Time to lock up and go to bed. I check the door, turn the key and place it on its hook. I go upstairs and begin emptying my pockets onto my desk. Money, phone wallet, keys. among my keys is the key to the front door. so how come I distinctly remember placing it on its hook? Clearly, my mind was somewhere else when I was performing that ritual task. I was not ‘present’; I was running on ‘autopilot’.
Most of us spend a great deal of time on autopilot. For example, when you drive a familiar route you may arrive at your destination with little or no memory of how you got there. You were certainly not ‘present’ during the trip. You may have been lost listening to music from the car radio. Or engrossed in planning what you would do once you arrived.
When I do something like slipping the door key into my pocket, I am in effect sleepwalking through my life. And when I sleep, I of course miss a lot of what is going on.
So lately I have been concentrating on staying ‘in’ the present, with mixed success. When I do manage to remain present, the world shows up as more colourful, more interesting and much more fun.
Currently I’m increasing the amount of running I do, in preparation for a charity run. And I find running is much more enjoyable when I am actually conscious of my surroundings, when I feel the wind on my face, when I am aware of other people – especially other runners.
Of course there are times when I need to concentrate on what I am doing to the extent that need to blot out the irrelevant. When I need to be present to only, say, driving in heavy traffic. Autopilot certainly doesn’t work during rush-hour – and it is probably not helpful to notice the wind from the air-conditioning either!
Being present then, can mean awareness of everything – or awareness only of the essentials. So I (we all) need to choose the appropriate level of being present for each occasion.
And there are bonuses. Yesterday I was walking back to my car having just been food shopping. I was enjoying swinging my bag of shopping and the warmth of the sun when I spotted something shiny on the ground in front of me. It was a ten pence piece; a cash bonus! (Or a present for being present?)