In my last post I wrote about the importance of practicing full presence within our own lives and with those we are with. This full presence has enormous benefits in terms of your own enjoyment of life as well as powerful affects on your relationships. I wanted to expand on this concept with another post on presence. This time I want to get at it from another angle, namely by way of analogy. But first let me lay the ground work with some science.
We know from science that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. Do you ever wonder what might have happened if you met someone else, or went to a different school, or were born into a different family? Well that is all fantasy and has no bearing on reality, because wherever you are right now is the only place you could be right now. In this moment, you could only be reading this blog in this moment. You could not be doing anything else. Extend this idea backward and you can see that your life could only have happened the way it has. If you have carried guilt or wished that your life had turned out differently than it did, there is tremendous freedom in accepting reality as it is. How do we know that this is the only way it could have happened? Because it did.
I am a musician. I have struggled with the craft of making music for most of my life. But one thing I discovered is that music is a training tool for learning to live in the moment. When you learn to play music from the page, not only does the sound of music pull you into the present moment, but as a performer, you can only be where you are in that point of the music. If you are in the middle of the song, you can only be in that part of the song. You cannot be at the beginning, nor the end. To go even more in depth, in each moment, you can only be playing exactly what you are playing. You can only be sitting, or standing, or playing the instrument you are. You can’t be the drummer if you are the guitar player, and so forth. We can only be in that moment. And when good musicians get together and tune in with each other in the moment, great live music is created. This is what I love about jazz and improvisation. Each musician understands his part and listens intently to the other players and play only what is appropriate to the moment, not everything from their library of knowledge.
Most musicians are perfectionists to greater or lesser degrees. When we make a mistake, our mind berates us for making that mistake, and as we continue into the rest of the song, our mind pulls us out of the moment with its scolding. But if we accept this principle that we can only be where we are in each moment, it helps us to move past mistakes because in that moment of the mistake, we could have only played what we played. And in order to continue making music, we have to allow ourselves to move on to the next notes, the next measures, the next page of music. Similarly in life, our minds pull us out of the moment, rehashing conversations and telling ourselves “you should have told her this and that…” and all sorts of internal conversations that distract us from the experience of living. No two things can occupy the same thing at the same time, so if you give your attention to your internal conversation, then that’s where you are in that moment, rather than fully living, doing, and being in this moment. Tune out that commentary and tune in with what is right in front of you in your life (see previous post for suggestions on how to do this).
I also find that music is something that is uniquely human. Sure humpback whales can moan and sing and other animals such as birds are known to make beautiful nature music. However, the complicated and pleasing combination of rhythm, melody, and harmony is uniquely human. And I find that things that are expressive of our humanness pull me into the present moment and make me feel alive.
In this sense, your life is a beautiful piece of improvised music. Music is a helpful analogy for me for living fully in each moment. It is also a training system if you bring awareness to it. There are many activities that can help you practice being fully present in your life. What hobbies or activities do you have that express your full humanness, and pull you into the present moment, where you are not thinking about anything else, but are just living directly? Explore those activities and learn what they can teach you about living life fully and being present in many other moments.
In this life, the future isn't real because it hasn’t happened yet and the past is dead and gone. All that remains is the present. This is your life. Right now. What are you doing in this moment? Bring your attention and awareness, not to the internal conversation, but to what’s going on right in front of you. Watch. Listen. Engage with what is right here, right now, and live your life more fully and directly.
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.