Tag: Living in the present

Transitions, pt One

Reflections on these present times.

Want a brilliant idea for tomorrow? Stay in the present!

Dogs do this wonderfully.  I am told that followers of Zen Buddhism discover peace and grace from embracing the present. But is there more to this?  Is there some deeper psychology involved?  Does our species have an intrinsic challenge in terms of staying in the present?

My musings on this arise from a couple of recent conversations.

The first was with Peter McCarthy from the Bristol area of West England.  Peter and I go back a few years (at my age, everything goes back a few years!) and at one stage I did some work for Peter’s company, Telecom Potential.  Just a quick aside, Peter’s company was based in the magnificent Clevedon Hall, a mansion built in 1853 as a family home for Conrad William Finzel, a German-born businessman.  Here’s a picture of one of the rooms,

A room at Clevedon Hall

Peter, like me, is sure that the period in which the world now appears to be, is not some cyclical downturn, not some temporary departure from the national growth and employment ambitions promoted by so many countries.  No! This one is different.

Peter is sure that a major transition is under way, as big as any of the great societal upheavals of the past.  And, for me, a fascinating comment from Peter was his belief that the key attitude required for the next years would be innovation.  Peter reminded me that we tend to think of innovation as applying to things physical, scientific and technical.  But Peter sensed that it would be in the area of social innovation where key changes would arise and, from which, these large societal changes would flow.

Then a day later I was chatting with one of the founders of a brilliant new authentication process, Pin Plus. It is a very smart solution to a major global problem, the weaknesses of traditional password user-authentication systems.

On the face of it, Pin Plus is obviously a better and more secure way of authenticating users, and a number of key test customers have borne this out.  Jonathan C was speaking of the challenges of convincing companies to have faith in this new process.  This is what he said,

More than once, indeed many times, I am told by prospects something along the lines that the IT world has been looking so hard and so long for a password solution that a solution can’t possibly exist.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.  Are we saying that a far-sighted approach to the potential for change is not an easy place for some, probably many, human brains?

Indeed, Jonathan and I mused that here we were, both speaking via Skype, an internet telephony service, both of us looking at different web sites in support of many of the points that we were discussing and totally dependent, in terms of our mentoring relationship, on the technology of the internet, a multi-node packet-switched communications system that was a direct result of the American shock of seeing the Russians launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into low earth orbit on the 4th October, 1957.

Launch of Sputnik 1

At that time, it would have seemed impossible for anyone on the planet to see that the American response to Sputnik 1 would eventually lead to the vast packet-switched network that is now the modern Internet.

But why do we regard the ability to look into the future so utterly out of reach of the common man?  Look at this, the Internet Timeline here.  Look how quickly the response to Sputnik1 gathered pace.  See how Leonard Kleinrock of MIT way back in May, 1961, presented a paper on the theory of packet-switching in large communications networks.

So maybe there’s a blindness with humans.  A blindess that creates the following bizarre characteristics,

  • Whatever is going on in our lives at present we assume will go on forever.  I.e. the boom times will never end, or the period of doom and gloom is endless.
  • Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.
  • Yet, unlike animals and some spiritual groups of humans, truly living in the present appears incredibly difficult for man.
  • However, the history of mankind shows that our species is capable of huge change, practically living in constant change for the last few millennia, and that a very small proportion of a society, see yesterday’s article, is all that is required to create a ‘tipping point’.

I want to continue with this theme but conscious that there is still much to be written.  So, dear reader, I shall pause and pick this up tomorrow.

Just stay in the present for twenty-four hours!

Thomas’s smile

What even a lovely boy, just one year old, can offer the world.

I’m writing this around 5pm UK time on the 8th June.  A little over 4 hours ago, at 1230 give or take, I witnessed a tiny event, something that for many of us wouldn’t have been seen as anything but trivial, albeit lovely.

Here’s what happened.

I had been to an introductory meeting with Richard White of The Accidental Salesman fame.  We met in Pall Mall, just by Trafalgar Square, at the offices of The Institute of Directors.

Shortly before 1230, after Richard and I had said our goodbyes, I jumped on a Bakerloo train at the London Underground station at Piccadilly Circus heading north for Baker Street.

Bakerloo line train at Piccadilly Circus station

I think it was one stop later that into my carriage entered parents with their small son.  They sat down and the father, who had been carrying the young lad, was clearly beautifully bonded (not my favourite word, can’t think of a better one just now) with the small boy.  The love and joy of the parents and their child just poured out into the ‘ether’ of the carriage. Result?

One man, middle-aged, sitting opposite to one side of the family beamed smiles in the direction of the young boy.  You could sense that his emotional outlook had been transformed by the unencumbered joy flowing across the carriage.  He really smiled more or less non-stop until I and this family got off at Baker Street station.

Another man, my guess upper middle-aged, was formally dressed in the business suit, tie and polished black shoes.  He was reading a newspaper.  But the boy’s joyful infectiousness touched him.  He put the paper to one side and discretely looked across at the child bouncing on his father’s lap and a private smile crossed his face.

I was standing observing all of this and, of course, seeing the truth of something so core to the needs of humans.  That is, the power of living beautifully in the present and how it demonstrates what my colleague Jon Lavin so often says, “The world reflects back what we think about most”.

Why do I write ‘of course’?  Because what was so natural for this boy at the tender age of one is so natural for dogs throughout all their lives; wonderfully enjoying the present.

In a most un-English manner, I briefly caught up with the parents and established that the young boy’s name was Thomas.

Well done, Thomas, and may that joy in you be with you and all those around you for ever and ever.

Present perfect!

Probably the best lesson dogs offer their human companions.

Having surfaced recently from being completely immersed in the writings of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (start here and work backwards if you missed my musings on Sheldrake) I used the recent flight across to London to start into the book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Dogs Never Lie About Love.

Masson's book

While I might disagree with some minor aspects of the way that dogs relate to humans, the essential premise of the book is very powerful.

Indeed, the very last sentence of Chapter 2, Why We Cherish Dogs reads as follows:

Questers of the truth, that’s who dogs are; seekers after the invisible scent of another’s authentic core.

For me, any attempt to seek our own ‘authentic core’ can only come from understanding the power of remaining in the present.  Dogs do this so naturally and instinctively.  As Masson writes a little earlier in the above chapter,

A dog does not tremble at the thought of his own mortality; I doubt if a dog ever thinks about a time when he will no longer be alive.  So when we are with a dog, we, too, enter a kind of timeless realm, where the future becomes irrelevant.

One could almost imagine this being the ancient wisdom of the teachings of Buddha!

Anyway, in a rather serendipitous manner, just before starting this essay, I read my weekly News and Notes from Terry Hershey.  This is what he wrote about being in the present.

Did you see Mr. Holland’s Opus? About Glenn Holland’s lifetime of teaching music to a high school band. In one scene he is giving a private lesson to Gertrude. She is playing clarinet, making noises that can only be described as other-worldly. He is clearly frustrated. As is she. Finally Mr. Holland says, “Let me ask you a question. When you look in the mirror what do you like best about yourself?”

“My hair,” says Gertrude.


“Well, my father always says that it reminds him of the sunset.”

After a pause, Mr. Holland says, “Okay.  Close your eyes this time. And play the sunset.”

And from her clarinet? Music. Sweet music.

Sometime today, I invite you to set aside the manual, or the list, or the prescription.

Take a Sabbath moment. . . close your eyes and play the sunset.

Mary Oliver describes such a moment this way, “. . .a seizure of happiness. Time seemed to vanish. Urgency vanished.”

Because, in such a moment, we are in, quite literally, a State of Grace.  In other words, what we experience here is not as a means to anything else.

If I am to focused on evaluating, I cannot bask in the moment.

If I am measuring and weighing, I cannot marvel at little miracles.

If I am anticipating a payoff, I cannot give thanks for simple pleasures.

If I am feeling guilty about not hearing or living the music, I cannot luxuriate in the wonders of the day.

Living in the present is not specifically mentioned but how else could one interpret these beautiful concepts.

Living in the present

What do you think of it so far?

The above is a popular catchphrase.  It suggests that how we view something now is the product of all our experiences to date.  It might apply to a book, play, TV programme or life itself.

But the truth may be very different, how we view the present moment may be more to do with shutting off all those previous experiences and just accepting the present as if we have been blind, dumb and deaf until this perfect moment of now.

That’s why what we have to learn from dogs is so important even though that ‘lesson’ may be just this single, very, very important aspect.  Living in the now!

Here’s what is written on our Home Page post:

Dogs have so much to teach us. To an extent that’s difficult for humans to contemplate, they live in the present. Dogs just are!

They make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have.

Living in the present is not easy.  Trust me, I’m only starting to practice this myself and maintaining a few seconds is a challenge!

But try it.  Just let everything in your mind be replaced, just for a few moments, by NOW.  That’s the sound of your breath woven into the sound of everything going on around you.  Let all of those sounds just be a part of your awareness.

Be aware of touch.  Feel what you are sitting on standing on. Feel the messages your fingers and hands are sending to your nervous system.  Feel the bench, chair, ground or whatever is connecting your body in a physical sense to the world around you.

Hold a rock, a plant, a branch, anything real and be totally aware of the texture and feel of that object.

Smell the aromas entering your nose – just be aware of them.

And see with your eyes.  Really see.   See through your eyes with the innocence of eyes first opened.

Just hold this place of divine grace for a few moments.

You have just experienced true peace and your world will never be quite the same again.

A Spring flower

Oh, how I envy dogs!

By Paul Handover