It is said that if you want to know what you were doing in the past, look at your body now; if you want to know what will happen to you in the future, look at what your mind is doing now.
~ Dalai Lama
Author’s Note: This article is inspired by and dedicated to my friend Kristy. At a time when she had every reason to walk away from me and leave me stuck in the quagmire of my illusion, she made the conscious choice to fight through my nonsense, stand by me, be my friend and help me wake up from my own fiction. Thank you for waking me up and thank you for being my friend, Kristy.
I’ve got two speeds: fast and faster. When I am at my best, in my biggest hurry, I’m about as socially and physically graceful as a bull in a china shop. Until recently, I didn’t realize just how destructive fast and faster could be when these speeds are not tempered with slow, slower and stop.
For whatever reason, be it society, upbringing or something else, we, as people living in the West, are programmed to be in a hurry and people like me, who are already in too much of a hurry to begin with, end up flying past reality and crashing into walls of bullshit and self-deception. By the time the fog clears (and it never really does), I’ve already moved past the unresolved bullshit by utilizing the self-deception: Hurry up and there will be some type of payoff at the end of this. Keep running, keep chasing, keep moving…
Seriously?! Payoff at the end of what? What am I chasing? What am I running after? It seems that no matter how fast I go to try to catch up with me, there’s no one to catch because I left myself behind a long time ago.
With the advent of technology and all of the avenues to immediate gratification therein, we are programmed to look at the next conquest and then hurry up in order to get to the one after that. Slowing down or stopping is viewed by this society as a slowing down or stopping of progress. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can have catastrophic results for anyone wishing to experience their own presence, much less somebody else’s.
My inability to slow down or take in what’s happening in the moment is a big reason why I came to the yoga mat seven years ago. As stated by so many people before me, when I first arrived onto my mat, yoga started out as a physical practice. As time went on and as my spiritual education flourished, yoga proceeded from being an external practice to becoming more internal. However, as with everything in the universe, the yoga practice, too, is circular and cyclical.
As I became more internal in the practice, the inward ripple converged on itself and started rippling out to the external again. This, in and of itself, is not so alarming since part of the work is to keep our egos in check; and the ripple back to the external is an indication of the ego trying to make its way further into the yoga practice.
The issue, however, speaking for myself, is that as the ripple moves back outward, leaving me equipped with just enough knowledge and terminology to become dangerous and outsmart myself. Armed with terminology and pieces of spirituality, coupled with an overarching lack of consciousness, I am now in a perfectly set position to begin deceiving myself (and others) using the yogic language I learned specifically for purposes of not deceiving myself (and others)!
Ugh! Again, seriously?! I thought yoga was supposed to help with making everything less confusing!
The ugly truth is that we disconnect from our selves too easily and distance ourselves from our own consciousness all too often. What makes it more dangerous is that many of us (especially in the yoga community) are living behind the guise of enlightenment or of being on some fast-track spiritual path that non-seekers (whatever the hell that means) can’t understand. This can give one the false impression of being awake and understanding what surrounds when, in all actuality, this same person is spiritually asleep and the ego is manning the controls of the conscious mind.
The ego, when completely in charge and wreaking the worst kind of havoc, creates fictional stories using one’s own susceptibilities and tendencies toward feeling inadequate. These “stories” are bastardized, extremely realistic perceptions of the past and stemming from very realistic-looking (and very fictional) versions of possibilities regarding the future. These fictional stories start a loop in the mind that cause a predilection toward reliving the past while simultaneously looping incessant worrying about what will happen in the future, none of which has any realistic context in the present!
At this level of disconnection, life becomes a series of jumps going from one moment to the next without taking into account what might actually be happening in each of those moments.
In yoga, we refer to mental jumping around as exhibiting symptoms of the “monkey mind.” The monkey mind, in and of itself, is not problematic, malicious, or dangerous. It is something that exists within all of us. Some of us are aware of it and some of us are not. The problems arise when we weaponize the monkey mind by becoming personally involved with its shenanigans wherein we get looped into our own fiction.
We can spot this unsettled mental state relatively easily in the instances when we make a conscious choice to slow down and not become personally involved with the randomness and craziness.
However, speaking for myself, being conscious enough to constantly be aware of this capricious phenomenon is a life challenge and something that requires constant awareness. Getting personally involved with the meanderings of the monkey mind is akin to trying to simultaneously become characters in every dramatic T.V. show that you watch. Before you can blink an eye, you are living in the fictional and sporadic creations of a universe that doesn’t really exist with situations that aren’t really applicable because everything is based on a hallucinogenic reality. At this point, you are a participant in your own fiction. Sadly, this has happened to me so many times that I have long-standing roles in nearly all of my fictional creations. Since these roles are already established, it makes them that much easier to embrace when I am trying to escape whatever reality may be happening in the moment, and that much harder to disconnect from each time I have a reality wake-up call.
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.
~ The Eagles
I have struggled time and time again to find a consistent solution that allows me to stay present and be aware of my various proclivities that lead me towards spiritual and emotional harm.
After seven years of being a dedicated student of yoga, which is the modality that resonates most strongly with me, I have really only come up with one solution to help mitigate the pernicious effects of wandering consciousness. That solution, in its grossest oversimplification, is to slow down.
It sounds ridiculous and almost patronizing in its simplicity, right? Speaking from my own experience, however, slowing down or chilling out is much easier said than done and not so simple. With me, there are deep-seeded issues wherein subconsciously, the very idea of slowing down enough to observe my thoughts and actions is actually frightening.
Here is some of the looping rhetoric that goes on in my head to justify my need for speed:
I could miss something; I’ll be late; someone is depending on me; someone will think less of me if I don’t hurry up and get where I’m going, wherever that is; I’ll think less of myself; I already do think less of myself; Man, I suck! I should have left earlier and then I’d feel better; why didn’t I leave earlier? I could miss something; I’m going to be late; someone is depending on me, etc.
Of course, if you remove the chatter and the paranoid subterfuge, this is what is actually happening in my subconscious when I am rushing through existence: What just happened? I don’t want to think about it. Did I do something stupid? Oh my gosh, what if I did something stupid?! I totally did something stupid. I am so stupid! Do I need to call someone and apologize for being stupid? Did I say too much? I should have been quieter. I hope I didn’t show too much of myself to anyone. I’m scared of what might happen if I actually interact with someone long enough to let them know me…Whoa!!
That last rambling thought is pretty tough to admit and didn’t really occur to me until recently, when the friend to whom I dedicated this article helped me to see how unconscious I am with my own existence and, as a result, how destructive I can be to those around me. I’ll bet a lot of people struggle with feelings and emotions they don’t want to face or have other equally alarming revelations about their behavior. Facing this stuff is scary and leaves one extremely vulnerable, no doubt about it.
For me, the idea of letting people get closer and really get to know me fills me with trepidation and brings out every defense mechanism I have. The fear I have created within myself is that if people get to know me, they may not like me and then they’ll tell everyone else they don’t like me and then everyone will hate me and I’ll be all alone and so on and so forth.
My ego, to protect itself, hurries me past these introspections so that they don’t get resolved. Because of these and many other unresolved issues, I do everything possible to prevent myself from delving into potential opportunities to get to know people better and to let them get to know me better. It’s astonishing to me that this crap is subconsciously going on in my head all day and night? It makes me wonder what subconscious and conscious emotional battles other people are working with or avoiding.
In addition to all of the internal work that is necessary to slow down and stay present, some of our external human interactions are meant to slow us down as well. Sometimes the people we talk to are there to bring us back into the moment so that we stop trying so hard to jump past it.
In my case, my reflex is to hurry up and end the conversation because I need to hurry up and move on to the next thing.
Well, actually, that statement is not really true. That’s the immediate rationalization my mind creates.
Here is the true statement:
My reflex is to hurry up and end the conversation because I don’t want to take the chance of letting someone get too close to me.
To defend myself, I’d rather skip the moment than experience it. However, one of the biggest problems with skipping moments is that we end up creating mental illusions to fill in the empty space. By willfully skipping ahead of these moments, for the purpose of linear consistency, our mind will fill in the moments we chose not to experience with palatable fiction so that the timeline of our existence remains unbroken in our consciousness.
There are so many problems with this on so many levels. For one thing, if our past is an illusion because we never actually lived those moments, then it is inevitable that we will project hallucinations onto our perception of the present and future. This is not only delusional, but dangerous.
In my case, I’ve lost out on a lot of opportunities for relationships and friendships because I became so worried about those friendships falling apart (before some of them even formed) that I didn’t take the time to appreciate what they were in that moment. It’s sort of like throwing away a perfectly good batch of cookies before putting them in the oven to bake because you are worried they may not taste good.
As you can probably access from the tenor of the article, I just woke up from a very long mental hallucination. Even though I thought I was fully awake and present, some old behavior patterns crept up on me that I thought I had long since outgrown. As a result of just waking up, I feel as though I am rediscovering each moment while, at the same time, I am significantly freaked out because I was living in a mirage for so long.
Waking up also helped me realize that hallucination breeds more hallucination. For me, sets of poorly made decisions were compounded by the number of hallucinations under which I was living. The only reason I was able to wake up at all was because someone who loves me very dearly took the time to call me out on my bullshit and then weather the storm of my defense mechanisms.
If we slow down, look around, and take into account what is happening right now, it keeps us from forming hallucinations of moments we have already skipped. There are no blanks to fill in if you fill in your life with the moments you are actually living. Reality becomes more real. The closer we are to living in the present is directly proportional to how far away we are from living in a hallucination of the past or future.
Whatever is out there that “slows us down” serves a purpose in our lives.
Maybe that freight train is a blessing. Maybe that person that you always ignore because he or she always slows you down has something of value to say. Maybe the purpose of that person slowing you down is to prevent you from hurrying into an unforeseen catastrophe. It’s possible that there is a cosmic reasoning to all of this. Maybe that car in front of you is driving too slowly and you’re stuck behind it so that you don’t get into an accident at the next intersection. Or then again, maybe as Freud put it, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And if that’s the case, it still makes sense to choose to live and experience each moment as it happens, good, bad and ugly.
The question is not, “Are we there yet?” but instead, “Are we here now?” The idea is that we’ll all get to where we need to go, but where we are right now is where we need to be.
Editor: Brianna Bemel