Meditation and mindfulness are both great tools for cultivating more presence in our daily lives, but before we even consider them, we need to face the main obstacle that prevents us from staying present in our thoughts. In order to become more present, we must first understand the mind and how it operates.
The Mind and Being Present
In order to understand our thoughts, let's first think of them as computer functions. A computer has input (keyboard, mouse, touchpad), a processor, a hard drive to store information, and a display. For a thought to be formed, input is required.
We receive inputs via our five senses: hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell - all of which are continuously triggered by the environment, just like a computer.
Let's look at what the main challenge is to us being in the present moment - our thoughts. But how does a thought come about?
Think of our senses as the keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse receive input and this goes to the Central Processing Unit (CPU). The CPU processes information. The CPU is likened to the ego, intellect and subconscious. When we perceive something with our senses it's like input into our system.
Think of it this way, the result of the processing is that an image will appear on the computer screen. Our human-computer processes the input and creates a thought. Again, our mental processor consists of the ego, the intellect and our subconscious. But, the condition or the programming of these three components is related to the output. This means that two people can perceive the exact thing through their senses, but their thoughts about that thing will not be the same.
The Process of Being Present
Let's go through an example to understand this better. Imagine you walk by a candy store and you see (sensory input) a candy apple cake in the display window and as soon as you see that candy apply, your internal (and largely unconscious) processes begin. The impression of the candy apple is processed by your CPU (this mental processor), which is made up of the ego, intellect, and subconscious.
What exactly are the ego, intellect and subconscious?
The ego is the idea of the self such as your likes and dislikes and other ideas of how you see yourself.
The intellect is your capacity to think, reason and analyse.
You can think of the subconscious as your memory bank. The subconscious memories start even from when you were in the womb. Yes, we may not be able to access these memories but they are stored in this memory bank.
How does the ego express ?
The ego might say, “I like candy apples.” After that, the intellect might respond that you have enough money to buy the apple. Then the subconscious will tell you that the last time you had a candy apple it tasted great.
This happens in a millisecond, and upon seeing the candy apple, the thought to halt and buy the apple is created. But, this situation can go differently. Let’s say there it’s a chocolate brownie instead. Again, the input will provide you with information. You will see and smell a chocolate brownie. The input goes to your ego but you know that you don’t like chocolate brownies much. Your intellect says that you don't want to part with your money on something that does not tickle your fancy and your subconscious will inform you that the last time you ate a chocolate brownie it was not satisfying. The thought is created: “I don’t like chocolate brownies and so I don't want it.”
These examples of the candy apple and the chocolate brownie are simple ones, but they explain how a thought is created. A thought will lead to another and the next thought will lead to the next, resulting in a bundle of thoughts.
A great number of thoughts are triggered by sensory input, but just as many are triggered by previous ones. This is an ongoing process, and anyone who has tried to remain without a thought - even for a moment - knows how challenging it can be. However, it is possible to become more present and more serene right here and now if we can understand what the mind is and how it functions.
According to yogic philosophy, the mind is a bundle of thoughts. Let's be clear that the mind is not your ego, not your intellect and not your subconscious. The mind does not have a physical location within the body – think of it as a collection of all your thoughts. So, to control the mind, we have to learn to control the creation of thoughts.
Five Steps to be More Present In your Daily Life
So just how do we control the creation of thoughts so that we can be more present?
1. Get to the Source
A thought results from the inputs of the senses. It is processed by the ego, intellect and subconscious. If we want to control the mind, we have to first decrease sensory inputs.
Next, we can learn to ignore all the inputs that aren't necessary. While it is true that we can't shut down our senses, we can train ourselves to not be controlled or influenced by sensory inputs. This way, we become less and less attached to the sensory pleasures of the world.
2. Go Beyond Limitations
It is our aim to let go of attachment to our ego with its likes and dislikes. Also, to our intellect. First, let go of the ego by detaching from ideas about yourself and also others. Be open-minded and consider other and new ways of thinking.
Secondly, letting go of the intellect means understanding its limitations. Remember, the intellect is limited to what it already knows.
If the intellect does not have a previous connection to a thought, it cannot understand and analyse that thought. And so, to become more connected to the present moment, try not to analyse everything according to what you already know.
3. Slow Down
Mastering this process is a skill and simply cannot happen overnight. Encouragingly, as you practice this skill you will see your life change positively. Practice awareness of these concepts and keep applying them to your best ability, and you shall progress.
4. Applying Spiritual Practices
At this point, we can begin to practice meditation and Pratyahara (limiting the sensory input) in order to gain control over the mind. As with a computer, the image (thought) is created by the sensory input. Practising Pratyahara will help you limit and remove these distractions.
The practice of meditation can help you detach from the ego, intellect, and subconscious.
5. Staying mindful
To start, practise meditation by focussing on one object for a short period of time.
When you get distracted during your meditation practice, gently bring your focus back to the object of concentration. A great way is to use your breath as an object of concentration. It's one of the easiest things to come back to!
Observe that the more you practice this, the more you will find that you can choose which thoughts to entertain and which to let go of. Ultimately you will see that you are not your thoughts but actually above them.
How to be More Present: Takeaways
After a while of practising sensory withdrawal (Pratyahara) and detachment from your human-computer (made up of the ego, intellect, and subconscious), you will feel more connected to yourself and the world.
You will be able to concentrate on what matters to you, rather than being distracted by all the sensory inputs that we are plagued by every day. Keep to this practice and you will become more and more present and this will greatly benefit you and reflect in your daily life.
Remember this is a process, gain an understanding of what the mind is and how it works. Then, you can practice detachment to the ego and intellect with patience. You will then eventually become ready for the practice of meditation and Pratyahara (limiting the sensory input). All this allows you to be more present and mindful.
As in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is the cessation of movements of the mind (Yoga Sutras 1:2).
Keep with this practice, slowly and daily to reap its benefits. With time and effort you control your very own mental processor and be present, mindful and a master of your life!