The Power of Presence
The quality of your presence has everything to do with the quality of your life.
Depression often happens when we are stuck in the past and anxiety can arise when we are stuck in the future.
Freedom and joy are only found in the present moment. In this podcast, Travis explores the power of presence.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Welcome to episode number 32 of the Be Ultimate podcast: The Power of Presence.
This is your host Travis Elliot and I’m excited for this week’s podcast because we’re going to be talking about presence.
There is a story of a man that was walking down the road and after several minutes he came up to this cross-section, and he saw an old beggar sitting on top of a wooden box. And the beggar asked this traveler if he had any change to spare, if he had any money. The traveler declined to offer the beggar any money, but he did have a question for the beggar. And his question was, “What’s inside your box?” And the beggar said, “There’s nothing inside the box.” And the traveler said, “Well, how do you know? Have you looked?” And the beggar said, “I haven’t looked, but there’s definitely nothing inside the box.” And the traveler said, “Well, if I was you, I’d take a look. It doesn’t hurt to see what’s inside.” So reluctantly the beggar opened up this rusty old lock and broke inside the box. And to his astonishment, there was an entire box full of gold.
So the metaphor is is we’re all sitting on this box of gold that what we seek is closer than we think. We seek happiness and we seek love and we seek answers and knowledge and all these things outside of us when the ancient traditions they teach us and they show that all of this stuff is already inside of us. But we’ll never discover this if we’re constantly stuck in the past or the future and we’re never accessing the power of the present moment.
“Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light and whatever is exposed to the light itself becomes light.”
And we know by the age of 35, 95% of who we are is unconscious. Think about that. 95% of who we are is in the dark. And it’s through this avenue of presence that we begin to bring the light, that we begin to illuminate the darkness of the unconscious. And whatever we bring light to through the present moment itself begins to transform into light.
The Dalai Lama a few years ago was on this book tour. He had written this book and it became a New York Times bestseller. And this interviewer was saying, “You must be thrilled. Here you are. You have this book and the book has all this knowledge and wisdom and uplifting content. Now you’re number one on the New York Times best-selling list. What has been the greatest moment of your whole entire life? You’ve done so many remarkable astonishing things.” And the Dalai Lama took a moment. He was thinking and reflecting upon his history. And then he had a little smile that appeared on his face and he looked at the interviewer and he said, “I think now.”
He felt like from his perspective even though he’s done all these astonishing things and then with some of the greatest figures in modern-day history, to him the present moment was the greatest moment of his life. Being with this interviewer, not thinking about other things, but just being present.
Often, when we fall into patterns of depression, it’s because we’re stuck in the past.
Something in my past happened to me and my mind is just churning that over and over again. And for many people, this can go back decades. And we haven’t had the ability or we haven’t accessed the tools to really let go these past events. And on some level, part of being a human being is we all move through things that suck, we move through things that are challenging, and difficult, and sometimes very traumatic. And hopefully, through the practices of yoga, and mindfulness, and meditation, for some of us going to therapy, we’re able to heal that so that we’re not stuck in the past and that we can be in the present moment.
On the flip side, when we’re stuck in the future, when we’re consumed by what’s going to happen down the road, this is where anxiety begins to arise.
We’re worried about all these things, we’re worried about so many things in our life, and this creates an endless flow of anxiety.
So the importance of being present is that we’re not stuck in the past, we’re not stuck in the future. It doesn’t mean that we can’t plan for the future, but when we plan for the future that happens in the present moment and when we’re planning and we’re strategizing and we’re setting goals and intentions, we’re doing that with awareness.
The things feelings we yearn for: joy, freedom, spaciousness, peace of mind, equanimity, can only ever happen in the present moment.
So we have to become aware of where is our mind going. Where is our mind going throughout our day, throughout our lives? And that’s the first step is just becoming aware. Because a lot of us don’t even know that we’re stuck in the past or stuck in the future.
So it’s a little bit like that sign in Las Vegas that says “you must be present to win.”
If you want to win the money, you want to win the gold, you got to be present. So if you want to win at the game of life, you too also need to be present.
I remember there was one time I went on a hike with my son, Bodhi, he was seven years old at the time and we had been hiking for about 20 or 30 minutes. And as we were going down the trail he was talking about all these things that he was excited about that he was going to do later in the week. He was going to see his friend and he was going to go to this place. And meanwhile, we’re in this really beautiful place in nature with vistas of the mountains, ocean breeze that was flowing through the mountains, good quality time between dad and son. And I said, “Bodhi, I’m glad you’re excited about all these things, but there’s also something to be said about what’s happening right here right now and being present in this moment.” And he paused for about five or so seconds, he got quiet, I could see his mind just churning and taking in this concept of presence. And after those five seconds, he says, “I’m really excited about my birthday that’s coming up.” I was like, “Did you just hear what I said, Bodhi, about being present?”
On one level, he’s thinking about his birthday that’s coming down the road two or three months later. And also when I say the word present, in his mind he’s thinking about getting a present. So bless his heart, he’s seven years old, right? So if he takes in just a little bit of this wisdom, then I consider that to be a victory.
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
How many times in our life are we multitasking? You want to talk about anxiety and stress. So much stress and anxiety arises because we’re doing too many things at once. And now with technology and our phones and receiving text messages and phone calls and emails and notifications from social media outlets, again, we’re just bombarded by so many things and all this pulls us away from the power of the present moment.
So the question becomes how do we become more present? What can we do?
And for me, I’ll often work with many of the mindfulness techniques and tools as a way to become present. One of these is being attuned to body sensation.
For example, when you get depressed, that’s going to show up in your body because your body keeps the score. When you get stressed or anxious, that too will show up somewhere in your body. So as you become more and more attuned to your body through meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, you’ll start to notice, “Hey, when I get stressed out, it shows up maybe in the chest area,” where you feel a contraction that happens in your chest or when you get depressed you may feel something within your belly, within your core. They talk about the gut reaction.
And so there’s a lot of things that we can feel in that stomach, in that gut area, where we feel these areas hardening or tightening or we might feel heat or temperature changes.
So there’s that connection between the mind and the body which we’ve unpacked quite a bit in some of the other podcasts like mastering your mind and things like that. So we can tune in to our bodies and feel what we’re feeling within our body because the sensation that you’re feeling isn’t happening yesterday, it’s not happening tomorrow.
When is it happening? It’s happening right now, it’s happening in this moment.
Another thing that we can use to become more grounded and more present is focusing on our breath. And this is a big one. It’s a universal practice. It’s free. You don’t have to go do some 5,000-dollar training to learn this. It’s neutral. It’s applicable to anybody that has any belief system, any religious or non-religious belief.
We can all tune into our breath, and on some level, it’s very, very simple. And I like to use this when I’m in transition, when I’m in an Uber or Lyft and I’m going to a meeting, or when I’m at the airport and I’m standing in line getting ready to go through security. A lot of times when we’re in transition, this is when our mind loses that present connection because we start to get bored or we’re fighting the experience.
When we fight the experience, we don’t want to be in line, we don’t want to be in traffic, what do we do? We want to check out. Or if we’re at home and we’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions or we’ve had a tough day at work, what do we do? We don’t want to be present. We go to the refrigerator and we numb ourselves with food or alcohol or drugs or just numbing out by watching television for five or six hours. There are so many ways that we default out of the present moment.
So to attune yourself to your breath and just be aware when you’re taking an inhale and then when you’re releasing an exhale, just that simple act of knowing the difference between an inhale and exhale. And also the quality of the breath. Is the breath shallow? Is the breath fluid? Is the breath rich? Is the breath deep?
And you can scroll back through the podcast episodes, and we have a whole entire meditation that’s called the breath meditation where we just dial into the breath.
So those two things, focusing on bodily sensation, focusing on the breath, will always bring you back to the present moment. If you’re tuned to those things, then you know that your mind is present.
Now, as you go through your day, another takeaway tool from this podcast is to ask yourself the question, ”What is going on inside me in this present moment?”
Get in this habit. Again, when you’re walking to work, when you’re going to pick up the kids from sports practice, when you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, taking a shower, eating lunch, whatever it is, ask yourself, “What is going on inside me in this present moment?”
Because this will keep you connected to what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking and what you’re experience is, and that’ll help you mitigate and navigate around that default mode of checking out and numbing out and being disconnected from yourself.
So stay attuned to what it is that you’re feeling within. As you do this, naturally, your mind and your body, they begin to settle. So the mind becomes less and less like a stormy turbulent ocean and it becomes more like a clear force pool.
“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather around us so that they may see, it may be their own images. And so live for a moment with a clearer perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.”
-William Butler Yeats
We know from neuroscience that we have mirror neurons and when we’re around somebody and they exude a certain energy or quality or frequency or electromagnetic signature, then that can awaken that within us as well.
When our minds are settled, when our hearts are open, we can inspire the same within others.
And this is really a gift. You think about all the people that you see on a daily basis, your family, your friends, people in your community, strangers at random places, and when we’re in this energy of being settled and being present, we have the capacity to awaken that within others.
Now, traditionally, yoga was defined by a sage named Patanjali as being “yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” So those are Sanskrit words. Yoga means union, chitta means mind or consciousness, vritti means wave or fluctuation, and the word nirodha means the removal of.
Traditionally yoga meant “the removal of the waves inside of the mind.”
So you think about it, yoga isn’t about a down dog, it’s not about handstand, it’s not about fancy circus tricks, and its core essence, it’s about removing these waves so that the mind becomes completely still. This stillness, this still mind, is congruent and in alignment with this theme of being present.
Now, when we allow our thoughts and we allow our speech and we allow our actions to come from this place of stillness or presence, this begins to trigger a whole different chain of events or what we might call karma. Then when our thoughts and our speech and our actions come from a place of chaos or disturbance, when your mind is disturbed, this is going to color how you think, how you speak, and how you act, right?
So when you allow yourself to settle, to become still, to become present, now you’re creating and forging this new path or you’re planting seeds that are going to bear different types of fruits. If you have a still, present mind, you are going to plant seeds that are going to lead to qualities like joy, and happiness, and meaning, and benevolence. And inversely, when you’re planting seeds that come from chaos and disturbance, then you’re going to create more of that chaotic, dissonant suffering for yourself within your life.
So think about that. The more present you are, the more still you are, the more that you begin to create a different type of karma for yourself. And if you’re unfamiliar, karma just means– it just means action.
What actions are you taking? And what you reap is what you sow. If you plant an apple seed, you grow an apple tree. If you plant a seed for a weed, then you grow a weed.
So the question is what do you want to plant in the garden of your life? Do you want to plant seeds or do you want to plant weeds?
Now, when we bring this presence to all things within our life even the mundane things like washing dishes, running errands, doing and folding laundry, we have the capacity when we bring this presence to something that is ordinary for it to turn into something extraordinary.
And ultimately this presence begins to pervade everything that we do, not just when we’re going to yoga or meditation. It’s not about just being present at those times. The practice is, the hope is, is that it begins to percolate into all things. And, of course, it will wax and wane, it will expand, it will contract, it will come and go. That’s part of being human. That’s okay. But the idea is that it does begin to proliferate through all those various aspects of what we do within our life.
“If a person sweeps streets for a living, he should sweep them as Michael Angelo painted, as Beethoven composed music, and as Shakespeare wrote his plays.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
So to bring magnificence, to bring presence to whatever it is that we do. The garbage collector, they bring presence to what they do. The person working in the financial institution, in the business, they can bring presence to what they do. The stay at home mom or dad or grandmother, grandfather, they bring presence to what they do, and this turns into a living act of beauty.
So bringing presence to all things in life and that your freedom really comes from transcending your past, not being stuck in the past, and also not being stuck in the future, and always taking refuge in the eternal present moment.
“The past is history. The future is a mystery. That’s why this moment right now is called the present, it’s a gift.”
-Kung Fu Panda
So lastly the takeaway is, again, check in with yourself.
Ask yourself the question, “What am I feeling right now in this present moment?”
An exercise that you can do is, as you move through your life, to be aware, to be conscious of where your mind is going. And if you notice that your mind is going into the past, then just note that. And you don’t want to note it with judgment and criticism and abuse, you don’t want to be like, “Oh, man, I flunked the test.” You want to be compassionate with yourself and just gently note it with a neutral, compassionate mind, “Oh, yeah. Mind going back to the past.” You can say the word past, past, past. And then if you notice yourself getting anxious and you’re getting stressed out about the future, you can also become aware of that and you can note that as well. Again, no criticism, no judgment, but just being aware, “Oh, there’s the mind going into the future,” and you note that. Future, future, future. And then after noting that past, past, or future, future, then you can just come back and repeat the word presence or you could say, “Be present. Be present. Be present.”
And obviously, if you’re somewhere in public like you’re standing in line at the grocery store, you probably want to do this all silently entirely so that people don’t think that you’re completely crazy. You want to be an incognito person about it. But this will really, really start to open up the window and broaden the scope of what’s possible for you to continue to be more and more present.
“The miracle is not to walk on water, the miracle is to walk on the green earth dwelling in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
So as you’re walking, and we walk so much within our day, to really think about that. Bringing mindfulness to every step, feeling your feet touch the ground, feeling the breath moving in and out through the body, feeling the breeze, touching your skin, remember those bodily sensations that we feel connecting to the breath, and this is the miracle. This is the miracle that we’re all incredibly capable of.
Let’s now finish with the ultimate prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness,
may we bring courage where there is fear,
may we bring compassion where there is suffering,
and may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate!”