2017: The Year of NOW

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As we near the end of 2016, I can look back on the past 12 months with a smile. I made more progress in my personal development this year than in any year prior.

One of my main focuses throughout the year was changing the way I think. I used strategies such as repeating thought loops, positively reframing my negative thoughts, and cultivating gratitude and self-love. These efforts weren’t without reward; maintaining a positive mindset throughout the day has become much easier.

New Year, New Strategy

If I’m being truly honest with myself I have to admit that focusing on my thinking will only get me so far on my journey. No matter how many of these thought-strategies I use, trying to change my thoughts only offers me temporary relief from negativity. I may be better at editing my thoughts as they come up, but my default thoughts are still mostly negative. Plus the constant effort to think positive thoughts can be exhausting at times, and when my negative thoughts can’t be reframed or overcome by positivity, I often end up even more frustrated than before.

This doesn’t mean that becoming a significantly happier person is a pipe dream for me though. I just need to change my strategy. Fortunately, I’ve known the correct strategy for quite some time now: being present to the moment.

My most life-changing moment was reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle back in 2013. Before reading it, I had always completely identified with each and every negative thought I had. So Tolle’s assertion that “you are not your thoughts” was revolutionary for me. By following his advice to observe my thoughts and place my attention on the present moment, I was able to experience a sense of peace that was completely foreign to me at the time.

“To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Despite experiencing the literal power of “now,” I continued to only return to it in my darkest moments. Being present to the moment was nice, but I wanted to actually change the quality of the thoughts I was having. In a way, avoiding the challenge of actually changing my thoughts almost seemed like taking the easy way out. So presence took a backseat to my focus on positive thinking.

Fast-forward three years and here I am, a lot happier but still struggling daily to change my thoughts. So I’m forced to ask myself….

Why am I exerting so much energy trying to change my thoughts when I could find peace through being present to the moment?

The irony of it all is that “the easy way out” is actually a huge challenge in itself. Living in the NOW may alleviate the need to change my thoughts, but it requires just as much effort and discipline.

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”

– Eckhart Tolle

So as 2017 approaches, I feel it’s time to make a change. Instead of spending so much time trying to think more positively, I’m going to make being present to the moment my main focus.

Over the years I’ve noticed that I’m a more effective person when operating from a place of presence. I’m more creative, more charismatic, and more energetic. I can think more clearly and I’m better able to focus on whatever task I’m working on. More so than positive thinking, being present to the moment is starting to show itself as the key to my happiness and success.

I still plan on exploring new ways to improve my thoughts and emotions, and I’ll still pursue my goals. But I want presence to be the foundation from which all of my actions spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quote of the Week #25

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It constantly amazes me how, when I’m fully engaged with even the smallest task, everything seems to go more smoothly. That’s not to say that being present allows me to succeed at everything I do. I still have to push through blocks and make tons of mistakes. But when approached from a place of presence, none of those things are inherently negative. They are simply part of the process of living and learning.

Wisdom from a Vacuum Cleaner

Today I sat down to meditate and…

The dog next door started howling.

Someone turned on a very loud vacuum.

Two of neighbors started screaming at each other.

My initial reaction to these distractions was frustration: How dare these neighbors interrupt my meditation practice with their bickering (at 7 in the morning, no less). Doesn’t that dog know I’m trying to find enlightenment? And really, who the hell vacuums this early????

My meditation station for the past three months.
My meditation station for the past three months.

Before getting caught up in the current of these disgruntled thoughts, I stopped and asked myself what I was trying to get out of this morning’s meditation. Was it inner peace? Self-realization? The opportunity to brag about how “zen” I am? Everything that came to mind didn’t align with what I know meditation is truly about: simply being in the present moment, regardless of what it holds.

So I reminded myself to just “be,” not judging the noises coming through my window, or seeking a specific feeling. I allowed the howling to wash over me. I breathed deeply into the hum of the vacuum. I listened to my arguing neighbors as though hearing a foreign language, not trying to interpret their words but noticing the ups and downs in each person’s tone.

It wasn’t perfect. Over and over I felt the frustration rise inside me. Over and over I brought my attention back to the source. Eventually, all of the noises stopped, and I was left with the peace and quiet I originally desired.

When my timer went off I felt rejuvenated. Like alchemy, my frustration had been transformed into peace, and I realized those distractions were just lessons in disguise.