Research estimates that human beings have anywhere from 12,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive. This internal monologue that spools around in our heads causes us to overthink, stay in the past and feel self-pity, anger, sadness or push us into the uncertain future with feelings of anxiety or worry. The negative bias our brains have is based on our evolution, the ancestors whose only focus was staying alive long enough to get food and shelter. This is why we have to work extra hard to do a few things; be happy and not let fear take us over, focus and be present or mindful.
Our thought patterns are very often talked about by Buddhists as a monkey mind where one thought triggers another, triggers another and before we know it we went from loving a song we just heard to attaching it to a negative emotion and unfinished relationship and feeling sad. So often we judge what we are feeling or what we are thinking which then brings us back to those self-judgments that are at the root of all judging. When we judge others, it is really about us.
This explains why it is so difficult at times to move forward, to make a decision or to be present. Our thoughts have a spool that keeps us occupied and focused on the past or the future. As Deepak Chopra says, the biggest learning is to realize we are not our thoughts, we are the observers of our thoughts. The more we do this the more we cultivate mindfulness, presence and attention to where we need to focus our energy at the moment.
As you put this into a modern day context, there are a lot of distractions around us that even make being present harder. All of the technology to make life simpler has also given us a way to not be present even when we are sitting in someone else’s company. How often do you see people sitting at a table in a restaurant with their phones out, each texting or reading things and not really paying attention to those around them? We even teach our children this at a young age by giving them electronics at a table to keep them quiet. That just highlights that they don’t need to be present at the table, they can be lost in a movie, a game, etc.
Being present with someone is one of the greatest gifts we can give, yet so many of us, me included, do not really do it as well as we could. We look at our phones, we remember to ask someone a question so in the midst of a meal with one friend we are texting another. How present are we really? We are sitting with people and there is a conversation that may be occurring but there is also a texting conversation happening as well, or one person answers the phone when it rings. So, how present are we?
There was a time when I would leave my cell phone in the car when I went into a restaurant. I used to think, nothing is that important that it cannot wait. I stopped doing that when I realized that although I did it, others I was with did not so we were still interrupted by their texting, etc. Instead of staying true to what I wanted, I succumbed, giving me something to do when they were texting or talking. My thinking was more along the lines of “what if my parents need me?” Which was true, however they are now both gone, so I can’t use that excuse anymore. There is nobody who needs me that cannot wait. So why did I still have the need to be distracted? Is it a need, or is it just who we have become as a society?
Our brain, in having that internal dialogue, is actually looking for the next thing, the next more interesting thing. I wonder, is that what we are doing without realizing it. Looking for the next interesting thing and if it isn’t in the person we are with, perhaps it will be with the person texting us, or calling us, or whatever we may read on social media. And this isn’t just about when we are with people. Think about when you are driving, how often do you get from point A to point B and wonder, “how the heck did I get here?” We are distracted often, not present in the moment. That lack of presence is what actually causes us to either be sad, angry, depressed or anxious and worried. Always thinking the what ifs, always focused on what I need to do Monday for work, causes us to actually not be as happy as we could be.
Presence in our life allows us to live in the moment, being happy and filled with joy at the moment and not stuck in fear or worry. The more we live in the moment, the more present we are, the happier we are. Watch children. They are totally in the moment and find joy in the littlest things. That is what us grown-ups need to do more of, find joy in the littlest things in the moment.
So, how present are you really? Are you really listening to what others are saying or preparing your response that is about you and not what they said? Are you really focused on the moment or are you thinking about what you have to do or rehashing something that happened already.
How present are you really?