Meditating With Monks: Insight 10 - The Present Moment
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
This 12-post blog series is dedicated to 12 of the most valuable insights that I gleaned during my 10-Days of Silent Vipassana Meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh, a Buddhist monastery in Surat Thani, Thailand.
Having listened to monks speak for 10 days, I can confirm that most of them are closet comedians. In honour of their light-hearted approach to life, I’ve tried to write these 12 blog posts in an amusing and entertaining way.
The 12 insights are: 1) Silence. 2) Expectation. 3) Fatigue. 4) Adversity. 5) Cleaning Toilets. 6) Impermanence. 7) Attachment. 8) Authority Figures & Control. 9) Pace of Life. 10) The Present Moment. 11) The Pond. 12) The Tree.
I hope that these insights prove to be as valuable for you as they were for me.
Insight 10 - The Present Moment
“One ought not to long for what has passed away/ Nor be anxious over things that are yet to come / The past has left us, the future has not arrived / Whoever sees the present dhammas / Direct and clear just as they are / Is unshakeable, immovable, secure / They should accumulate such moments”
This verse was from a Buddhist chant called, “Verses On A Single Night”. We recited this chant every day during our 10-day Vipassana retreat.
Cultivating our ability to be ‘present’ is one of the most fundamental elements of practising mindfulness. To be able to quiet our incessant mind chatter, to release past demons, to let go of future anxieties, and to surrender to the only reality that exists – the present moment – is the essence of mindfulness.
Mindful meditation is a tool to achieve this. But we don’t need to limit our time in the ‘present’ to our designated meditation time. The present moment is always here for us. With practice, we can learn to carry out our everyday activities mindfully.
You may have already experienced this.
Getting ‘in the zone’ during sports. Immersing yourself in a piece of music that you’re playing or listening to. Even being engrossed in a textbook that you’re studying. Being mindful is being in the present moment – and nowhere else. There is no resistance. There is only a state of peace, a state of flow.
We can carry this flow with us into our daily lives.
We can wash dishes mindfully. We can clean toilets mindfully. We can eat mindfully. We can walk mindfully. We can even plan for the future mindfully, and contemplate the past mindfully.
The key is to know that we are in the present moment, and that we are choosing how we honour this moment. Our mind does not run away with uninvited thoughts, uncontrolled and unconstrained. Our body does not run on auto-pilot while our mind dreams of future scenarios. We use our breath and our senses to ground and connect us, reminding us that we are here in the present moment.
Having practised mindfulness for a few years, I’d learnt to incorporate elements of the practice into daily activities, especially sports, work and my evening walks. However, during my 10-days of silent meditation, my relationship with the present moment developed further. There were no external distractions; no phones, and no people you were permitted to speak to. It was just you, nature and the present moment. And there was only so much that your mind could think about – eventually the thoughts would stop, and you’d find yourself with nothing to do or distract yourself with. There was no place to return to but the present moment.
And when you’re surrounded by nature with nothing else to do, it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of nature. The majestic presence of the trees, the uniqueness of each individual leaf, the stillness of the pond, the ease with which grass rustles with the breeze. And there’s no better incentive to be mindful than having to walk barefoot on concrete or grass that is shared with biting ants, venomous centipedes and scorpions!
Mindful eating is wonderful. You start to realise how the food is gifting you with its energy, and you become more and more grateful with each mouthful. You really feel the texture of the food and taste each flavour – although it should be noted that the Buddhists frown upon giving this too much importance, as they see food solely as a means of sustenance, not pleasure. As I’m not Buddhist, I enjoy it regardless! And on a practical note, you chew more, which your digestion will thank you for. This reason alone is why I’ve been incorporating it into my routine since I returned to the ‘real world’. Yes, eating takes more time – but it’s worth every added minute.
In general, the benefits to mindfulness are countless. Concentration. Focus. Calm. Peace. I won’t go into details and references here, as I wrote a more detailed blog post on its benefits and how you can introduce mindfulness meditation into your routine here.
Never forget - the present moment is yours to access at any time. You simply need to learn how to access it. Meditation is a great starting point, and it isn’t that hard!
Quiet your mind, close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting on a bench at a train station. When the train of thought comes, let it come. And when the train of thought leaves, let it leave. And if the train stops, remember that you don’t need to board it. Stay on your comfortable bench, observing the world around you, observing the train depart.
Unlike trains of thought, the present moment is not going anywhere. You don’t need to be afraid of losing it. The present moment isn’t something you need to consciously try to hold on to. The more you try to hold on, the more you feel it moving away from you. Just breathe. Inhale, and absorb this moment so pleasant. Exhale, and receive your gift – the present.
Give the present moment a chance.
It’ll change your life.
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.