Invoking presence

The thought occurred that some of the insights of neuroscience and psychotherapy’s recent fascination with “mindfulness” could be of help to those of us interested in such things. It all began in the late eighties and early nineties, when a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Buddhist practitioner, began helping people with seemingly intractable pain learn how to find meaning and even happiness in life, despite all the difficulties through which they suffered, and in some cases, because of them. His work at hospitals was so impactful that soon physicians began writing prescriptions telling patients to “go see Jon.” Jon taught them mindfulness, which he defined as follows:

“The awareness that emerges through paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

This statement remains the gold standard of mindfulness training in all its various forms. While every word of this definition is important and worthy of careful study, it can be shortened to the directing of our attention, non-judgmentally, to our sensory experience as it unfolds, moment to moment.

It turns out that this is challenging because we are easily hooked by emotions, which exist primarily in the past (already happened) or the future (not yet happened). Making judgments about our experience has a similar effect — it takes us away from the present moment and leads us into fantasy worlds filled with escalated emotions and lots of disappointment.

So, asking the question “What is [use your own given name] sensing right now, right here?” can be a useful tool for invoking what E.J. Gold calls “the presence of our presence into the present moment.” This is a process which, as experience will demonstrate, makes our lives richer and leaves us making fewer mistakes.

Of course, we still have to remember to ask the question.