Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mindfulness: Isolation of ‘The Now’

Often we may find ourselves in situations where we are thinking about something which is not happening in the present moment but rather something that we are expecting or anticipating. To put it simply, how often have you found yourself in a situation where you are having lunch and thinking about what to cook for dinner? Or thinking about what a wonderful weekend it was on a Monday morning?
Now, let me paint you a picture. What if you choose to not think about dinner and just savour the lunch on your plate right now. Or if you choose to not de-motivate yourself about how you are hating Monday morning by simply not contrasting it against the wonderful weekend? What if you choose to live in the present? The minute you choose to live in the present, you have practiced what is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness, as described by the dictionary is a state of active, open attention on the present. The thought of thinking about the NOW or the present doesn’t seem complex or even difficult, yet the practice of mindfulness in today’s day and age is dropping exponentially. Schools are teaching children to be goal driven; and many learning organizations in the world are teaching their clients to be target oriented and focus on the return on investment. However in the process of doing so, we are missing a very important element and that is the NOW. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with being goal driven or ambitious but one must not let that govern our every action.
Ekhart Tolle, in his book ‘Power of Now’ quoted “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
On reading Tolle’s explanation of now, we realize that if we isolate the now or the present, from our past experiences or our future expectations, then what we are left with is the mere experience. To put simply, when we experience a particular moment, we can’t help but associate it with the various past experiences we’ve had. Our past experiences form a strong basis of understanding for any other experience. When we listen to our favourite childhood song, we enjoy it because we’ve enjoyed it as a child and have fond memories associated with it. But what if the experience of listening to that particular song was isolated to just this moment, free from the bias of childhood, free from the attachments we’ve build around it. Then in that moment we enjoy the song as it is and we realize that the song still makes us happy because of its own beauty and melody and not because how it made us feel at some point in the past.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ mentioned a really interesting anecdote about a friend who on visiting a beautiful place exclaimed  "It's so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!" This may sound very funny to many, but small gestures like choosing to take pictures in a particular moment stem from a similar thought – ‘it’s so beautiful that I want to click a picture so I have a memory of it when I’m away from here’. But the irony of this is that in that particular moment we are at the place at that time, yet we choose to think about the future and how we ought to remind our future selves that we were in this moment. By thinking about the future or the past, we have removed the sheer beauty of that particular moment and reduced it to a mere association of our past mental archetypes. Being fully present in the now and absorbing the complete essence of mindfulness would entail isolating the experience from the past or future and looking at it from a non-biased stand point.
The practice of meditation and yoga has been proven to inculcate mindfulness in people. There are numerous studies which are being done to show the benefits of mindfulness. In fact mindfulness has been proved to be so helpful that a prison offering Vipassana meditation training for inmates found that those who completed the course showed lower levels of drug use, greater optimism, and better self-control, which could reduce recidivism.
When we meditate or during asana or pranayama practice, we are practicing what we call complete awareness. You would find it very difficult to hold a pose if you are thinking about what happened at work or what to make for dinner, instead you would be thinking about which muscles to relax, how to exhale and guide your breath into the tight areas of your body. You don’t realize it but in that moment you are fully aware and present. In that moment you are thinking about nothing but the now. And that is how my practice helps me inculcate mindfulness.

Another really interesting aspect about our mind and our brain is neuro-plasticity. The more we practice mindfulness the more our brain gets organized to continue practicing mindfulness. The neurons which are at work and the electrical signals which flow through our brain get hard-wired in our brain to repeatedly perform the same kind of transaction. And hence when people ask me if they can learn to be mindful, I answer with a loud YES. One can always learn to be mindful. Initially it may take effort and sometimes forcefully applying effort itself may inhibit you from being mindful, but one must always remember, being mindful is not an action, or a forceful thought-process, it is the mere isolation of one’s past and future from the now. It is that act of experiencing the moment as it is; knowing that it will not have any implications of on your future and is separate from what you have experienced in the past. This moment, the NOW, lies outside of time. 

P.S- A trained behavioral psychologist , Priyanjali started her yogic journey with Kriya Kundalini Yoga, followed by Ashtanga -Vinyasa training at Yogakul. After completing a course at Sivananda Vedanta centre in New Delhifor Sivananda Yog, she attained her 200 hour Hath yoga teachers training at Shrimath yoga, certified by the Yoga Alliance International.Priyanjali has worked with leadership development consulting and emotional intelligence training, which she combines with her yoga practice and teaching.