If it runs out of other ideas, that voice in your head then turns to complaining. Now, I'm not talking about complaining when you go to somebody and say, "This is wrong, and it must be put right." For example, when you're in a hotel and you see there's no hot water. Of course, you should phone the front desk and say, "I'm trying to take a shower. Can you please help me?" In these cases, something can be done. But when you're in situation where you're still making up your mind and you don't know where to go next, the voice in your head begins to complain about everything else, even things unrelated to the situation: the weather, how bad the economy is, how your life wasn't supposed to turn out this way and why everybody but you seems to figure things out. Complaining adds nothing except heaviness. It gives you a big sack of rocks to carry around on your back while you're trying to figure out what to do, and it prevents you, in many cases, from taking any action at all.

Now imagine that that voice inside your head suddenly stops. You realize, Wow, it's so beautifully quiet. This is exactly what you need to make an effective choice. You need to be present. You need to be free of anything other than what is happening now.

Of course, you can't just snap your fingers and suddenly it happens. Some people first experience it during extreme sports. Climbing a mountain, for example, finding footholds and handholds, they realize they're not thinking at all. They're totally present, because if they slipped into having thoughts, they would fall off the mountain. Others go into nature. They look at the beauty all around them, they listen to the birds and the rustling of the leaves and suddenly they realize that this is what being present is. But you don't have to wait to become engaged in some dangerous activity or go into the wilderness. You can choose to be present anywhere, in any situation, by moving the focus of your attention away from thinking and into the aliveness of your entire body.

When you're present, your sensory perceptions—your hearing, your seeing—instantly increase. You'll feel a stillness, one that you don't have to manufacture. It's been there all along, under all that thinking about "what to do." You'll be able to see the difference between: here's the situation and here is what my mind is saying about the situation, or, in other words between: "I might lose my job" and "I might lose my job, which will mean I'll lose my house and have to take my daughter out of her school and move in with my parents, so I have to get another job by the end of the week, even if there are no jobs and I'm not skilled enough to get one."

This doesn't mean that you completely disregard or ignore the future, and it doesn't mean that you can no longer think about what you're going to do tomorrow. It just means that the focus of your attention is in the present moment. You need to plan for certain things but always come back to the immediacy and liveliness of what's really happening.

Next: How to start living in the present moment


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