Qui-Gon: “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.”
Ob-Wan: “But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future.”
Qui-Gon: “But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.”
This is the third in a series of four blog posts on my favorite Jedi mind tricks. My previous Jedi mind tricks highlight: how to shift your perspective by reframing your reality, and how to process a situation before responding.
Jedi Mind Trick #3: Be Present
We’re hearing it more and more, “live in the now!” Some with the seriousness of authors, Eckhart Tolle and David Cain, and others with the humor of Garth Algar in Wayne’s World.
The exchange referred to above between the Jedi Master, Qui-Gon, and his apprentice, Obi-Wan is our third Jedi mind trick. It’s about giving ourselves permission to tame our minds. Then again, you may be asking yourself any one of these questions: What’s the deal with being present? What causes us to leave the present? When we are not in the now, where do we go?
Let’s look at some examples:
- I go to the mailbox and there’s a bill from the department store that I didn’t expect. Immediately my mind takes over: Did I use the wrong credit card? Do I have money budgeted to pay the invoice this month? Which leads to, “I wonder how I am doing against my budget?” And that leads to remembering how I felt the last time I overspent – not great. Ten minutes later the dog barks and I’m reminded that he needs to be fed – now.
Snap back to the present.
- I receive an email from a family member regretting that we moved mom to an assisted living facility and expressing doubt that it was the right decision. I remember our many discussions about this topic, some exposing hard feelings within the family. I remember the reflective look on mom’s face when we packed her belongings. My computer dings with an instant message from my administrator saying, “You have 60 seconds to get to the conference room.”
Back to the present: Where was I and for how long was I there?
In the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker connects the dots and realizes that his uncle and aunt may be in danger. Obi-Wan tells him to wait, but Luke jumps in the speeder to see if he can protect them. His stress comes from regretting actions he has taken and worrying about the consequences of actions not taken – he’s not in the here and now.
Logically, it seems as if there are only two places where we can go when we are not in the present: the past or the future.
All we ever have is now.
My executive coach once told me that, “Life is a series of nows.” There’s the current now and the next now. You know the next now is coming, so why sweat it?
Are we more powerful when we are in the present? I would argue that the answer is yes. This doesn’t mean that we don’t plan or reflect; both are fabulous practices for a well-run life. The challenge is that our weak minds will take us to the past or future and we leave ourselves there to worry, regret, perseverate, catastrophize, or simply stress out. We try to put too many nows into our current now.
When we are present, we are less focused on time or the clock, both of which can be key stressors. Isn’t it great to experience moments when time seems to stop? Don’t we value and remember those times more than others?
It may be dangerous to mix Star Wars and The Lion King in one blog post, but let’s give it a try. Do you remember the scene where Rafiki smacks Simba on the head with his staff and Simba quickly retorts, “Ow, why did you do that?” Rafiki, in his wisdom responds, “It doesn’t matter, it is in the past.” He was reminding Simba to come back to the present.
Our brain is a powerful engine. Untamed, it will go where it pleases – the “weak mind” according to the Jedi. It’s important for us to realize that new neural pathways can be created – the breakthroughs in neuroscience are teaching us that we can change and transform ourselves literally by thinking differently. With more practice, what starts as a path becomes a super highway.
To retrain your brain as the Jedi have, consider the following tips to stay in the present:
- Pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling.
- Be mindful of very small actions.
- Try saying “just this” and give one thing your focus. Zoom in on it.
- Turn off the distractions.
- Note what your senses are telling you; re-inhabit your body.
- Pinch yourself as a reminder that you are living on purpose.
Here’s to a strong mind that keeps you present today and this week.
*Credits for suggested actions come from David Cain’s book You Are Here.