As human beings, we tend to waste our consciousness by living outside the present. In the run of the day, our thoughts are so often fixed upon either the past or the future, that the mind registers only a minimal amount of what is taking place in the ‘now’. As a result of this tendency to function on autopilot, much of the wonder and beauty of life passes us by unnoticed.
When we take the bus, for instance, we are more likely to spend the trip thinking about our destination than appreciating the passing scenery, even though we are gazing out the window. And how often do we find ourselves replaying the events of the day at the dinner table, mulling over ‘what-ifs’ and ‘should-have-saids’ as we chew and swallow our food absent mindedly? In fact, most of us are so intent on looking either forward or backward at life that we go through much of it as if in a dream, with a limited awareness of present reality.
When we were children we experienced life to the fullest. Providing our needs were met, we had little reason to concern ourselves overmuch with the past or worry about our future, and we experienced the fresh edge of wonder at each new discovery of our world. We existed in the present. As we grow into adults, however, that feeling of awe diminishes because we become caught up in the effort of survival and the demands of time. We spend at least eight hours of every day at some form of employment.
When we are not thus employed, we must concern ourselves with other necessities-after-hour appointments, social commitments, the demands of children and spouses-and we increasingly engage the autopilot, which allows us to physically function while we mentally jump ahead to the next task. After a while, this becomes a habitual mode of existence, and our awareness of the world around us narrows because we are rarely fully present in the moment. In effect, we begin to function like sleep walkers in our waking life.
How do we break free from this habitual mode of functioning? How do we regain that sense of newness that will expand our minds and awaken us from the dream? We do it with intent. That is, we must exercise the full power of our human will to become mindful of every action that we undertake. We must constantly remind ourselves to pay close attention to our actions-to relish the sensation of chewing and tasting our food, for example, to feel our hands on the steering wheel and revel in the synchronistic movements of changing gears.
Even the simplest gesture-smiling, shaking hands, looking at our watches-must be undertaken with the mind fully focused on the task if we are to awaken to our own existence in the now. This is no mean feat. The habit of living in the past and/or jumping into the future inside our own heads is a difficult one to break. Once we have allowed the consciousness to fall into a state of disuse, it requires a good deal of effort to regain its focus, but the will becomes stronger the more it is utilized, and if we persevere, the rewards will be well worth the effort as our consciousness expands.
Once we begin to practice paying attention, being mindful of what we are doing, we begin to make full use of our five senses so that we are actually tasting our food, enjoying the sensations of movement, and discovering with wonder the many things around us that have previously gone unnoticed.
Our amazement at this phenomenon causes us to become aware of our previous sleeping state, and the more we become aware of this, the more effort we will want to put into remaining awake to our own experiences. The newness of those things we now take note of jolts us out of our dream state and keeps us looking around to see what else we may have missed, and the effort increases the end result. Life becomes fascinating once again as we regain that childlike sense of awe in everything we experience.
When we begin to awaken, we begin to feel the happy exhilaration of being fully conscious in the present moment-we begin to be fully alive in the now.