If You Read This Blog, Then ...

Recently, I explored a few myths that are dangerous to our well-being and practice of presence. Another one of these is the “if …, then …” mentality. If only I had more money, then I could relax.

If I wasn’t alone, then I could feel lovable.

If my neighbor wasn’t such a jerk, then I could find peace.

By placing our attention on achieving or gaining something in the future, we lose sight of the beauty and importance of the present moment. This constant reaching for a thing, feeling or experience beyond what is happening now causes unnecessary stress in our life and is completely ineffective.

Instead of deceiving yourself with the thought “if …, then …” try “now …, and ….”

We can all achieve our “then” when we replace our “ifs” with “now.”reaching for something brighter

For many years, I fooled myself into believing that if my partner was more affirming, then I would feel loved; or if I got the promotion, then I would feel valued; or if I found a new partner, then I would feel complete. Then I experienced that none of this is true.

My ability to feel loved, valued and complete have absolutely nothing to do with anything or anyone else—it has only to do with me and what I am thinking, believing and focusing on in this moment.

"But shouldn't I strive to improve things for myself in the future?" 

Well, actually, here are a few reasons why that doesn't work.

It keeps us from taking responsibility for our lives.

There are very few things we can control in life. One thing we can control is how we respond to each situation. It is up to us to see situations as stressful and limiting or peaceful and opportunistic. To seek peace or opportunity in only certain situations places the responsibility of our reaction to external factors. When we do this, we delegate the one thing in our life that we can control—our attitude.

Only 10% of our satisfaction with life is based on circumstances.

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research has found that approximately 50% of our satisfaction with life is predetermined by our genetics and only 10% is determined by our circumstances—which is not very much. This means whether I am rich or poor, single or married, in a job I love or not does not make much of a difference. This leaves 40% to intentional activity and choices we make. One of the key ways to intentionally increase your satisfaction is to live in the present moment.

We have evolved to get used to things.

Another finding of Lyubomirsky’s work looks at hedonic adaptation—the fact that humans adapt to joys and sorrows with time. So long as we strive for things outside of ourselves to bring us peace or joy, we will eventually get used to it and be right back at where we started, seeking something else to help us feel that way again, and thus the cycle begins.

Dan Gilbert discovered that we are not very good at predicting what we will like or not like in the future. This affective forecasting is another reason our “if…, then…” mentality is futile—we inevitably adapt to the things we think will be amazing, and we typically bounce back from the things we think will be terrible much more quickly.

When we have a sincere attitude of gratitude and stay present by releasing judgment, resistance and attachment then our level of satisfaction with our life situation no longer depends on circumstances beyond our control.

What is one “then” you can achieve by replacing your “if” with “now”? Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

To accept or not to accept ...

Ever fret over what you should do tonight? Ever wish you hadn’t sent that text message? Ever think you should have gone on that trip? Ever spent hours’ worth of energy making a choice and then hours’ worth of energy afterwards regretting it? I find myself today struggling with this very thing. While I do my best to fully accept my current situation and my reality each and every day, I still struggle with this concept sometimes.

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One of my current goals is to do a better job listening to my feelings and trusting myself when I have a “gut” instinct about something. Recently, I made a decision not to go on a trip with someone after noticing that I was having some anxiety about the trip. When I tuned into that feeling and sat with it for a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that, in that moment, it was best for me not to go. And at the time, I felt at peace about my decision. It reminded me of something I read in The Power of Now where Eckhart Tolle says, “let [your decision] come not from reaction but from insight, from a clear realization of what is right or not right for you at that moment."

A few days later, I find myself dwelling on the choice I made and doubting if I made the “right” choice. This doubting is my current source of suffering and I am being reminded of the importance to surrender myself on a regular basis to accept the decisions I make about my life.

When we resist our reality — which includes the choices we make — we are suffering. Psychology Today’s article on “The Power of Acceptance” explores this very thing and explains how by resisting something ensuresImage that it will have a more negative effect, whereas accepting something will neutralize it if not transform unpleasant feelings or experiences. Now, of course, there are certain things in life we shouldn’t accept, but I am talking about the majority of things that make up our life situation, whether it be the decision we made to send a certain text message, live in a certain city, stay home on a Friday night, have a certain job, need to go grocery shopping for the dinner we want to make, raise a child, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Tolle reminds us that there are only three options for a given situation: remove yourself from it (if that is an option), change it (if that is an option), or accept it wholly (which is always an option). It is quite refreshing to realize I only have three choices - and that full acceptance is always an option.

Once a decision has been made, to continue to expend energy on whether or not that was the “right” decision resists “what is” and causes suffering. “When you accept what is — every moment — is the best. That is enlightenment.” (Tolle)

Life is a constant choice between acceptance of or resistance to the moment. And, I have found that the experience of life is filled with more ease and joy as more decisions and experiences are accepted for “what they are” and less energy is exerted doubting and resisting. As Tolle says, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously  transform your whole life."

And, when I find myself slipping away from acceptance — which happens since I am still human — that is the moment it is crucial to be compassionate with myself and remember that I do the best I can in each and every moment. Acceptance and compassion are two very powerful tools towards living a more joyful existence.

Take it from me as someone who has spent most of her life resisting the reality of her situation — everything from the shape of my nose, the crookedness of my teeth, being single, being in a relationship, deciding to do something and later wishing I hadn’t — to accept things “as is” is one of the best things someone can do to improve their experience of life.

What decision have you made recently that deserves your full acceptance? Does your present moment contain something that needs your full acceptance as if you had chosen it for yourself?

Why Presence Matters

Oxford dictionary defines "presence" as: "the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing." Another way of defining "presence" from Inner Frontier is: "inhabiting our body, heart, and mind, inhabiting our space, inhabiting our actions and inhabiting our life, not just passively letting it all happen."

ImageWhile I might be somewhat of a "novice" and am just beginning to dip my toe in the art of presence, I have already experienced the life-changing impact that it has on my life and want nothing more than to help others experience it too. It is clear to me that it only takes a single moment to experience the power of presence in one's life and feel its profound effects. Once the choice has been made to experience life with more ease and joy, it is something that anyone can do - you don't have to have a PhD or be a guru, monk, therapist, licensed coach or anything other than what you are this very moment. You simply need to make the choice to inhabit your life actively, without judging it, and continue to make that choice each and every moment.

Up until about 6 months ago, I was a self- (and sometimes other-) diagnosed worrywart, perfectionist, depressed, bi-polar individual who struggled to be in the moment and enjoy life. From an outside perspective it might have seemed at times as if I was "living the dream" - traveling to foreign countries, having a nice job and living in a beautiful city. But, I struggled to find joy in it. I was lonely, sad, dissatisfied, and at times quite depressed. My thoughts and emotions often controlled me, at times leaving me paralyzed, angry, and confused.

One day, a friend of mine suggested a book to read and I jumped at the opportunity. The book is titled "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer, and it suggested some not-so-new (but new to me) ideas around being in the present moment, creating space around my thoughts, and becoming more aware. This laid the foundation for the shift that was about to take place. I then read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" immediately followed by "A New Earth" which became the building blocks for my new way of living.

After a few short months and making the daily choice to be more present, I found that I was not experiencing stress as I used to. I was significantly more at peace with my life situation and ease was found in nearly everything I did - from conversations with co-workers, to people and ideas coming into my life as if by magic.

In my experience, being mindful and choosing to live in a state of presence has reduced my stress and anxiety, brought more ease and joy into my life, improved the experience of my life situation, expanded my possibilities, helped me build resilience towards the challenges life throws my way and created space for creativity.

All we have is the here and now and I have learned that when I am open to the moment and honest and non-judgmental with myself, life becomes easier and more enjoyable. My situation didn't change - I was still in a job I wasn't thriving in, I was still without a life companion, I was still figuring myself out - but my awareness shifted and I became wholly accepting of each and every moment.

Psychology Today says, "the way to uncover brilliant sanity and to alleviate suffering is by going more deeply into the present moment and into ourselves as we already are, not by trying to change what is already going on."

You don't have to have 30 years of experience studying with Buddhist monks or a psychology degree to experience this sanity. I read a few books and articles and make a conscious choice each day to live in the now to the best of my ability - without judgment, without resistance, and without attachment. And, it has changed my life.

Can you recall a time when you chose to accept the present moment as opposed to resisting it? What was your experience when you made that choice?