Staying Present in Life

Painted stone yoga figurine in yellow lilies
Life is a dance.

Life is a dance; always changing, always surprising us. Many times, life does not adhere to your plans and you find yourself in unexpected situations and even in some unpleasant circumstances. The key is to stay present through whatever happens and just take things as they come. If outside circumstances do not affect you, you are free…because it’s not like life is just going to start getting easier. So it is you who must learn to just be ok with whatever comes.

It is when we react impulsively to happiness, sadness, grief and even victory, that we incur karma, whether it be good or bad karma. In Chapter 2, Verse 38 of the Holy Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, “Make grief and happiness, loss and gain, victory and defeat equal to thy soul and then turn to battle; so thou shalt not incur sin.” If something happens that angers you, and you give yourself over to your anger, you will be bound by your own reactions to that anger. You will most likely say things that you don’t really mean, or you may even break things that are valuable to you or your loved ones, and the physical ramifications of acting on your anger are endless; high blood pressure, heart palpitations, stomach ulcers and on and on… So by being affected by the outside circumstances, your reactions incur karma. You create more drama and heartache by your reaction to what happened than what you were actually faced with to begin with.

Furthermore, when you are ecstatically happy or overcome with feelings of victory, beware, for you must know that eventually you will meet unhappy circumstances in the future and you may taste defeat down the road. Nothing in life lasts forever, not even happiness…and that’s ok. We can’t be happy all the time… what would it even mean, if that was the case? The eloquent writer, Khalil Gibran once said, “If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and the lightning.” We must go through all the motions of life, not getting too caught in any of them, for all are just passing seasons. Some seasons are warm and light and full of promise, and some seasons are dark and cold and heavy. Whatever comes, just let it come… You can’t really control it anyway. You can only control your own response to life’s changes. You must face life, accepting it as it comes, having full faith and trusting completely that everything is happening exactly as it should.

There are ways of calming the mind and its reactive nature. You can condition the mind to just be still and receptive, instead of being all over the place and always wanting to be in control. We must remember that we are not in control… there is a Higher Force at work. Let’s take a look at three spiritual practices that will cultivate absolute presence, calm and peace within you:

1. Meditation

For many of us, meditation is the hardest thing to do. Meditation requires you to sit quietly and watch your thoughts as a witness, without indulging in them or reacting to them. With the modern world that we live in, we are constantly bombarded by sensory stimulation from the TV, to our Smart Phones, to our computers and even driving our cars. All of these things are causing our reality to speed up and this, of course, has some effect on the way we think and process the world. This is exactly why it is so important to take some time out of your busy day to just be still and silent… No TV, no phone, no radio, just you and your breath. Just staying with your breath as it moves into your body and flows out of your body. At first, this will seem near-impossible! You will probably want to jump up and turn on the television or go into the kitchen to look for a snack but refrain from giving up so soon. Meditation is a practice, a process and a journey. It requires time, patience and loving awareness. Meditation is a cleaning process and you can’t expect your mind to become clean after just one or two sessions. Just sit everyday with the intention to become calm. Keep harnessing your awareness back to your breath and do not react to your thoughts or any distractions in your environment. Soon enough, you will condition yourself to be cool, calm and connected.

2. Yoga

The ancient practice of yoga is more than just poses. Yoga is about keeping the mind steady, calm and present, all with the anchor of your breath. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, you will find countless texts that support this. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the foundational text of yoga. In the second sutra it says, “Yogas citta vritti nirodah.” This translates to, “Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.” Yoga allows you to remain steadfast through the changing tides of the mind and even with the demands of the body. You may be in a pose, that is not impossible, but your body is telling you to drop the pose and that you aren’t strong enough to do it. But you are strong enough and you can do it, you are just conditioned to listening to outside forces instead of tuning into the High Powers within you. Using the breath as your anchor, you will tap into your power. Yoga keeps you centered, grounded, strong and present.

3. Chanting

Words have so much power and the repetition of a word increases its power. Chanting mantra is exactly this. Mantras are empowered words or phrases, created by ancient sages, that facilitate higher states of consciousness. It is recommended that you be assigned your mantra by a guru or qualified spiritual teacher but there are plenty of safe and beneficial mantras that you can chant. Mantras have the capability of completely transforming you, allowing you to discover a new reality. Some find it helpful to chant japa on prayer beads. You would hold the mala, putting one bead between your fingers and recite your mantra, either silently or out-loud and then move your fingers to the next bead, chanting the mantra again and so on. The aim of japa is to control the mind and keep it still. You may find when you are chanting, that your thoughts run off… If you run off with them at first, it’s ok, just gently bring yourself back to your practice. The more you sit and chant japa, the more you will find yourself in a serene and still frame of mind. You could chant your mantra in line at the grocery store, or in your car on the way to work. Soon, you will no longer be doing the mantra, but the mantra will be doing you.

So, life will always flow… as it always has and as it always will. It is a constant river of cosmic energy that never stops. But we can make ourselves calm and adaptable to this current of life by taking up a spiritual practice and becoming peaceful, calm and non-reactive.

Whatever will be, will be. Just let it be.

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