be a body, be in the present
Take a moment to reflect on the amount of time you spend thinking about what you could have done differently, what choices you wish to have made instead of the ones you actually took. Now think about the amount of time you spend speculating about all the possibilities you wish to see become real in your future, or rather the ones you are afraid of.
These thoughts are, for most people, a staple of everyday life. Thing is, regardless of your actual placement on the pessimist/optimist continuum, none of these thoughts matter after all. Our constant projecting into possible futures blind us from seeing the choices we have in the present moment, as well as crippling our ability to fail, which is, in fact, the only mechanism we have to ensure success.
You could argue something along the lines of: ‘thinking about the future helps me understand what I want in life’ or ‘by understanding the past I can see what I actually need now’. Well, this kind of rationale is essentially missing a very important piece of the puzzle. Nothing happens in the past or in the future. Everything happens in the present, in the now. So, while you are busy entertaining these ideas, you are missing the opportunity to be your real self in the only segment of time that really matters to you and everyone around you; because it’s in the present only that you can act and be what you wish to be. It may take a while for all of us to reach this conclusion, but the sooner we do, the happier we will become.
One of the reasons why this kind of time-obsessed thinking has taken on such an important role in our lives can be traced, in my opinion, to the fact that we think of ourselves mainly as our minds, somehow neatly and surgically separated from our environments and, more importantly, from our bodies. We think logically, act rationally and like to separate ourselves from our emotional sphere. We like to interpret, analyse and create judgements on what and how we must feel, rather than simply asking why we are feeling what we are feeling, and observing our emotions changing our bodies. This tantalising mind/body problem has been with us for centuries, and it has crept through our thoughts ever since Descartes came up with the 'I think, therefore I am' philosophy.
Interestingly, and neuroscientists can testify for this, there isn’t such a thing as pure thought in terms of brain activity. Case in point, there just isn’t a specific area of our brain that activates when we entertain thoughts. On the contrary, when we ‘just’ think, our motor cortex (the area of gray matter devoted to movement) activates, along with others, rendering the research for pure thought a futile effort in neuroscience. This is telling, not only of just how much movement has influenced the evolution of our thought processes (there are many theories as to how we arrived at uttering words, perhaps via sign language first), but more importantly of our interconnectedness.
So, next time you are feeling stressed, try to connect not only with your thoughts, but with your body too, move and appreciate your ability to coordinate into space, your ability to feel strong (or weak, that is also ok!). Just like we can only impact our lives and the lives of others through the actions that we take in the now, we cannot just act on ourselves and others without embodying our thoughts. We must think of ourselves as a whole unit and at the same time something more than mere addition of the parts altogether.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle, 2004
The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind, John Coates, 2012