Why We Should Stop Trying To Be Present

As a life coach and transformational retreat host, it’s my job to help people bridge the gap between how they currently live and how they want to live.

Some want to lose weight or be healthier, others want to amend relationships, and others want successful businesses. 

But no matter how different their desires, almost everyone I speak to has one thing in common: they want to be more present.

“I can’t get out of my head,” they tell me.

“That's right!" I say“You can’t get out of your head. And good thing too, because if you could, you’d be dead.”

You see, we experience life through our senses, which are registered through the brain. We actually have no way of knowing that there actually is a world out there. Our only way of ever experiencing it is through our heads.

The American flag isn’t actually red, white, and blue. Color doesn’t exist without a mind to perceive it.

So where the heck are we trying to get to when we want to get out of our heads? There’s nothing else out there. 

Likewise, we can never be more in the moment, because we are always only ever in the moment. There is no where else to be. We have never been anywhere else besides the moment. 

The moment is absolute. We can’t be more inside of something that we are already inside of wholly and completely.

Our consciousness and the moment is all there ever is. So why are we trying to get out of our heads and into the moment? 

What people really mean when they say they want to be more in the moment and out of their heads is that they want to have fewer thoughts and judgements. 

However, the thought, “I want to have fewer thoughts,” is just one more judgmental thought.

We want to be more present, because we want to be less controlled by the mind. But, it’s that very mind that is telling us we should be more present, convincing us that there is something wrong with our thought patterns that needs to be fixed.

If you are trying to be more present, you are not really being present. You are trying to get somewhere.

What we really mean when we say, “I want to be more present,” is that we are holding a grudge against how the present moment is unfolding.

True presence is the act of loving what is. Trying to be present is the opposite of that. True presence is something that arises spontaneously, without force. It is grace, and it can’t be manipulated into being. It requires surrender. Not force. Not ambition. Not trying.

Which is why it is problematic that we have come to look upon “being present” as an achievement and the extent to which we are present as an indicator of our worth.

Presence is a gift from the universe. Not an accomplishment of the mind—so don’t be fooled. It is only the ego that wants you to be more present. 

Grace certainly isn’t telling us to be more present. Grace doesn’t believe that a thoughtless moment is inherently more valuable than a moment full of thought. 

Presence, for me, is like a cat. The more you want it to come to you, the more it evades you. The more we yearn for presence to come, the less room we leave for it. We paradoxically must surrender our desire to be present before true presence has the space to enter.

The more we can allow all experiences, the more we make room for grace.

The more we resist our thoughts, the more persistent they are. Thoughts are like that opinionated aunt at Thanksgiving who just speaks louder every time you try to challenge her or shut her up. Plus, the only reason we want to have less thoughts is so that we can spend more time appreciating life, rather than analyzing and judging it. 

But guess what? Thoughts are just as much a part of life as is sunshine and trees—and the belief that we should have less thoughts is just one more judgement that prevents us from appreciating life.

Thinking is not an objectively less valuable experience than being captivated by a bird flying. Every moment contains exactly what it contains—and the belief that we have to stifle our thoughts in order for a moment to be valuable only works to keep us prisoners of the judgmental mind, not free us of it.

The struggle to be present is absurd, because we are always present to our experience of life. Really, when we say we want to be more present, we mean we want to focus more of our attention on the outside world, rather than our internal state.

To have this desire, we must first believe that there is a certifiable division between the inner and outer world. And then, we must believe that one is better than the other. We must place value judgements on the truth of our moment-to-moment experiences and believe that there is a hierarchy of importance to how we focus our attention.

Can these dualistic notions really lead to a non-dual state of presence? 

I believe that presence does not mean having no thoughts, it means recognizing that you are not your thoughts. You are the witness to everything that arises in your experience—thoughts included.

Presence means allowing thinking to come when it comes, and go when it goes, not trying to manipulate it’s cycles and rhythms. So, let’s stop the absurdist war against our thoughts. Instead, let’s witness them with acceptance. Let’s recognize that thoughts are just energy. They are just as real, valid, and sacred as anything else.

We have exactly as many thoughts in a day as we have in a day. Having a smaller number of thoughts won’t make us happier. What will make us happier is to stop fighting reality. Stop believing that life will be better when we manage to control our thinking.

Judging yourself for not being present is keeping you a prisoner of your mind. So, recognize that you have always been present. There is no other way to be. It’s only a matter of what we are present to.

Sometimes, we will be present to our chaotic thoughts, and sometimes we will be present to our awe of life.

Neither is better or worse.