I recently had the good fortune to attend a yoga retreat led by Father Joe Pereira and it was nothing short of a perspective-altering experience. I feel like I'll be chewing on the insights I gleaned there for the rest of my life, and I'm sure they'll weave their way into a few more blog posts along the way. Today I'm focusing on the simple but not easy practice of being present. Since the retreat this idea has been popping up all over the place in my work and personal life, which usually means the universe is trying to get me to pay extra attention to it.
Father Joe didn't actually speak about being present, and I imagine this was purposeful. A commonly used term that is bandied about alongside words like "wellness", "meditation", "living my best life", and "quinoa", "being present" has lost a little of its initial sparkle just like that stack of books about "living in the now" that's been collecting dust on your side table since January. What our guru did instead was take us through day after day of grueling yoga that was so intense all one could think about was what was happening in the body in that very moment. My internal dialogue usually went something like this:
(note to self: next blog should be on the merits of exploring pain)
Regardless of the method, something obviously got stirred up inside of me (aside from sections of my lat muscles that I'd never met before). I found myself journaling about the idea of taking one day at a time and what that would actually look like if practiced in our daily lives. What would it be like to go to the store and buy just two bananas because I only need two bananas today? To see one client because that's all the money I need today? To own one set of clothing because that's all I can wear at once? Of course its easy to come up with arguments against any of these ideas but that isn't the point. In order to be present, we have to live in the now which we can't do if we're simultaneously trying to live in the future by shopping for the future, earning for the future, or thinking about the future. So there's a degree of letting go required -- letting go of the fixation with preparing for or protecting against a future that is ultimately unknown to create some space for the present to just exist. If you consider all the things you will do today that are future-oriented, and then imagine not doing them, what would your day look like? What would you do with that time/brain space/money instead? How do you feel when you consider those possibilities? As is often the case, I'm not asking these questions because I necessarily believe that implementing these very extreme practices is the best idea or even a viable solution (I'm going to want a banana tomorrow, too and if the store isn't open I won't be happy!). I'm asking these questions because I think that the feelings they'll evoke can give us a ton of information about how we're living our lives, what is ultimately driving us, and if that fits with our values and goals.
Father Joe's mantra for the retreat was, "adopt a disposition of dispossession". Consider what might be useful to dispossess, whether that be an idea or belief, a habit or behaviour, or something else that could be standing in the way of you and the present. Consider letting it go (even if that's only a mental act and doesn't occur in actuality) and notice how that feels. You might notice a space open up and right there you've found that elusive thing -- the present.
Blog Author -- Jodie Voth, MMFT
Jodie is a full-time therapist and owner of Voth Family Therapy. She enjoys working with teens and motivated adults who are working through transitions and relationship challenges.