Be present be tuned

Author: Cavallaro Matteo

Helsinki, September 18, 2022

Be present, be tuned

Be present, be tuned: be aware and concentrated, here and now. By now this is such a familiar precept, widespread also in Western culture, that many do not consider it anything more than one of the many pills of wisdom that everyone is aware of but few take seriously, such as proverbs. An apple a day keeps the doctor away; use makes mastery; early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise…: we all know them all but few have the will and the constancy to apply them.

There are at least three levels of interpretation of being present, here and now: the first more immediate and simple, the others less obvious and more intriguing, but all worthy of consideration and good tools for a more conscious and fruitful approach to life.

The first refers to a principle of reasonableness and common sense all in all obvious but not trivial, especially in the digital age in which almost unlimited access to information and ease of communication vainly deceive us to be able to range between various and different activities, without lowering the quality of the approach and of the knowledge, and ultimately of our time and of ourselves. We simply refer to the importance of maintaining an adequate level of concentration and focus on what you do. When we are engaged in a job, in an activity, either physical or intellectual, we give our best when we are absorbed and not distracted by anything else happening around or by worries of any kind. Then one is as estranged from the world and for a while the daily worries are out of our mind. This state of grace is typical of children when they put their whole selves into play and what happens out there does not concern them at all; or of the craftsman and artist absorbed in the execution of their work. We usually enter this state when we do something that we deeply enjoy, that is our thing, that we feel connected with. For example, it happened to me at school when I was writing an essay: once I had grasped the idea, the sentence, the right word to start from, then I didn’t stop anymore, and I reached the end of the three canonical hours exhausted, with a sore wrist, but serene and happy with me, satisfied and oblivious to the world.

When you are present, what you do, you do it well: you do it with quality. Unfortunately, for most people entering this state of grace is not that common. Our mind is continuously disturbed by other thoughts, more or less conscious, acting as a sort of continuous distraction that prevents maximizing awareness in the activity or thought in progress. This not only lowers the quality of what is being done, but it also does not help to progress, resolve, or raise the quality of what is not being done and which keeps our mind disturbed. In short, this is a double loss. So what is the solution? Should we all try to do as much as possible only what we feel is our thing? Clearly it is not possible, or it is only for a lucky few. The challenge is then to try to reverse the order of things: let’s learn techniques that help us maintain awareness and concentration in what we do. You will then see that what you do, no matter what it is, you do it better. And you get less tired. And maybe you can do it in less time, too. And, even, it could also end up liking us a little more. Keeping your mind focused on what you are doing is a powerful resource capable of decreasing the stress and anxiety of our daily life, optimizing our performance and ultimately making us live more peaceful. Worrying about something when absolutely nothing can be done to improve it, not only does not resolve the cause of the worry, nor does it alleviate the worry itself, but it is also detrimental to what you are doing at that moment.

This is the first level of appreciation of being present. The second level refers to the state of harmony or divergence between the physical, mental and emotional components of our being, that is the grade of harmony of the three parts making up the body-mind-spirit triad. Modern Western civilization has given wide space to the physical and mental components, leaving in the background or even denying both the third (emotional) component and the importance of the relationship between the components. Giving more credit to logical and rational thinking (mind) and putting aside what emotions suggest to us is a historically widespread habit in our culture: think for example to the negative meaning of the expression “he is an emotional child”. Daniel Goleman with his best seller Emotional Intelligence (1995) has literally revolutionized the landscape in this sense, exploring with scientific rigor the importance of the relationship between the emotional and rational components of thought and an appropriate management of emotions. This management ability is not innate but can be learned and trained with practice, perseverance and patience. It goes without saying that to manage our emotions, we must first be aware of them. The body is both the primary vehicle for the expression of emotions and of our unconscious (somatizing a psychological malaise is a typical example), and itself an instrument of influence, management and control of our emotional and mental state (as the proverb mens sana in corpore sano suggests). Being present therefore means being present to oneself in all its parts, it means being aware of our physical, mental and emotional components, knowing how to listen to them, learning to understand what they tell us and actively working to place them in communication with each other in a harmonious way.

The third level is more metaphysical: can we, in a given instant, be in the past? Obviously not. Can we be in the future? Neither. Only the present would seem to exist, since every passed moment has already passed: it has been, and is no longer. And every future moment has not yet begun: it will be, but it is not yet. Moreover, the present itself is indefinable in itself: every instant, at the very moment in which it happens, immediately slips into the category of the past and therefore ceases to exist. And since each instant can be divided into further instants, and so on indefinitely, the duration of the present instant becomes infinitesimal, tending asymptotically to nothing. So even the present would seem not to exist. Such paradoxes and sophisms have engaged philosophers and scientists since ancient times. The famous Einstein’s metaphor of the movie and the film comes to our aid to solve this apparent dead point. The passage of events over time should be interpreted as the unfolding of a film reel in which each frame is an event that happens in a instant of time: the constant unwinding of the reel that occurs during the projection of the movie represents what for us is the passage of time, and the succession of frames represents the succession of events in instants of time. However, all single frames (all instantaneous events) coexist immutable in the reel, regardless of its unfolding (the passage of time). The common concept of time and its unidirectionality appear therefore to be a forcing, a simplified interpretation of reality. Or, from another perspective, a limitation of our language: which means more or less the same, for we think for the words we know (this is an established fact nowadays). The category of time is not suitable for an adequate interpretation of reality: trying to use the language and mental categories available to us, we can approximate by saying that we are not past or future, or present, but all three together, always (and we could also add everywhere …). We would need a conjugation of the verb “to be” independent of a temporal characterization. Everything exists, has existed and will exist in every moment. In this sense, we should limit the statement be present be tuned to a simple be (now and always, here and everywhere).

A pragmatic and useful conclusion of the second level of interpretation is that everything is interconnected, another concept now widely accepted. Not only in a spatial sense (the famous butterfly effect, according to which the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world), but also in a temporal sense: what we are determines what we will be; what we have been determines what we are. Better: what we are today is already what we will be tomorrow; what we were yesterday was already then what we are today. The past cannot be simply swept aside; the future is not a possibility that we will be able to choose or not independently of the past: in some way everything is already present in the cauldron of existence and being consciously present in every moment therefore means having the reins of the state of things regardless of a temporal dimension that we can ultimately consider more imaginary than real.

This does not mean that everything is somehow already defined and predestined, in a sort of static universe in only apparent evolution, but on the contrary that what we act in every instant influences and also defines all the others: we are always and in any case the ultimate responsible for what happens in our life. Our every action, even the most apparently insignificant, has consequences. This is a one of the basic principles in Hinduism and Buddhism: we can simplify it to the extreme by saying that our destiny (Karma) is the result of our actions (Dharma). We are the architects. Not someone else. Therefore, being present and aware means taking on the responsibility of being the sailors of your own boat, rather than letting yourself be at the mercy of the current: we cannot decide the direction of the wind, but we can continually adjust the position of our sails in order to best pursue the chosen direction. Be a hub, captain or admiral is up to us!

In conclusion, the three levels of interpretation of being present in the here and now can be summarized in three concepts: the ability to maintain awareness and concentration on the activity in progress by minimizing the interference of disturbing thoughts and distractions; knowledge of one’s physical, mental and emotional components and their state of reciprocal influence; full awareness that our destiny is the result of our actions.

It is easy to understand these concepts on a mental level, but it is not easy to internalize them and master them with awareness and autonomy. As in any art, exercise and a good teacher are fundamental elements. Life and career coaching, reprogramming therapy and regressive therapy are effective tools that can help you effectively and quickly master the awareness and self-determination practices described in this article. The enormous development of communication technology in the last decade allows almost anyone easy access to these tools: a possibility that is worth seizing!