Presence and Gratitude
We all know people who love to complain about everything. One frequent topic of contention is the weather. “Oh, it’s too hot, or too cold, or it’s raining or snowing. I hate the rain.” This thought process is especially ironic since the same people will say: “Look at the foliage on the trees, what a beautiful site.” When we take a step back, perhaps we can realize that the rain is necessary for the foliage to prosper. We can also understand that rain is essential for ourselves to thrive. Water is the most critical substance on the planet. Getting upset when it is raining is getting angry at nature for being nature. After all, raining, snowing, being hot or cold are all natural phenomena. Not to mention anything that it does is far outside of our sphere of control. Therefore, being grateful for patterns of weather is necessary for a peaceful life.
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
This concept can be extrapolated for any situation. Any time that we find discontent, it is because we are creating a mental construct that is different from our present reality. The further our mental construct is from this reality, the higher our suffering will be.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor E. Frankl
The key to living a more fulfilled life right now with what we have is presence and gratitude.
Some of us may be wondering what is this term “presence”? This term means to live within the current moment. So much of our time is spent either thinking about the past or daydreaming of a future that has not yet arrived. This state becomes our virtual - mentally projected - world. We are not here in the present moment. This present moment is the only time that we have the power to act.
It is essential to think about the future to plan. However, this future thinking portion of ourselves is simply a tool. We use the tool to plan the future and then set it down. So many people carry this tool and think that it is a part of them. They continually play out future scenarios. The thing to note is that we can plan all that we would like, and in the end, the decision is spontaneous. We can never gather enough data to make a completely informed decision. This idea, combined with the wild world of our unconscious mind makes it difficult at best to discern why it is that we made a particular decision. So why dwell on what it is that we might decide in the future that never seems to come. The future is one half of it; the other is the past.
Constructing the past from our memories to re-live, is something we often do. Although we recall these memories in the present moment, frequently we are not present when doing such an activity. We easily slip into a dream-like trance. Often when this is done, we are hard on ourselves for some mistake that we made that day or in some past time. The past does not exist outside of our mental construction of it. With that being said, memories are a fascinating thing. When we recall a memory, we remember the last time in which we recalled that memory. It becomes a story that we tell ourselves, and every time that we retell it, we recast it. So our memories change every time that we think about them. We must be careful with what it is that we believe we have done. It is also essential to be careful to not dwell on the past.
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Now that we realize the present moment is our moment of power and decision, what decisions can we make to have an immediately more fulfilled life?
Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful and life changing things that we can do, especially in an overly developed western society. If we take time every day to write down the things that we are grateful for, we will probably find that we not only have some ideas but that we have many things for which to be thankful. Our minds have been programmed to survive. This approach often leaves us focused on the negative aspects of life. This idea can be tied back to our caveman days. If we judge the grass rusting as a non-threatening situation and it turns out to be a tiger, then game over. So evolution has preferentially selected for humans to survive that tend to fear more. Luckily for us, we no longer face such predators regularly. However, wiring and programming are still there.
It is easy for us to get stressed out in the modern world. Why is this? Why can we not have more of a sense of fulfillment around the things that we have already achieved?
Our bodies are programmed with a fight or flight response. If something is going wrong, we either need to escape or fight. Unfortunately, situations that used to be a bear attack are now merely deadlines. These deadlines are only mental constructs, and the weight we put on them is entirely relative. If we do not meet a deadline at work, or we lose our job, then we are not losing our life. If we choose to practice gratitude in these situations, we can turn them into learning opportunities. There is always a silver lining if we decide to look for it.
So, it is our choice to live in the past or future and to focus on what is bad and wrong with life or to come into the present moment and become fixated on what is good, positive and going well in our life. In the end, we do not have control over other people or many of life’s situations. What we do have control over is how we let the external world affect our internal state. If we choose a life of gratitude and presence, this will lead us to a happier, more fulfilled, and emotionally rich experience in a single moment.