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7 Mar 2018

Cultivating the Present Based Self

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Neuroscience tell us that that are two versions of the ‘self’, neurologically.  This is not news to Buddhism.  The first is narrative based, made up of all that has happened to you and what you have made the experiences mean about you, life and others.  This narrative self is dependent on future and past, in other words it is constructed, we can call that ‘time based self’.  It is in the ‘time based self’ that the sense of ‘me’ and ‘self’ exists.  The immediacy based self on the other hand has no sense of ‘me’ or ‘self’, but nonetheless we can call it the ‘present based self’.  This is story free, it is just our experience of sensations in the moment.

Time based self easily gets very anxious, it is always comparing this moment to how it ‘should be’, and how you ‘ought’ to be.  As it is future and past based so it lives with all the wounds of your past and all the concerns of the future.  Contentment tends to be something that belongs in the next moment; once everything is done, I have lost ten kilos, am in a different job or relationship.  In other words, a moment we rarely get to. Time based self tends to also be insatiable, doesn’t matter what heights your life gets to it wants more, it is never satisfied.

The Present Based Self on the other hand can experience awe by the sight of a butterfly, by the breeze caressing your cheek, by the parsley making its way through the dirt, by the moon shine, by your cat’s or dog’s nose pushing up against you or by a smile.  It is also in the present based self that compassion or unconditional love lives as from here I see that we are the same, I feel and experience that we are one.

When Tim (husband) and I went through a tough time a few years ago it was the reprieve of the present based self that enabled peace and calm, as it allowed us to walk in the mornings ‘story free’ but sensation rich.  Focusing on the sounds of the birds, the sensations of the body walking, the breeze, smells and sites.  We had a break from the story, a break in the present and it was story free, peaceful and calm.

Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the patterns and contents of ‘time based self’, so we can interrupt it and invite in the present based self.

Every week I run programs on Mindfulness@Work or Mindful Leadership and it is always the same struggles that are mentioned; high stress levels, feelings of being overwhelmed, torn between home and work, lack of ability to feel calm and contented, lack of ability to focus and often feelings of high frustration and lack of joy and contentment.  All the symptoms can be seen as an identification with the ‘time based self’ with little space for the ‘present based self’.  The good news is that practicing mindfulness affects all of these issues in a positive way and allows a shift, one moment at a time.

Time based self gets a tighter grip on us when we rush, are on autopilot and when we are disconnected from the body, lost in thought.  It also becomes dominant when we feel isolated and disconnected.

Hence our culture of more, more, more, rush, rush, rush and rampant individualism is a challenge for mental health, for peace and for compassion. There is an old Buddhist saying that says: ‘the more self the more suffering’.  The more I rush, the more I want, the stronger the ‘time based self’ becomes.  We could also say, the more self the more anxiety, stress and depression.

So reduce:

“Following”, partly because it brings you to autopilot and partly because it tends to be about ‘more’ and information overload.  The following or chasing fires up comparing, competing, the ‘time based self’ and through that, easily dissatisfaction, never enough.

When we mindlessly follow, we tend to be disconnected from our own needs. We spread ourselves thin, gathering a lot of information, most of it irrelevant to our lives, all while we sacrifice depth, believing contentment or happiness is ‘out there’. We sacrifice being in our own lives, in the moment, we miss out on the ‘present based self’.

Instead

Stand firm on what is important to you, invite in the present based self and appreciate where you are at and what you are sensing, in this moment.

The mantra is; it is enough, I am enough.

Reduce

The sense of Information overload. When I first started running mindfulness programs I had a slide that said 150 research article on Mindfulness, I knew nearly all of them off by heart.  Now it says over 150,000.  If I tried to keep up I would go super anxious never keeping up, never good enough.  In other words, information overload over stimulates my ‘time based self’ as it leads to rushing and multitasking as coping strategies, but these very strategies end up further increasing our anxiety and stress levels.  And again this reduces the opportunity to experience ‘present based self’.

Instead

As we live in information overload we have to shift our notion that we have to keep up to keeping sane, from not missing out to joy of missing out and from having and knowing it all to discernment. Bringing in ‘present based self’ is simple. Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests ‘coming to our senses’, noticing and observing what is being experienced in this moment.

“If you don’t go within you go without” says Ken Wilber.  If you don’t stand still you go without, if you don’t check in with yourself you go without if you don’t come to your senses you miss out.  If you are chasing and looking for happiness out there, you will miss out. Contentment is not in the next event, rather it is available to you right now in your present based self.

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