Having written that piece on living in the moment I found myself in a taxi heading to a two o’clock meeting stuck in traffic and watching the meter ticking with increasing anxiety as I had the bare minimum for the ride in coins. If we went over I’d have to offer a fifty pound note and many taxi drivers have no change so I’d be walking into shops to get change making me even later for the meeting. Which I was already late for as the traffic was still not moving. If ever there was a time when I was NOT living in the moment this was it. So I thought I’d experiment and notice my reactions. I didn’t try and ‘stop’ feeling agitated, I just noted that I wasn’t ‘living in the moment’. Strangely just repeating this phrase effected a major shift. This has happened to me before with ‘mantras’. If you’re slogging through the desert on foot against the wind or canoeing against the current you can find a phrase, that, if you endlessly repeat it, somehow powers you up. As Ranulph Fiennes the English explorer (and cousin of Ralph Fiennes the actor) puts it, ‘a mantra lasts about three days.’ After that the ‘magic’ power of the ‘power phrase’ has lost its urgency and you need a new one. So I suspect I’ve made the phrase ‘living in the moment’ into a mantra phrase so it will be a powerful switch of emotional state for a few days and then I’ll be back to normal. That’s why, incidentally, I am wary of the massive claims made by NLP and other systems that employ ‘emotional reboots’ of one kind or another. They promise permanent change but actually just supply a series of emotional kicks. At the risk of going off the point I should clarify. Permanent change means removing things from your personality, from your life, from your conversations, from your way of seeing. You may add information such as, say, the need to be physically fit, but it acts as a removal of tiredness and lethargy. Abundant reality surrounds us all but we’re often blocked from perceiving it. Things and thoughts get in the way. Any plan of change that is based on a model of adding ‘new software’ to build some kind of superman battling the world to get his or her share of the goodies is just as doomed as a computer locked up with bloatware. In fact this example has some fleeting application here: imagine you’re a computer with a marvellous operating system and minimal software perfectly adapted to its correct use but somehow you’ve been loaded up with lots of free programs and downloads that keep causing you to crash. Your instinct is to find yet another program to cure all the others. Actually you just need to start stripping away all this stuff you don’t need. Or, more practically, recognising it can be used for temporary gain or boost, but then must be ditched. Hence mantras. There is no question if you are engaged in some hard boring task and you want to blast through it find a mantra that works- power phrases of the right kind usually suggest themselves at the time (‘never give up’ ‘I am unstoppable’ etc etc) and then as they lose effect try and find another. If you need it. But each mantra is ditched as needed, not left around to be worshipped as some ultimate truth- which only clogs the system.
Stripping it away rather than adding and adding has to be the overall strategy. And it is supported time and again by experience. For example, by stripping away thoughts about past and future one will feel energised. The freer you feel the more energy you have. The more ‘tied down’ you feel the less energy you have.
Back to the taxi. So I had some mantra help to get me started but then I began to notice what I was thinking. I found that if I turned my head to search out something new and potentially interesting to look at outside in the street I could beat getting ‘locked in’ which is the characteristic state of NOT living in the moment. I found I was observing my breathing, noting the extent of my body sitting in the chair. So making a note of sensations and then moving on definitely helps. I didn’t pursue or hang on to any thoughts that occurred. I visualised my head as ‘empty’ (true in more ways than one it has been suggested…), a place for observing ideas and thoughts and sensations and then moving on. The feeling of moving on is essential. I complimented the driver on the snazzy orange plastic interior of his cab. Beaming out a measure of goodwill definitely helps, looking out to be vaguely helpful rather than vaguely hostile loosens things up too. It all sounds rather simple because it is. Maybe it amounts to just removing the things that are stopping you from living in the moment. Worries? Just note them and then move on to noting your breathing and the blueness of the sky. If you can connect to the idea of all of life being somehow interconnected, including the inorganic, then it’s easier to avoid ‘mental lock-ups’. It’s easier because you can keep focusing outwards, keep using awe and wonder to keep your own tiny thoughts in perspective.
I am as guilty as the next person of thinking I need X and Y, and only if I get X and Y will I be truly ‘fulfilled’ and happy. What a needless penance! What a treadmill. Humans need something to do otherwise they become unhappy. But this doesn’t mean they should make themselves unhappy trying to make themselves happy…you aim for goals because that is what humans do, that’s the way we structure our days. But goal setting and achieving, though energising, won’t make anyone happy. Happiness is the natural state, the basic condition of life when you remove distracting thoughts and sensations.