Being present is being in the prefrontal cortex.
As we know, this is where the very best of ourselves comes from, we can be creative, we can be objective and we can take action whatever the circumstances. Being present, is not just about being in a moment in time, but about not being distracted by the alternatives.
The alternative to being present is solely thinking and reacting through the auto-piloted emotional primitive brain.
When we’re thinking purely from our primitive brain and not engaging our with our pre-frontal cortex, we’re typically thinking with a survival mindset. Most of this thinking boils down to worry about having ‘less’, having ‘lost’ something or ‘never’ having as we discussed previously.
This is a normal for us human beings. We all have a tendency for our thoughts to be centred in the ‘past’, the ‘future’ or even in events of the ‘current moment’. We can all become entirely immerced in consuming thoughts about how we were, will-be or are threatened in someway.
Future (Never): If we are most typically future focused in our thinking; e.g. considering the impact of events now on the future from our primitive brains. We will be on the lookout for what we might never have and how that makes us feel.
Past (Lost): If we are typically past focused, then we will be focused on what we have lost previously or the impact of a prior event. This includes the associated feelings of loss, despite
Now (Less): Even in the now, this moment defined in time, we can ruminate on what we will have less of. When we think of this, these thoughts aren’t really allowing us to be in the now. This thinking clouds us from seeing what is really there and the alternative opportunities that also exist.
What if time didn’t exist in our thinking?
I was thinking about the times where I have truly been in the moment to explain what this feels like and the first thing that came to mind was mountain biking. Specifically, travelling downhill on a rocky off-road surface as quickly as possible.
When descending on the trail, anyone mountain biking is looking only at what’s coming up next. The next turn, the next obstacle, where others are on the trail or where to put the effort in. This focus becomes even tighter the greater the speed being travelled.
It’s a sport where there are numerous sensations that we can experience whilst travelling quickly, these could be speed itself, the feel of the wind rushing past us, the temperature, the vibrations through the bike from the ground, the sounds the tyres make on the ground, the movement of the bike underneath us or even the way the suspension reacts with the ground.
A mountain biker could focus on these sensations alone, however there is also a need for consideration of when to put power through the pedals, how best to navigate obstacles, deciding which way to lean to avoid slippery roots or rocks that appear in the blink of an eye and then there’s also being able to choose the best line to get the most out of the current section of the ride. That could be choosing to go slower to arrive at the next section safely or to take a ramp and get you and the bike off the ground.
There is no room for other focus or thinking. When the speed increases the focus on movement and how to use the body to navigate takes over.
The awareness of the temperature, the wind rushing past or the sounds of the tyres disappear entirely and focus is only about what is necessary and what is real.
This state is often described as a state of flow.
Focus and thinking about the task at hand becomes easy and time no longer exists for us. There is only right now, the possibilities that unfold and a decision made on how to get the most from them.
When we’re here, we’re present. There is nothing else. All parts of the brain are engaged in the task and everything else does not exist.
There is an exhilaration from mountain biking comes afterwards. Having achieved the descent safely, but at speed and having been one with event itself. No distractions, nothing to pull you off course. You’ll often see mountain bikers high-giving each other at the bottom of a descent. The thrill and the buzz comes from boththe adrenaline fuelled state the body is in and from the achievement of something difficult. The faster you descend, the harder it becomes.
This achievement is not to be understated as it comes with it;s own feel good endorphin rich hit of pleasure. This feeling can be achieved elsewhere in life too as we’ve evolved to get a positive chemical hit for achievement and taking positive action.
Being present when around others can be some-what similar.
With an outcome in mind, we can be watching for what happens next, deciding how we engage for a positive and purposeful outcome. We can leave our own time-based fears and worries to one-side.
Examples of this could be leaving a conversation with that person feeling heard and loved or giving that person a reminder of how amazing or capable they are. Helping them reconnect with the person they know they are, the person who can tackle the problems they face. It maybe assisting helping someone see a situation for what it really is, rather than being clouded by the less, lost or never thinking that distracts us all.
Being present is actually watching, listening and understanding what is really infront of us. It’s about understanding the current position free from judgement, pre-conceptions or otherwise. It is hearing what the other person is really saying and importantly, what they are really feeling.
If we’re thinking ahead to what we are going to say next, the impact on us now, in the future or the past then we will miss what the person right in front of us is feeling and what they are actually saying.
Let’s try being present. Being considered, intentional and striving for an alternative possibilities. This is putting what we’ve lost in the past, could lose now or will never have in the future to one side and bringing into our lives the alternative: A future of plenty, a past of bounty and a now of wonder.