If we want to know firsthand the grandeur of life, we need to stop and survey the spot in which we are standing. It is not further down the road. We are knee-deep in it right now! If it doesn’t look so grand from our vantage point, it is just because our negative perceptions are casting a dark cloud over it. We need a way to focus on the present moment without the overlay of negativity. We need a way to circumnavigate the ego. One way is through the practice of mindfulness, the observation of thought.
When we practice mindfulness, we observe our thoughts from the perspective of an outsider. We watch our minds run their little games without getting attached to the outcomes. Come what may, we can never be completely swept away by our thoughts as long as we are watching them. Mindfulness is a powerful exercise in becoming present. If we never sought to anchor ourselves in the present by any other means besides it, we would make great strides.
A twist on mindfulness is what I call the camera view. When we practice the camera view, we imagine ourselves from the lens of a camera. It is like people-watching at the mall, but now we are watching ourselves.
The exercise need not be anything intensive; we simply have a sense of our expressions and movements. In the process of watching our expressions, we gain awareness of the thoughts that are behind them. The exercise may sound involved, but actually, it is quite easy to maintain while engaged in other activities. For example, while I am typing these words, I have a sense of my eyes as they are watching the screen. I am aware that I am biting my lip. Yet my awareness does not distract me from the task of writing. In fact, it helps me to concentrate on it because I am less likely to get lost in a passing thought.
There are actually many practices to help train our minds to become present. Most of them entail some form of meditation. In the West, Mindfulness and Transcendental meditation are very popular. But our practice does not have to be anything so formal. In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle describes some less than formal ways to silence the mind and enter into a state of presence.
One such way is to direct our focus into the body and try to feel the subtle energy that pervades it. The hands are a good place to start. We simply close our eyes and see what we can learn by putting our attention on them. Can we detect any sensation? Any stress or stiffness? Can we feel the tips of our fingertips? If we hold this focus for several minutes, we will likely become aware of a tingling sensation in our hands. This is the subtle energy that emanates from the soul. Focusing on it brings about a state of deep presence.
Another exercise that Tolle describes is to become aware of the formless. The formless is silence. It is also space. But the Mechanical Mind does not pay much attention to either because it cannot make them into anything. It cannot make them into an identity for itself nor can it make them into a problem. It cannot create more time out of them either, which is to say, more past and future. Because the formless evades the ego, it offers us an exit out of it. By putting our attention on silence or empty space, our minds become still.
Give it a try. Can you put your attention on the silence that exists behind the sounds that you hear? Can you give more attention to the empty space in a room than on the objects that occupy it? Hold your attention on the formless until the nothingness of it becomes profound. This is a portal into presence, a chance for a close encounter with your soul.
Whichever door we choose to use to enter into presence, we bring along the awareness of the soul. We offer it a front-row seat to the world around us. It is touched by the people we talk to. It is moved by the sorrow we see. It is elevated to great heights when we give nature our full attention. In fact, when we give the soul a view of our world, we are no longer viewing it as the Mechanical Mind; we are viewing it as the soul itself. The soul is, after all, our deeper self. It just takes becoming present to become aware of it.