So let me provide a concrete example in how things have changed based on a practice of being present, and not taking my “self” as seriously. (See Part 1 of this post)
I accepted an assignment to deliver a web based presentation to an English audience which would require that I get up at 6 a.m. For most of my life this would be no problem, but with my recent discomfort the prospect of being “on” at that early hour made me quite anxious.
In addition I needed to prepare materials and do a rehearsal two days before at 9 a.m.
I began to notice the activity of my mind as it began to anticipate the “problems” involved in this activity, and further chastised my “self” for finding it difficult; after all most people get up every single day and go to work with no resistance.
Why was this such an issue for me? What was wrong with me? Was I getting old and dumb? What would become of me if I could not even deliver a simple presentation early in the morning?
When I mentioned this in my Eckhart Tolle group, Michael Jeffreys described his way of approaching his own projects, and how he only addressed what was required in the present moment, whether that included preparation or actually doing something specific.
Michael said, for example, that for our sessions he did not spend time worrying or anticipating—he just knew he had to get to the venue at a certain time, and concentrated on doing that. Or if something required preparation, he would do so for a set period, and then put the matter aside, turning his attention again to something else, in the present moment.
He also emphasized that to the greatest extent possible he tried to take his thinking “self” out of it—his thoughts about the event were irrelevant—his mind would be active during the event as a tool but would not be allowed to judge his performance or create “problems” when it didn’t matter—before or after.
By now I had already had some experience with trusting Life and knowing that Life was much greater than just my thoughts, but as I approached my project I focused on three things—a set period of preparation, getting up for the rehearsal, and then getting up and delivering the program.
I made it a point to let each of these three, all just when they happened, and not let things play out in my head beforehand.
This was difficult because as I prepared I encountered challenges that required more effort and attention—but instead of listening to the voice that said I was inadequate, I simply handled circumstances as well as I could and moved to the next step.
When I was anxious about the rehearsal, I just let that run its course and it went well—I did not allow thoughts about the actual event to interfere with getting through that particular part of the project.
And finally leading up to the event itself, I minimized my concerns about what could not be accomplished and let those things go—I prepared as best I could but also rested.
When I woke up early on the morning of the event I found myself excited but not anxious. I realized that this was finally the “Now” I had ruminated and sometimes worried about, but it would also unfold in its own way. And where I had previously let such things terrify me, and I also realized that some things might go “wrong,” I also knew that “this Now” would be over in a matter of hours, and I would still be alive, there would be food in the fridge, and the rent was paid.
Life would continue. The earth would turn. Republicans would debate. The Lakers would win or lose. And next week a new set of circumstances would arise that I could stress over—or accept.
This perspective game me new energy and confidence as I showered and got up.
During the night, I had caught my “self” chattering in my head about my internet connection, or the computer breaking down. Now it would either happen or it wouldn’t. Certainly the outcome would not depend upon my worrying or my inner talk—it would simply unfold and I would do the best I could.
As I began confidently things were going well, but ten minutes into the presentation my phone rang.
Since it was 7 a.m. I had no idea that anyone would ever call me, but I knew the caller and hung up quickly. But I noticed myself getting rattled. I was speaking to 160 people in England and my inner voice tried to make me feel embarrassed. I continued.
The phone rang again and I picked it up quickly and said I could not talk, and apologized to the audience. My inner critic was mortified. What had I done? I had actually taken a phone call during a live web event? Judgment flooded in.
But an inner calm told me to just continue. I had good information to convey and weird things can happen. It was Life going a bit wrong—but “wrong” was just the voice in my head.
The presentation was going on. I was getting through some interesting slides…
Then I noticed that there was a glitch in my program and I could not see part of the screen. I tried to get help, but I sensed that I could not waste more time trying to fix it. I knew the audience could hear my concern in my voice as I kept talking.
I took a breath and took stock. I knew this was not the best presentation I had ever given and I was in a bit of trouble. But I also knew where I was and where I needed to go, and I could still convey the important material and much of the “trouble” was still only in my head…
Then I got to the meat of the material, delivered it quite well, and found my voice in handling the questions and answers effectively.
This Now was over. I had completed the task—it was not perfect or as good as my critic would have liked—and I began to have concerns about what others, particularly the client, thought of my performance. Would they ever work with me again? Did I screw up?
Then I realized that those thoughts, again, were not as significant as I used to make them. I had made it through. The event was over… Now I could relax again, or go outside, or get groceries.
I also considered that I had faced and overcome several challenges that could have thrown me, but I had survived.
And then, as I glanced over online comments on Twitter, I found that the audience had found the material valuable. They had been empathetic to the glitches and one referred to Murphy’s Law—saying how what can go wrong often will…
I thought about the phone interruption and realized the irony—although the odds were a million to one with my workload, I had actually scheduled another call for 10 a.m. that same morning.
But my contact was back east – when they called at what they thought was ten a.m. it was 7 o’clock here!
In the past, again, I would have been mortified. The voice would have called me an idiot and I would have blamed my “self” but I wasn’t the voice anymore. I was watching things unfold and sometimes they went wrong, and again, I had not burned down the house or murdered anyone.
While I could have tried to put the blame on my contact, who worked with others on the west coast, I also saw through that trap. Making him wrong was no better than doing it to myself. I put it down to miscommunication and we subsequently had our normal call.
The bottom line was that much of the anxiety and discomfort never came up. And yet I know it might come again—perhaps later this afternoon or tomorrow, when there may again be little or nothing “to do.”
But the “scoreboard” is no longer set to a standard of perfection. Part of me recognizes that that voice of criticism has been helping and protecting me, but by identifying with the harshness of its criticism, I have done my “self” a grave disservice.
For one thing, I have failed to acknowledge many of the positive things that have happened or that it even seems that “I” have contributed.
But I am getting the idea that there is no one “I”, and what “I have achieved” as really just come about through Life as I’ve lived it. I’ve been there for friends and family, learned to love and adopt a cat, and yes, even delivered an imperfect web presentation.
Really something far greater than “me” was living, breathing and being (Life) through what “I” had always thought I was. And it was always in the present moment; I could simply let it unfold, or I could harass my “self” with commentary and judgment.
I no longer need to be superhuman, and accomplish everything my father did, or maintain myself to my mother’s standard. I will do “my” best with the wider perspective that my judgments are not me, and a far greater Being – Life itself—is unfolding in ways I cannot control or comprehend.
And so the jury is not just out—it is dismissed. The judge is on vacation. Life is to be lived and not evaluated and sometimes it will work out, and sometimes it won’t—but the only thing I can even remotely control (pun intended—I watch a lot of TV) is where my attention goes.
And to the greatest extent possible, from now on, my attention will be focused on the only place where I might have any influence—the present moment.