Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 106: Living in the Moment

After a pleasant week in Madrid, I'm heading South to Cadiz for Carnival. This afternoon I arrived in the antique city of Toledo. I had a couch all set up, but my host hasn't responded with an address. It's been a while since I've busted out the tent. As I sit outside, leeching internet from a McDonalds, I feel this is the perfect time to elaborate on some thoughts I've been having lately.

Living in the moment is a simple concept that is difficult to achieve. Since meditating with Aras, I have been endlessly fascinated with living in the moment. I have caught brief speckles and shimmers of what this experience is like but I've also enjoyed mulling it around in the ol' brain hole.

Everyone finds different ways of living in the moment. It can be becoming totally absorbed in an activity whether it be sport, book, movie, or music. So intense is your concentration that it takes no effort to concentrate; you don't even realize you're concentrating; you don't realize you're not thinking about anything else. There is no past or future – you just are and you are completely.

Before I started traveling, not knowing where I was going to sleep would have worried me sick. But my travels have taught me there's no point in stressing out. Life will lead me as it will. Plus, the weather is warm and a night in the tent would be rather nice. But the concept of living in the moment extends beyond this. I have so many little meaningless stresses. Thoughts about the future wondering how something is going to turn out. Not only do these distract me from what I'm doing but they also stress me out!

When I was in Salamanca a few days ago I didn't have enough money to buy a bus ticket back to Madrid. I went to sleep that night knowing that I was going to be hitch hiking the next day. Even though I enjoy hitch hiking and have done it many times, my head was full of "What if's."

When a thought enters my mind during meditation, I let it go and refocus on my breath; it's the same in daily life. When I feel overwhelmed with "What if's" I bring my attention back to the present by focusing on my breath, just like I'm meditating.

I feel that I have so many of these thoughts that I am unable to free myself of them yet. Even after meditating daily for nearly half a year I realize that I am just at the beginning. Being able to realize that I'm having these thoughts and that they are bringing me stress is the first step. I'm not worried about how to deal with them because I have a feeling I will resolve it subconsciously.

My fascination with living in the moment has made me appreciate ways in which other people live in the moment. I mentioned how activities like sports, books, movies can help us live in the moment. Before the Superbowl, I doubt that the members of each team are thinking about what they're going to eat afterwards. In fact, I'm curious what they are thinking about. But in a less extreme example, I see similar tendencies in normal people playing sports, reading, listening to music, or watching movies – forgetting about the past and future and just being. I've even learned to enjoy washing dishes.

Attempting to think about nothing has been such a fascinating exercise for me because it's so different than how I've been educated. I recently read a book called "Parallel Thinking" by Edward de Bono. Edward is the self proclaimed leader in teaching methods of thinking. In one part of this book he was discussing the value of questions ad attention directing devices. "Look at that guy's nose. Listen to the birds chirping. Smell those freshly baked cookies." Indeed this method of focusing our attention is something that we're taught in school and is an extremely useful device for understanding. But meditation introduces a different approach – thinking about nothing and having a clear mind is the complete opposite of this. Instead of active analysis, it's passive receptivity. So how does the latter differ from the former?

A camera makes a suitable metaphor of this concept. In school we are taught to scrutinize things, to zoom in, examine the finest details, deconstruct, break apart. This is an active process of understanding. What we learn from this is embedded (hopefully) in our conscious memory and is considered to be learning. Indeed, understanding the world through analysis has satisfied me until now.

Meditation is also like a camera. Only it's all the way zoomed out. In fact, you're using a wide angle lens. Actually, you're not using any lens. Realistically, there is just the sensor and its environment. No pictures are being taken. Weird, right? Meditation introduces a completely passive method of understanding your environment. To stick with the camera analogy, there is the subject and the camera. If the camera is broken down into its rough parts there is the lens, body, and film (or sensor). The mind is like the lens. It shapes how light enters the camera. The lens is extremely useful because it creates a clear picture and allows zooming. However, the lens distorts and degrades the photo. The sensor is like the, for lack of a better word, soul. Without the lens it is unable to understand the information that it receives because it is raw, blurry, and bright. But, it receives everything. I would like to be able to experience the world as the sensor. While mainstream learning takes place largely on a conscious level, meditative learning takes place largely on an unconscious level.

As I start to explore this concept, I've found myself wandering aimlessly around or sitting 'doing nothing' for a long periods of time. With my last host in Madrid, I would come back from a day of wandering around and she would ask me what I did and I felt my description was pathetic. "I saw this, that, and this." But I felt unable to describe the feelings and full sensory experiences that I was enveloped in at various periods throughout the day, mainly because I didn't understand them myself.


**I will add photos using pinhole photography to this article shortly, stay tuned!

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