Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…
‘Antigonish’ – Hughes Mearns
Many of us like to think of ourselves as free thinking, spirited individuals, and that we ‘have control’ over what we say and do.
But if you pay any level of close, sustained attention to your behaviours over the period of a day, you will see that this is anything but the case.
The thumb creeping to the lock button of the phone even if there is nothing to respond to, the process of consuming a meal without even paying a skerrick of attention to the food, catching yourself out in the midst of having blank vision in the eyes, but not seeing anything.
These processes happen again, and again and again, and we very rarely pay attention. We all know and have experienced these things – so how can some of us be so arrogant to think we are in total control of what we are doing?
Who then, is in control? If we are on auto-pilot, who is manning the ship?
Have our social functions really become as mechanised as the ones that sustain the heartbeat and the unconscious breath system? Are we so locked into the pulse of our slumbered activities that we simply aren’t even there to experience them anymore?
At this stage, a million fingers can be pointed at the reasons for this. Fluoride in the water, lack of Jesus Christ or lack of multivitamins, the conditions don’t really matter. What matters, truly, is the level of presence one brings to an activity. Once presence is there, the conditions tend to melt away.
When you do something, are you there? Are you engaged with the activity? Now, it should be noted that this is not suggesting that you adopt the principle of ‘living in the moment’. This indicates a grasping onto an idea of ‘happiness right now’, and as David Mitchell humorously debunks, the only time one can truly ‘live in the moment’ is during sneezing.
As a counter to the aspect of unconscious operation, its not a matter of adopting the idea of ‘living in the moment’ when the moment happens, rather, its the particular quality of being present in the moment as the moment happens. It is the most subtle distinction, but usually, most things of value are seen in the finer points.
Catching yourself out when you are ‘not there’ cultivates a finer degree of ‘being there’. When your eyes glaze over for no reason, as you drift into idle, catch yourself. When you go to flick open Facebook for the 28th time that day, catch yourself. When you find yourself floating over to the snack bar in an unconscious haze, catch yourself. When you catch yourself you can communicate with yourself. When you can communicate with yourself, engage in fruitful dialog with yourself, you understand yourself. When you understand yourself, ‘being there’ tends to happen quite naturally.