A few years ago, Oprah Winfrey did an online teaching series with The Power of Now author Eckhart Tolle. During one episode, Oprah was investigating why being present was so important. She said (I’m paraphrasing) “OK, so you walk up the stairs and you’re present for walking up the stairs. OK, so what? Why does it matter to be present while walking up some stairs?”
I don’t remember what Tolle’s answer was, but Oprah’s comments made me curious. I think we all know the importance of being present for significant situations like climbing or having a conversation with friends and family. If we aren’t present while climbing we might make a mistake that causes injury or death. If we aren’t present during a conversation with friends and family, then we won’t build meaningful relationships with them.
It’s the insignificant tasks, like walking up stairs, that are harder to justify being present for. Shouldn’t we be thinking of more important things we need to do, like a route we want to climb, or who we want to build meaningful relationships with, rather than be present for insignificant tasks like walking up stairs? You probably know my answer. No! OK, so why? It has to do with how being present benefits us.
The biggest challenge we face in life is shifting our motivation from end results to processes. Remember, processes make up each moment. End results are in the future. If we’re motivated primarily by end results, then our attention tends to shift out of the moment, into the future toward the end result. When this happens, we aren’t present for the current task. When we’re primarily motivated by the process, then our attention tends to stay in the moment because that’s where the process is. The benefit for being present is that our attention is focused more in the present, making us more effective, with whatever we’re doing. More effective? That’s the key to understanding the benefits.
“Effective” means that how we do the task improves, and how, addresses quality. What is the quality of how we do the task? What is the quality of our breath, our eye focus, our posture, our thinking? Quality is the benefit.
The important point here is this: we’re always practicing. How we think, how we use our bodies, and how we focus our attention, in each moment, is practice. It can’t be anything else. And, how we practice, in each moment, determines how we apply our thinking, our bodies, and our attention in all aspects of our lives, from doing insignificant tasks or significant tasks. Every moment matters; every moment influences who we become.
OK, still not convinced? By focusing attention in the moment, with an emphasis on quality, leads us to a state of peace. Consider how more peaceful we are if we are fully engaged and enjoy the present moment, rather than being distracted by a “more significant” task. We won’t feel the anxiety of striving to be somewhere we are not. Without that anxiety, we experience more peace. We clarify our vision, but then relax into the processes of the moment, focusing on quality, and find peace.
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This is an ironically timely message, considering I fell down my stairs last weekend, I was thinking about skiing and consequently missed a week of skiing from stair-falling injuries.
Hi Elizabeth, synchronicities occur each day of our lives. Sounds like you are aware of some today. Continue to pay attention to these synchronicities…
That awareness of being fully engaged in the moment is what Zen Buddhists call the “effortless effort”. I strive for that, but it is fleeting. Perhaps the longer you practice this mindful awareness, the more it becomes ingrained in your life.
Hi Donna, Thanks for your comment. Yes, the more we practice the better we get at this. One part of practice is choosing our words well. “I strive for that” therefore could be changed to “my intention is to be present during each moment.” The word “strive” indicates a tendency to be somewhere besides the present moment.
You make it seem so simple, but I know this is exactly what I need to read. Arno – you da man!
Hi Sam, simple yes, but not easy. There is a difference. Keep it simple and then pay attention vigilantly to that process.
Thanks for reminding me that “The Journey IS the Destination”–and to return to a process-oriented focus on “quality”. I think you are so “right-on” in this. People DO want the wrong things! Rather than being engaged in the doing, we want tick-marks, accolades, and trophies on the wall.
Thanks for your wise words. I too appreicate the benefits of awareness. You have shared with us in such clear words the many ways in which awareness..consciousness…mindfulness can do more than just improve efficiency and productivity..but peace : ) thanks!
I don’t know anything but I’ve learned through experience that without awareness I stumble around my like a drunk. I would not be a good tight rope walker because without awareness I take stabs at the dark searching for balance in my life, I am unbalanced. Swinging from extreme right, passing balance, and going to extreme left. As always badass Arno.