You Have to Be Present to Win! – The Way to Reclaim Your Life

Are you frozen in time? You get frozen in time by thinking about the past–regretting, holding on, or not forgiving. Or maybe you are speculating about the future, worrying about what might happen, fearing the unknown, or trying to plan for the unknowable.  Or you’re in the present but frozen with uncertainty, afraid of taking the wrong step, or confused about your real desires.

I began thinking about this as I was reading a chapter called Emptiness in Stephen Batchelor’s book, Buddhism without Beliefs. In it, he says that the purpose of Buddhist practice is “understanding and easing the grip of self-centeredness that constricts body, feelings, and emotions into a tight nugget of anguish.” You are in a “tight nugget of anguish” when you identify with a separate self that must protect itself against the world. Or, in the words of Gina Sharpe, one of my wise Buddhist teachers, “You see things through the filter of your survival instincts.”

We are often on the lookout for threat–from the environment and others. We also try to create conditions so that we come out on top, are above reproach, have only pleasant experiences, and have no one challenging our beliefs, ideas, and opinions, to say nothing of our looks, age, status, and so much more. It is quite a struggle, yes? And, quite impossible. Yet, day after day we are conditioned into trying to get life and those in it to line up in a way we have deemed proper. We set ourselves the task of possessing something we can never have or of eradicating something that was never there in the first place. Whew! That’s quite a bit of anguish.

The antidote to this anguish is to drop the idea of I, me, and mine and move into an experience of the process of life unfolding from moment to moment. You are who you are because of an innumerable matrix of conditions. You are constantly in the process of flux, becoming something in this moment different than the moment before. Everything is like this. From moment to moment everything is changing. Our job is not to freeze what’s flowing.

Don’t freeze yourself into a position, an opinion, a role, a job, a set of characteristics. What if you (and everyone else) are fluid and ever-changing? What if you were to see yourself and others as dynamic? This approach allows ourselves and others to learn, to grow, and to change. Unfortunately, we like to put everything into a box and label it so that we can feel certain about what we’re getting. Thus, we have a hard time letting people be something new each day and we miss seeing each other based on a vision of the past. What a pity that is.

To experience a true present is to experience the absence of what normally determines the sense of who you are—your title, role, status, etc. And, in that moment, you can witness yourself and the world as open and vulnerable. This calm, free, open, and sensitive space is when you have dropped into what Buddhists call “emptiness.”

Yes, I know. “Emptiness” is a confusing term. I never really liked it or the explanations for it from many of my teachers. Think about it like this. There is our relative truth in which my name is Lynn Rossy, I am a yoga teacher, I am a psychologist, I am married, I own a house, etc. Then there is the absolute truth where the mind is not identified with anything. I am not clinging to anything as I, me, or mine. I have a non-fixated mind completely responsive to life. I may be teaching yoga, living in a house, study psychology to learn how to help people. But, I’m not identified to the labels (which obviously the world we live in wants us to use). To use the analogy of water—ice is the relative truth and water is the absolute truth. One is fixed and the other is flowing. Emptiness is the flowing existence of our lives.

I first learned about this concept many years ago at my first 9-day silent meditation retreat. Joseph Goldstein, another wonderful Buddhist teacher, was one of the leaders and spoke about these concepts of relative and absolute realities. In looking back on my journal from that retreat, I found it interesting what I noted upon my return. It said: “My challenge: Not to become indifferent to family while maintaining non-attachment to mental processes (thoughts and beliefs) that arise in their presence.”  I guess I am still working on this many years later, although I must say I have gotten much better at it.

So, in essence, we can’t deny that we have a relative reality along with its associated emotions and thoughts. The key is to bring compassion to the suffering arising from your identification to the relative reality. Although it’s created through conditioning and it’s not “real,” it can still hurt. Be kind in the face of your suffering and even kinder to others.

In addition, we can realize its emptiness. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche profoundly wrote: “When a thought arises, we must simply note that it has occurred, while at the same time remembering that it has come from nowhere, dwells nowhere, and goes nowhere, leaving no trace of its passage, just as a bird, in its course across the sky leaves no mark of its flight. In this way, when thoughts arise, we can liberate them into the absolute expanse. When thoughts do not arise, we should rest in the open simplicity of the natural state.” The same instructions are good for other senses and emotions.

Your natural state–always flowing, changing, growing, decaying, and learning in the present moment. You are an unfolding narrative without an end to the story. And, because of this truth, you are free to create who you are at any moment, changing it in the next. Exciting, and a little daunting. This way of living gives you greater responsibility for creating the life you want and responding to others in the way you want.

Meet your life and those in it with fresh eyes and an open heart. Don’t be attached to the outcome. Do what you’re led to do. That’s all.