it a host of negative outcomes. Things like chronic stress, misunderstandings of reality, and a lack of connection to the people that we care about. Each one of these consequences can make us feel as though we’re fighting an uphill battle against the world, when in reality we’re only fighting against ourselves.
But what if we could flip those negative outcomes into more positive results on a consistent basis? Chronic stress would turn into a sense of inner peace. Our misconceptions of reality and the forces working for or against us would transform into a level-headedness that can handle whatever comes our way. Our relationships would improve as a result of a greater connection with people who truly matter to us. All of this achieved through our own ability to block out the noise, and tap into the here and now.
The Mind-Muscle Connection:
For the past few years, I’ve been able to find my own sense of inner peace and presence through my training. With a focus on gaining and strengthening specific muscles, I’ve had to refine the technique of specific movement patterns, and establish what is known as a ‘mind-muscle connection’ with each muscle that I train.
Essentially, the mind-muscle connection is a person’s ability to move weight through a specific movement pattern, while maintaining a focus on the working muscle. For instance, if I’m training a squat (the movement pattern), with a focus on my quadriceps (the working muscle), my mind-muscle connection speaks to how well I can feel the muscle stretch and contract through the entire range of the squat. It is understood that the greater the mind-muscle connection, the greater ability a trainee has to grow individual muscles throughout the body.
So what does this mean for someone who doesn’t strength train, or aim to grow specific muscles in this way? I believe that there is a parallel between the ‘presence’ that we’ve already discussed, and the mind-muscle connection that is practiced through strength training. Through my experiences, I’ve found that the days that I’m able to engage a muscle to the greatest extent possible, so too did I engage my mind in the present moment. My presence in the moment was a product of acclimating my senses to the task at hand. The ability to engage your body beyond the mind can expand your mental-capacity.
Perhaps, this is why exercise is such a great release of stress for people. Their body is in movement, they are touching things and exerting force on objects, they are activating their whole body. If you want to become free of the past and future, and create a greater connection with the present, you must recruit more than just your mind.
Engage your senses on the uniqueness of the moment, and don’t let it pass by without respecting its place in your life. If you are experiencing pain, anxiety, fear, or any other form of discomfort, then you should recognize the emotion as it is. How are these emotions making you feel, and why? What can you create out of this moment to strengthen your character? Become comfortable with the uncomfortable by recognizing its presence, and effect on your mind and body.
As Marcus Aurelius states in his Meditations:
Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it… Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.
We can endure anything, so long as we place a higher value on the empowerment that accompanies overcoming fear, more than the comforts of succumbing to negative emotions. Some of the greatest joys in life come from our ability to overcome physical and mental challenges, and some of our lowest moments come from our inability to act under difficult circumstances.
Times of positivity, or what we feel should be positive experiences and emotions are oftentimes no easier to engage. Our mind still tends to wander through the past and future, with little appreciation for the now. We tend to appreciate the thought of a moment, or glorify the memory of a time, more than the actual living out of it. But like negative times, we can alter our state by simply refocusing our energy.
Identify the specific experience that you’re engaged with, the people that accompany you, and the beauty that surrounds you. Engage your senses, and be an active participant in the moment. Whether it be a daily occurrence, or a more novel experience in your life, appreciate each moment for the unique contribution that it has in your life. Everything, everyone, and every time has value, so long as we afford it the opportunity to be so.
In the words of Seneca:
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
Like all skills, muscles, and habits, presence must be strengthened through practice. A practice that requires mental and physical energy, self-understanding, and reflection. You must be willing to recognize when you have failed, and to have the willingness to make necessary changes in order to succeed in the future. Happiness will never be realized in the past or future; the present moment is all that we have, so make the most of it.