We're often encouraged to be present or mindful, or reminded to let go of past and future to be in the 'now'. Why is it so hard to do?
Distraction has its role. Sometimes we need to distract ourselves from difficult feelings or useless worry, a bit like distracting a toddler from the hot stove by offering a toy to play with. But it's tempting to overuse distraction to stay in the comfort zone of shallowness, skating over the surface of life as we flit from one thing to another. Being busy is valued, being bored greatly feared and there are no shortage of distractions. At the very least, if we have time on our hands such as in a waiting room or at a bus stop, we can get out our phones and trawl through social media or play a game. Waiting is rarely seen as an opportunity, more often a frustrating waste of time.
What are we avoiding? It may be a bit frightening to be still and quiet – what might come up from the depths? Suppressed emotions, sadness, longing, uncomfortable awarenesses? Yes, possibly, but quiet moments can also offer stillness, peace, joy. They are the seed bed of creativity and insight.
Staying distracted can lead to depression through a vague, disquieting sense that there is something missing. That in turn leads to more distraction and a restless seeking for solutions outside ourselves: the perfect job, partner, goal or outcome. It can lead to addiction – to exercise, achievement, substances that change the emotional weather – all of which are other, more concerted ways of distracting ourselves.
Robert Holden talks about our resistance to being in the present: “We're waiting for a better now. My now is not as interesting as Eckhart Tolle's or as spiritual as the Dalai Lama's...” We even want the present moment to be more distracting! Some continue on the path of seeking and distraction until something brings them to a stop. Athletes become injured, over-achievers burn out, some become depressed or anxious because of the relentlessness and lack of satisfaction in this path.
But the rewards of accepting our own mundane 'now' can be huge. Slowing down allows us to notice the myriad everyday joys around us. It gives us a rest from wanting and allows us to find out who we are when we are not relentlessly seeking. It gives time to ask, rather than simply 'what do I want?' deeper questions such as 'what do I want to be? What do I want to connect with?'
The answers can be enlightening. And therein lies strength and resilience.