How to chop wood then carry water.

Smile, breathe and go slowly but don’t look back in anger, I heard you say. This combination (mash-up) of two quotations (one from Oasis and one from Thich Nhat Hanh)  is having a profound influence on my life at this moment. You see, I am listening to Oasis and reading The Art of Power and loving both. In this moment, right now – they matter deeply and profoundly to me.

I have come across many clients who are living in anger and hate (living in the past) and are only looking forward in fear and towards perceived uncertainty. I have learned a great deal over the last few years about looking around and being totally aware. Right now. You see for me anger, hate, resentment, fear, jealously, envy, worry, doubt, mistrusting, conflict – these are all things that can feel very real at that (this) time. At the time I was experiencing them, they were the frame for my world. However, they are of the mind and just excuses to hang on to yesterday or to live in tomorrow.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my stronegest influencers in the last ten years. He is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist.  His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment—the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world. Thich Nhat Hanh has published over 100 titles on meditation, mindfulness and engaged Buddhism, as well as poems, children’s stories, and commentaries on ancient Buddhist texts. He has sold over three million books, some of the best-known include Being PeacePeace Is Every StepThe Miracle of MindfulnessTrue Love and Anger.

His writings offered me some very practical methods of bringing mindfulness and loving kindness to the very centre of my being. You don’t need to be a Buddhist or spiritual to benefit from his teaching and learning this technique.

If you haven’t come across him before, here is a quick biography. Thich was born in Vietnam in 1926.  He became a Buddhist monk at the age of sixteen. During the Vietnam War, Thich chose to help villagers suffering from the bombings and the aftermath of war rather than to sit and quietly meditate in his monastery.  In the early 60’s he founded the School of Youth Social Service, rallying near 10,000 student volunteers to rebuild homes, organise agricultural cooperatives, and re-establish order in the lives affected by the ravages of war.During travels to the United States during the 1960’s, Thich spoke for peace in Vietnam.  During one of his visits he spoke with Martin Luther King, Jr and convinced him to oppose the Vietnam War publicly.  This helped to galvanise the peace movement that continued through the 70’s and until the war was finally ended.  In 1967 Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

So Sally can wait, she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by /Her soul slides away, “But don’t look back in anger”, I heard you say. –

What I have come to accept (it has taken a lifetime) is that being present is an experience everyone should aim for, every day. It is a time when I feel completely at peace with the moment  I am in, right now. It is the basis of being amazing every day. If you get in the habit of being present, then you may notice some (or all) of what I have noticed –

  • I have feelings of intense calmness (only good eustress).
  • I notice I am smiling more (as do other people).
  • I am kinder to myself (physically and emotionally).
  • I am trying to be kinder to other people (with no motive – altruism).
  • I am not rushing as much to meetings (I am not late, but not early).
  • My reflexes are faster and I join the dots quicker.
  • My mind is clearer and this clarity solves problems.
  • I am more decisive and take better decisions.
  • I know what I want, right now.
  • I know what is right for me, right now.
  • I am better at public speaking, training, coaching and performing.
  • My confidence is deeper without arrogance.
  • I am dealing with death and life as equals.
  • I know and accept that am not perfect – but I am becoming more real.
  • I accept I have many faults and I own them (I eat too fast for one thing).
  • I feel stronger and more passionate about making a difference.
  • I am quieter and read more.

The old Zen standby, chop wood, carry water simplifies this to a feeling of not multi tasking or running faster, yet getting nowhere. I can now see how the past keeps creating my future, and when I am conscious of this, I get to make another choice. I get to forgive the past and embrace the now. When I was living in the past or future, I missed out on the freedom and peace in the now. Lately, I am becoming aware much sooner and quicker when this happens.

The simple truth is being present is when you choose to focus on a particular time frame. There are only three possible time frames: past, present and future. Once you become aware of the thoughts you are having and the content of those thoughts, you will notice which timeframe you are in at any given time. You will begin to notice how often your thoughts and feelings are focused on the past or the future. These thoughts are riddled with judgments, comparing the past or future to your present situation.

Most busy people spend so little of their time being fully present. The rest of the time, they drift in and out as there attention wanders. Your mind may even seem to be out of your own control. How can you be more present?

I start with the power of the breath. By taking many slow rhythmic, even breaths, I concentrate on this cycle; no gaps or holding the breath. Some people say do this through the nose, others through the mouth. I don’t mind as long as it is slow, rhythmic and even. Breath, along with change, is the only constant. I believe being present starts with the breath.

Now take a moment to consider what are you doing right now.  Consider, as a correspondence to that moment of suspended breath-time, what you’re doing right at that moment.

  • Are you ‘just’  reading this post?
  • Where are your thoughts?
  • What are you thinking about?
  • What are your emotions?
  • Where are your hands?
  • What is the time?
  • Is it moving slowly or fast?
  • So you are reading – that’s it…so, just read.

Part of the answer to being present is to learn how to become a ethnographic observer. A witness if you will. Become a witness to becoming aware of what you are doing – exactly what you are doing – in any given moment. Try to observe it, name it and stand away from it. When we cling to a now rather than simply bearing witness to it and letting it pass by, we become trapped in time as it passes.Then develop the routine of letting the rest go; much like bearing witness, whatever is not there in that moment let go.

Be there, right there, right then.

Then gently come back to the breath, when the world or your thoughts begin to again intrude, simply come back to the breath. The constancy of breath can create the constancy of presence for us, if we choose to show up. The act of being present is, in a sense, a meditation without meditating. The stillness here, though, comes from action – breathing, attending, witnessing, releasing and breathing again. This simple cycle can profoundly change the way that you experience our world.

Be Amazing Every Day

Go slowly, smile, breath (slowly evenly and rhythmically) and don’t look back in anger. Chop wood. Carry water.