By Amanda Moreno
I sat down to write about being present, and you know what happened? I had a hard time being present. I would try to return my focus to my breathing, and that would last for about two breaths, and then five minutes later I’d come back into the room, realizing I’d just thought about a whole world of things rather than writing about being present.
I definitely have a history with Buddhism, although I’d never call myself Buddhist or even one who uses many Buddhist practices. I think it’s a beautiful spiritual system, and one I’m certainly glad many people benefit from. I also love the focus on presence.
When I started my graduate studies, I was initially drawn to Tibetan Buddhism and gained some exposure to its mysticism and ‘shamanic’ themes. I had to bookmark those studies to come back to later, but was always intrigued.
I also came across a body of ideas that proclaimed, in general, that Buddhist practice doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in Western culture, particularly as a way to deal with our inner demons. Because our culture is so different, particularly in its focus on individuality, it does not make sense to think that Buddhism can be used appropriately. At first my feathers were ruffled, but then I began to find some credence in the theory, even if I tend to avoid thinking or believing in absolutes.
I began to notice a few things that made me think about Buddhist practice on Western ground. For example, I’d hear friends respond to world crises, using their ideas about “attachment” to justify not getting attached to thinking about, paying attention to or caring about what is going on in the world. I began to see interpretations of doctrine that were clearly based on headlines and catch phrases rather than knowledge about some really profound and deep teachings.
I started to realize that we do live in an ego-centric culture, and that ‘ways to wholeness’ in a culture like ours might need to address the ego differently than would a culture that is not so geared toward the individual. While I could see some people truly benefiting from Buddhist practices, I was also aware of a tendency I saw in others who would use Buddhism as an excuse to disengage or avoid, to compound their dissociation, or to justify spending on more stuff — a different colored yoga mat or yoga pants or cushions.
For myself, I always bristled at the idea that we are here to get rid of desire. I love desire! It fuels me! And more than that, I love feeling! But then I realized…desire begets more desire, potentially putting a person in a state of perpetual longing. I also began to realize it’s not about detachment in that we are just supposed to not feel anything; we’re just not supposed to get attached to the feelings. To feel anger while not becoming an angry person. To let the emotion flow through, experience it and then let it go.
Then the whole ‘being present’ thing comes to mind. My mind can be so undisciplined, and I’m pretty sure that the more I try to discipline it the more undisciplined it gets. Not that I ever get too far in my attempts, because, well, I have a hard time being present.
My first ‘shamanic’ teacher taught that Buddhist meditation doesn’t make sense for a lot of Westerners because our minds are going all the time and it’s just futile to try to change that. She then taught a series of ‘active’ meditation techniques, full of visualizations. I still use many of them, six years later, and continue to find value in them for myself, my friends and my clients. I tend to avoid sweeping generalizations like she made, but it made sense for me.
I also wonder, however, whether I’m missing something by avoiding Buddhist meditation practices. I bet they might help me with the presence thing.
You know what doesn’t help? Cell phones. I am shocked at how often I’m walking through the city, and am compelled to take out my cell phone while waiting at a stoplight. Even worse when I’m half way through a block and have the instinct to pull the thing out to see if something has changed in the two minutes since I left the stop light. It’s insidious.
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with some lady friends, all of whom (myself included) have been really looking at our attachment patterns. A common thread that tends to get amped up as we engage our relationships is ‘future tripping’, or rehashing the past, and other patterns of fixation. Several have said something along the lines of, “I don’t understand why I can’t just be present.”
It’s clear that there isn’t a simple answer, and that there are so many ways to think about this. But our culture hasn’t really been geared towards being present for several hundred years now. Technology, in many ways, seems to be geared towards keeping us out of the present.
It also makes me think about the resurgence of the divine feminine, especially as I talk to the women in my life. Perhaps it’s just our age and hormonal shifts, but I tend to lean towards more mystical explanations much of the time, and I do give some credence to the idea, which is knowledge for many of us, that Gaia is waking up — and along with her so is the feminine energy surging through each of us.
There seems to be an influx of anger as of late, as we become more moody — and I mean that in the most non-qualitative way, in that we are becoming aligned with our cycles and [trying to] respond accordingly. As we become more at home in our bodies and with our sexualities and desires, needs and wants we’re understanding how much of this has been repressed for a very long time. It feels like we’re channeling an influx of energy that none of us really knows what to do with, and so we’re experimenting with it all (when we’re not just reacting to it, that is), and hopefully learning about how to use it consciously in the process.
Being present while the divine feminine is waking up within you is…well, to me it feels awe-inspiring in a really exhaustingly complex and sometimes just obnoxious way. I suppose it’s happening within all of us. I’ve found myself increasingly relying on breathing and stretching.
Of course, all of a sudden, Tibetan-Shamanic-Esoteric texts, practices and images are showing up in my life everywhere I go. So perhaps it is time to re-engage the Buddhism thing as I begin to focus on being here now (or at least more often). Time will tell.