Building the Present
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
Be Present. This is what yoga teachers ask of our students and ourselves. This is one reason why we follow our inhales and exhales, why we focus on diaphragmatic breathing, and why we encourage the union of mind and body. This reminder to anchor ourselves in the present is not just a reminder for practice but a reminder for life. Our minds have a tendency to wander, to get bored, to need to do something. All these tendencies are great; they help us set visions, plan, and achieve goals but we must balance these forward actions with the action of being present. I say action because being present takes work! It is an action to live in the moment, to be grateful for our ability to take full, satisfying inhales of clean air, to move our bodies, and to appreciate the first bud of a jonquil as it pokes its head above the ground.
When you are in a pose notice the tendency for your mind to wander. It travels at high speed from wondering how long you’re going to be in this pose, to wondering what the next pose will be, to thinking that perhaps coffee before class vs. after class is something to try, to reminding yourself to call your parents later, and back to wondering why you’re still in this same pose. You hear your teacher in the distance calling you back to practice. Oh yes, breath. You’ve missed the pose, you’re not present. You missed the expansive feeling of pose, the action and reaction between feet and crown of head, you didn’t notice your breath.
When you are off your mat, notice the tendency for your mind to wander. You’re walking with earbuds not seeing or hearing. Again your mind travels at high speed wondering how many minutes you need to walk to burn off x number of calories, which work tasks are highest priority, if you remembered to lock the door before you left the house, and how you haven’t heard from that one friend in ages even though you texted them like 2 months ago. The walk is over, you were not present. You missed the cottontail as it sat quietly beside the path, you didn’t hear the cry of the hawk, you didn’t stop to smile at the fungi snuggled in the leaves under the shade of an oak, you didn’t notice the breath of wind on your skin.
Being present is about centering and noticing, it’s about talking less and listening more, it’s about living each moment as best we can because life is only an accumulation of present moments -- precious, fleeting, and not waiting for you to pay attention.
“If you dread tomorrow it's because you don't know how to build the present, and when you don't know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it's a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up being today don't you see ... We have to live with the certainty that we'll get old and that it won't look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it's now that matters: to build something now at any price using all our strength. Always remember that there's a retirement home waiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity. That's what the future is for: to build the present with real plans made by living people.”
― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog