Living In The Present
-Swami Chidananda (East and West Series)
A greeting card read: "Happy New Year. In 2007, may God give you the strength to be in 2006." The teasing line was meant for somebody whose habit it was to dwell in the past, to keep traveling down memory lane. To a lesser or greater degree, everyone of us is pressured from within by thoughts of the past or of the future, and that distracts us from living in the present.
Regrets of the past and anxieties for the future drain our energy. Even pleasant memories are a distraction, and cannot give us much. They are over. Pleasurable anticipation for the future too can very well be a departure from reality. After all, who knows the future?
All great spiritual teachers exhort us to live in the present. Someone put it nicely: "Yesterday is gone" it is history; tomorrow is unborn, it is mystery; today is the gift in hand, it is therefore 'present"'.
Memory is a wonderful faculty we human beings have. However, when our mind uses us, instead of we using our mind, memory can become a veritable tyrant. We want to forgive and forget, but we just cannot. Those with poor memories might therefore become the objects of our envy!
Why does the past not release its hold on us? Our impression of who we are is shaped by our past. Based on events of the past, we come to regard ourselves as good, bad, successes, or failures. We are forever judging ourselves or those around us in the light of the past. Can we not see with fresh eyes, unburdened by memory? Determining the cause of yesterday's failure, we should arm ourselves with that knowledge and put our total efforts into today, instead of letting yesterday cast its shadow on us. Likewise, our Success of yesterday should not lead us to assume that we will be successful today. Each venture, each day, is new.
Living in the present is dying to the past. The "I" and "me" factors, which carry pride and prestige, and support jealousy and revenge, are erased in this divine way of living. In his commentary on the great Vedantic text, Vivekacudamalli, Poojya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda compared an enlightened man with a cracked pot' Try to fill a cracked pot with water. It leaks away, and the pot remains empty. Try to flatter a wise man and boost his ego, or try to criticize him or init him. He receives it all, but his bosom is clear and clean the next moment. He is not touched by depression or elation. He has the innocence of a child, as well as the maturity of an adult. Egolessness, therefore, is the secret of forever remaining fresh within.
In his commentary on the Mundakopanishad, Sri
We should become more aware of our foolish habit of clinging to the past. Two young (ascetics), Dev and Som, were going from their village to a neighboring village on some work their guru had assigned them. On the way, while walking by a river, they heard the voice of a woman crying, "Save me, save me." Now the Ashram where they were students had strict rules regarding their dealings with women. Even so, Dev jumped into the river, seized the young woman, and carrying her in his arms, reached the bank. The local people who had by now gathered on the bank took over from there and began administering her care.
Dev and Som went their way. By late evening, they reached their destination. Deep down, Som was restless over his companion's earlier action, but he suppressed his feelings and remained quiet. But later that night, as the two men were about to retire, Som could contain himself no longer. He burst out: "How could you touch a woman's body like that? You carried her in your arms!" Calmly, Dev replied: "But I left her there. You, on the other hand, are still carrying her in your mind."
To be preoccupied with the same thoughts does us no good. We should observe ourselves at all times. When we are in a park or by a lake, do we not carry our home or office there? How much attention do we give to the tree, lawns and the placid waters? Why are we obsessed with what someone did or said to us. We personalize events and make ourselves unhappy. When we observe carefully, we understand the working of our minds. Our pettiness, fears, and attachments stand exposed. In overcoming them, we gain the natural ability to living in the present.
Engaging in rosy thoughts about the future is called daydreaming. A milkmaid in a village was carrying an earthen pot of milk on her head for selling. While walking down the street, she began imagining, "I shall make more and more money and save it. I shall buy myself nice clothes and jewels. I shall sign up for dance classes. All the young men in town will think about me ... " Picturing how she would dance and charm everyone, the milkmaid began to dance. The pot fell to the ground and broke into pieces.
Someone once observed: "A psychotic builds castles in the air, a neurotic visits them frequently, a lunatic lives there, and a psychiatrist collects the rent!" A sign of spiritual progress, according to a saint, is having less pressure of time upon our mind. Sometimes, just thinking about how little time we have to accomplish the work we have in hand is itself enough to build up tension in us. This makes us lose the overall awareness of life, which in turn distorts our thinking and takes us away from the facts of life. It is incorrect to think that some amount of anxiety is required in order to be successful. Such things as insight, creativity and dynamism do not require anxiety to invoke them. Alertness and awareness give rise to true excellence in living present.
So how then do we live in the present? How can we rid ourselves of such negatives as pride, regrets, and revenge, which are products of memory? How can we give up anxiety and daydreaming, which are forms of needless thinking about the future? We need to wake up from the dream world created by our conditioned mind and live in touch with facts.
Let us bring greater order in our daily lives. Let us spend some time in silence, in total abeyance of the conditioned mind. This can be accomplished through the "Who am I' self enquiry. Refusing to accept the mind created descriptions of who we are, we see through the mind's treacherous game, rejecting its false suggestions, and relate to the world as it really is.
Living in the present demands great courage. We need to break the hard shell of past habits, even those that are dear to us. The ego experiences a strange pleasure in clinging to its judgment of others and ourselves. We need to reject that pleasure to put an end to the sorrows of unnecessary and unreal divisions between us.