Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mind the present

Some of the world’s most spectacular natural vistas are found in very inhospitable places. The scorching heat deep in the Sahara desert, the thin air in the towering Himalayan mountains, and the bitter cold of the Antarctic ice shelves can test the limits of human endurance. However, those brave enough to battle the extreme elements in such places are often rewarded with awe-inspiring sights. Imagine sailing in the southern oceans, in the wild waters off the Antarctic coastline, where ice cliffs loom large as you approach the frozen continent. Stepping off the boat, onto the cold, white landscape, you climb a ridge that takes you to the top of an ice shelf that is protruding out into the sea. As you reach the edge of this icy outcrop, there is a cliff face with a sheer drop of several hundred meters to the sea below. The landscape ahead appears frozen in time, and at that instant you are a witness to a single snapshot of an ongoing process that is millions of years in the making, and will continue on long after many future generations of humans have come and gone. 

When we look at the individual human lifespan compared to the multi-billion year history of our solar system, the mere decades we inhabit the earth seem like a minute speck in the vast timeline of the universe. Within this fraction of time, we maintain a mental concept of a past,  present, and future.  Every human being, living at this moment in time, has undoubtedly struggled and experienced difficulty at some point in the past.

Close your eyes and picture yourself standing on the razor sharp edge of an icy cliff, gazing at one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Staring into the endless expanse, and getting into the moment, makes you temporarily forget the difficult journey up to the edge of the cliff, and the danger of standing on slippery ice with a deathly drop down below. The more the mind is able to replace these thoughts of dangers and difficulties, the greater the intensity of the beauty  before you. In this moment, the past journey that brought you here ceases to matter, and the future is something distant. The moment you start to think about the the past or future, the beauty of the moment diminishes exponentially.

Now, try this exercise to help still the mind and be in the present moment. Sit in a quiet place with the body relaxed. Close your eyes and visualize a vast sheet of ice which ends abruptly. As you look down beyond the edge of the this ice sheet, all you see is inky darkness. The ice sheet itself is glowing white. Visualize yourself standing absolutely still on this icy edge. Forget about how you got there and what lies beyond. Forget about the delicate balance it takes to stay absolutely still at the edge of a cliff while standing on a sharp object. Take in slow deep breaths and keep your breathing as quiet as possible reminding yourself that any movement can push your thoughts into the past, the future or into the difficulties of the present.  As you intensify your mental concentration on standing absolutely still at the edge of a cliff, pretend that you are sending equally powerful waves of relaxation throughout the body. As you still the mind in this present state, beauty descends all around you in the form of waves of peace. Now imagine yourself dissolving into the soft clouds all around you.