Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Power of Ow: pain and the present moment

The concept of being focused on the present moment, being mindful of who we are and what we are feeling now, is seen by the Buddhists as the 1st step towards enlightenment. Now mindfulness has transcended its buddhist roots from which it came and embedded itself in Western culture, especially in the more new age and hippie parts of society. Books such as "The Power of Now" as well as those by numerous Buddhist teachers including the Dalai llama are bestsellers. Clearly people really want to live in the now.

My advice on how to be fully present in the now is to take these steps:

1. take off your right shoe
2. go into your kitchen
3. go up to a wall or kitchen unit
4. stub your toe against it with vigour.

Because of all the ways of bringing oneself into the present - meditation, sex, watching the sunset, listening to music - pain is the most foolproof way of doing it. You cannot but be in the present moment when you're in pain; up to a certain point you can distract yourself from it, but after that it will take up the whole of your mind and thoughts. You will not be able to think about the future, you will not be able to dwell in the past, your experience will be entirely dictated by its presence or absence.

It will eat you up whole, and spit out the pips of any remaining thoughts and feelings left that are your own, leaving only an acute underlying sense of fear at the knowledge that this pain is not only true for now, but may continue into the future. To know, as the Buddhists say, that there is no self all you need do is to experience strong pain that wholly encompasses you to realise this is true. 

I feel all this is true, and I feel that it is true because I frequently experience high levels of pain and discomfort - profound exhaustion, muscle and joint pain, headaches, feverishness, stiffness - that encompass my whole body pretty much from my legs to my head. This is not a fun or enjoyable experience. But pain has also been my biggest teacher - and and I take what lessons from it that I can, even if sometimes they are ones that I don't want to learn in such a harsh way.

I will go into detail about these different lessons in other blog posts, but I wanted to end with one of them:

I realised as I looked more into Buddhism and meditation, that the point of them was not as a tool to reach enlightenment, it wasn't even make you feel happy, but to work out how to deal with our current, in-the-moment, physical and emotional pain in a way that produces less suffering. You cannot circumnavigate pain and move straight to joy without going through it, and learning from it. 

And so I will be writing the sequel to “The Power of Now" called "The Power of Ow" in an attempt to make sense of the lessons learnt from my experience, and what they reflect about myself, human nature and society itself, and to make millions of pounds from it like Eckhart Tolle!

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