When we are fully engaged with what we are doing, we are in the here and now doing just what we are doing. We are not contemplating the future or the past and don’t judge how well or poorly we are doing.
In Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life, bestselling author Thomas Sterner promises that present moment awareness at that level as the ultimate definition of success. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
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Our mind tends to run around all day long, either visiting circumstances that have already happened or anticipating circumstances that may or may not happen in the future, even if that future is only moments away. It also operates in a constant state of judgment (which of course is a thought), and we experience the emotional content, which is the result of those judgments.
This constant processing of internal dialogue, even though for most of us it happens without our awareness, is, to say the least, extremely draining. It even affects our ability to sleep at night. I’m sure you have woken up in the middle of the night and experienced a brief period of mental stillness, of peacefulness since your mind was not engaged in thinking. If you fall back asleep immediately, everything is fine.
But if your mind gets just a little bit of traction and is able to re-engage itself into its judgment process, all of a sudden the gears of internal dialogue start turning and that comforting pull back into slumber dissolves into restlessness: you begin worrying about something you wish you hadn’t said, something you need to do, or something that is coming up in a day or two that you don’t want to deal with.
The Reality of Being Present
The mind doesn’t like the present moment — or at least it doesn’t like being instructed to be in the present moment. It thinks there’s nothing for it to do there. It loves to problem solve. And if you don’t give it a problem to solve, it will go looking for one. That is its nature, and it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it’s why we live in heated homes instead of in caves, shivering.
We just need to be aware of what our mind is up to, and more important, to be in charge of what it is up to. A self-propelled riding lawn mower is a great tool and certainly makes cutting the front lawn easier than it would be with a pair of scissors. However, its usefulness becomes questionable if we are not guiding it but are instead sitting on our front step talking on our cell phone while it is running through our flower bed and chasing the neighbor’s cat. In that case, instead of serving us, it is creating problems for us.
A daily practice of meditation, of thought awareness training, grows our innate ability to be aware of what our mind is doing, and through strengthening our will, it grows our ability to use our mind’s energy to serve us in ways we can’t even imagine. What’s interesting about this process is that you don’t have to try to grow your thought awareness. It happens on its own.
In fact, you cannot stop it from happening. It’s really quite subtle. At first, you don’t realize that your awareness is growing. But gradually you begin to notice that life doesn’t bother you as much anymore. Circumstances that used to push your buttons begin to lose their effect on you. You see them coming and either effortlessly deflect them or just step aside and let them go past. This happens because you are no longer a puppet of your thoughts but instead are an objective observer of them. At the same time, your productivity begins to increase drastically because all your energy is going into whatever you are doing right now, from washing the dishes to supporting a loved one through a difficult situation. The reason for this is that you have access to your full consciousness. You have clarity of thought and focus.
Your ability to make decisions is significantly enhanced, and it could even be said that your life feels more inspired. Difficult situations are also much less fatiguing because you aren’t in a constant state of judging.