Being Present

There is a principle in quantum mechanics that states that you can measure where a wave is or where it’s going, but not both at the same time. This phenomenon (called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) has tantalized physicists for nearly a century. When they try to measure subatomic matter as a wave, it turns into a particle, and when they try to measure it as a particle, it morphs into a wave. 

What in the world does this have anything to do with being present? Oooh, I’m glad you asked!

Consciousness acts much like the Uncertainty Principle. Think about it, our thoughts either act in a stream of consciousness, or in a state of suspense. If we are in the stream of consciousness, we’re not really paying attention to what we are thinking, but rather on the subject or task at hand. The thoughts are like waves. 

And, if we are in a state of suspense, where thought turns to awareness, then we become present. You may have heard the phrase “holding space” before. That is what this means to me. Thoughts become like particles, holding the present in suspense, and taking in as much information as possible from that point of view. 

I have recently been exploring my personal fascination with negative self-talk and limiting beliefs. There is an audio track stuck in a loop in the recesses of my mind that feeds me false information and makes up stories about the world around me. And that loop starts playing in my stream of consciousness until I am completely fascinated, or bewitched, by it. It seems to have me under its spell.

You know… It’s the voice that tells you that somebody doesn’t like you because they haven’t responded to your email. It’s the voice that berates you for any little imperfection. It’s the voice that says that you’re not enough, or that you can’t, or limits your full participation in life in any way. And if left unchecked, that voice eventually becomes full-blown resentment and/or self-loathing.

What I don’t want to admit is that my natural “wave” state, or stream of consciousness, tends to be negative, comparative and judgmental. Rick Hanson talks about this in his book Hardwiring Happiness. A negative thought gets instantly stored and imprinted in our negative loop track, whereas, it takes at least 15 seconds to consciously store, or even believe, a positive message. 

For instance, I know that when I review my day before going to bed at night, I may have done 100 things that were perfect, in service, and healthy. Will I remember those things? Nope. I will remember and fret about the one thing that wasn’t exactly how it should’ve been. And it can be the tiniest thing. Do you do that?

I think of negative thoughts as fast food. They require no effort, they fill the void, and they are super easy to get. Positive thoughts are like a beautiful holiday meal. You have to plan for it, make lists, go shopping, prepare the food, set the table, spend hours or even days getting everything just right. Being present is the difference between the two. You can eat fast food while doing just about anything else, even driving a car, though I don’t recommend that. But, to make a nice meal to share with your family, or even enjoy alone, takes presence. So, too, with thoughts. 

It is absolutely astonishing that the moment I become present to the negative track playing in my mind, it stops. Just this past week, I did an experiment on myself. I spent about 20 minutes every morning mindfully watching for any negative thoughts. You know what? Not a single one came up while I was looking. Now, I could force one to come up, but I instantly dismissed it as nonsense. But, after just a few minutes of mindless news feed, the negativity was palpable. 

My unwatched mind, left to its own devices, will continually steer towards the familiar sound of the negative audio track stuck in a loop. That’s why we must have what I call an interrupter. 

An interrupter is a tool that, when used, takes us out of the “wave” state and into the “particle” state. Takes us out of the loop and into a state of suspense, known as being present. I am going to share with you two of my favorite interrupters.

The first interrupter is box breathing, also known as four-square breathing. It involves exhaling for a four-count, holding the lungs empty for a four-count, inhaling for a four-count, and holding air in your lungs for a four-count. Then you repeat the pattern a few times until you feel an internal shift. It won’t take long. Practiced regularly, this will have a profound and lasting effect.

The second technique is called The Countdown. Notice in your immediate surroundings 5 things you can see. Then label 4 things you can feel. Next, 3 things you can hear. Then 2 things you can smell. And, last, 1 thing you can taste. 

These tools are super SIMPLE, EFFECTIVE and IMMEDIATE. Do them often, even when you don’t feel like you need to. Learning to be present takes patience, practice and persistence. And, you’re worth it!

A regular extended practice of interrupting the negative self-talk loop track can be extremely helpful, too. That’s why I offer yoga classes. If you notice that you get stuck in negativity, like me, then join me in a class where we can practice as a (virtual) group to “hardwire positivity” by being present.

Love and blessings,

Tom 

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