We have all heard about the importance of being present. The present moment is the only moment that is available to us, in every and in any moment. Nothing else really exists beyond it and we suffer when we try to live in a dimension that does not exist, like when we invest a lot of energy ruminating over the past, or worrying about the future.
Why is the here and now so important? It is in the here and now that we can create a connection with ourselves, with other people and with our reality. If we are not present, we are not connected: clearly we can all function even if we are not present, but it comes at a cost, which is the lack of awareness and the repetition of unhealthy patterns that we are usually not aware of. It’s only in the present moment that we can become really aware of our body, thoughts, emotions, behaviours – and the connection amongst them. Recognising these patterns is the premise to consciously choose to change them. We could say that the connection to the present moment allows change to happen.
This all sounds amazing, but it is pretty hard to actually being present, for all of us. Our brain’s survival strategies are not necessarily in accordance with living in the present moment. Many of us live in survival mode almost all the time – sometimes without knowing it – with really high levels of cortisol and therefore inflammation. Living in the present moment is an important way to reduce the level of stress and to restore harmony and balance in the body. Like most things, we just need practice.
We often associate this practice to meditation, which is really an amazing tool, but it can be quite challenging for many people. One things that I often suggest in my therapy sessions is to pick a pleasant, routine experience – like a meal that you enjoy, or sex, or walking in nature – and to try to be mindful during those moments. I suggest to connect to the five senses as well as to the body and focus on the sensations; for example, if you choose breakfast as your mindful moment, you could first connect to your body and notice how your stomach feels, whether you feel hungry or not. Then you look at the food and you smell it, then you slowly chew it in your mouth: what are the sensations arising? And so on, until you finish your meal and you go back to notice how your body feels now.
Last week, when I was reading a book called Keys to Zen, by Thich Nhat Hanh, I found the most exquisite way to try to be present: it is called gatha. I had never heard of it before and it has become my favourite way to practice presence straight away.
Gathas are short verses that bring the energy of mindfulness to each act of daily life, and they can be found in the Zen Little Manual of Practice. This manual contains examples of gathas that we can use, if we find them inspiring, but we can create new ones, too. What does this mean? It means that we can find presence creating verses, little poems even, about anything we do and feel during the day. Not only we can describe what we are doing or what we are feeling in a practical way, engaging our senses once again, but we can also focus on the meaning of what we are experiencing, as well as on the gratitude we may feel. We can create verses for literally everything: cuddling our pet, focusing on work, cooking, flirting with someone on the tube or going to the toilet.
I have been thinking in verses for the last week and it’s been amazing, I really had fun doing it and I found myself being way more present than usual. I have also researched examples of gathas and some of them have brought me a lot of joy and I want to share them with you. I hope this will help you staying more connected to yourself and others and I hope that you will enjoy the process as much as I do. By the way, my very favourites amongst the verse below are Recycling and Meditating or Walking, both by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Waking Up (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion
Waking Up (Andrew Weiss)
As I wake up, I welcome a new day,
A mindful smile with every breath.
May I live each moment
With compassion and awareness.
First Steps of the Day (Andrew Weiss)
As I take my first step,
My foot kisses the floor.
With gratitude to the earth,
I walk in liberation.
Getting Dressed (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Putting on these clothes,
I am grateful to those who made them
and to the materials from which they were made.
I wish everyone could have enough to wear.
Turning on the Water (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains all life.
Washing Your Hands (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Water flows over these hands;
may I use them skillfully
to preserve our precious planet.
Brushing Teeth (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,
I vow to speak purely and lovingly.
When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,
a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.
Before Picking Up the Telephone (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.
When Feeling Anger (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Breathing in I feel my anger.
Breathing out I smile.
I stay with my breathing
So I won’t lose myself.
Driving a Car (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Before starting the car
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.
If the car goes slowly, I go slowly.
Driving a Car (Andrew Weiss)
This car is my legs.
It goes where I choose.
When I drive with awareness,
Everyone lives in safety.
Turning on the Television (Andrew Weiss)
Mind and television.
Receive what I choose.
I select well-being
And nourish joy.
Preparing Food (Andrew Weiss)
Earth, water, sun, and air,
All live in this food I prepare.
Before Taking Food (Thich Nhat Hanh)
My bowl, empty now,
will soon be filled with precious food.
Beings all over the world are struggling to live.
How fortunate we are to have enough to live.
Serving Food (Thich Nhat Hanh)
In this food,
I see clearly
the entire universe
supporting my existence.
Recycling (Thich Nhat Hanh)
In the garbage, I see a rose.
In the rose, I see the garbage.
Everything is in transformation.
Even permanence is impermanent.
Turning on the Light (Andrew Weiss)
Ancient trees, water, and wind
Join my hand to bring light
To this moment.
Cleaning the Bathroom (Thich Nhat Hanh)
How wonderful it is to scrub and clean.
Day by day, the heart and mind grow clearer.
Entering the Meditation Room (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Entering the meditation room, I see my true mind.
I vow that once I sit down, all disturbances will stop.
Hearing the Bell (Thich Nhat Hanh)
this wonderful sound
brings me back
to my true self.
Adjusting Meditation Posture (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.
Conscious breathing is my anchor.
Sitting Meditation (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.
Sitting Meditation (Andrew Weiss)
Sitting in the present moment,
I breathe mindfully.
Each in-breath nourishes love,
each out-breath, compassion.
Meditating or Walking (Thich Nhat Hanh)
I have arrived. I am home.
In the here,
In the now.
I am solid,
I am free.
In the ultimate
Cleaning the Meditation Room (Thich Nhat Hanh)
As I clean this fresh, calm room,
boundless joy and energy arise!
When wakeful at two in the morning (Robert Aitken)
I vow with all beings
to light incense and sit on my cushion-
it’s time that I really wake up.