Present Tense

Tenses form the backbone of any language. Since our school-going days, we have been reading and practicing the use of tenses. As we know, verbs come in three tenses: past, present, and future. The present tense is used to describe things that are happening right now, in the present. And our present reality can indeed be best described as tense. People are feeling anxious, edgy, jittery, nervous, troubled, uptight, and, worried because of all the uncertainty.

What if we could ease that tenseness by simply shifting our focus? Instead of being caught up in the intense present, we consciously choose to be intensely present. One of our biggest challenges in life is to be fully present in the moment. Even as you are reading this, chances are that your mind is also somewhere else. Our mind is indeed like a monkey in a tree, jumping from branch to branch – restless and all over the place. And as it jumps from branch to branch, our creative mind concocts all kinds of new thoughts. Of course, for a thought to form, there must first have been some event or situation to process that stimulated the thought. With all the fear-mongering news, the uncertainty, and the negativity going around, our thoughts easily latch onto this; and the greater our fear, the more our thoughts create fear-based and negative scenarios, and soon our mind-tree will be filled with monkeys frantically jumping around. As a result, by the time we go to sleep, those monkeys are still jumping and dashing all over the tree, and we then struggle to fall asleep and have a good night’s rest. Soon our health starts to suffer, since our bodies are not designed to deal with jumping monkeys 24/7. We are simply not meant to live in a constant state of tensed presence.

So, we have a choice: to be either presently tensed and suffer the consequences, or to be intensely present. It is that simple. Well, it is simple, maybe, but it is not easy. To be intensely present requires effort in every waking moment. We need to be consciously aware of every thought that is taking hold in our mind, and to change it, if it is negative. Once a thought or impulse has been ignited, it will set off a chain reaction. It starts with a spark, which in turn evokes a corresponding emotion, which emotion determines our actions, and then our actions become our habits, and finally our habits constitute our reality. Positive thoughts evoke positive emotions, and positive emotions lead to positive actions and a general feeling of well-being. In contrast, negative and destructive thoughts attract negative emotions, and negative emotions lead to negative actions, and negative actions lead to a miserable life.

We thus need to watch that jumping monkey closely, and to chase it away before it wakes up all the others and invites them to join the fear party. See, everything starts with a thought. Nothing can manifest without a thought. Nothing. As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus cautioned eons ago: “The soul is dyed by the colour of its thoughts”. Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions, and negative emotions lead to negative behaviour. Conversely, positive thoughts lead to positive emotions, and positive emotions lead to positive behaviour. We get to choose the colour of the dye.

So, in times like these, more than ever, we need to become vigilant and to watch our thoughts. This is not another call for positive thinking or creating a Pollyanna kind of world, in which everything is always fantastic. This is about being intensely present and allowing both positive and negative thoughts to show up, but then consciously manage our reaction to these thoughts. There are always positive and negative possibilities in every situation. We just don’t always recognise these, particularly when fear takes over. For example, being retrenched hardly ever ignites positive thoughts, let alone a positive emotion. It gets all the monkeys going, and soon the noise of fear takes over, and our mind tells us that nothing good can come from this. However, if we manage to stay grounded and intensely present, we create a space in which we can fully acknowledge what is happening, without denying it or trying to escape. We face our fears. We admit that it sucks, and we allow ourselves to feel the feelings, but then we immediately choose to look for something positive that may come from what has happened to us, by reminding ourselves that every ending is also a new beginning. By doing that, we shift the focus in a positive direction. However, this can only happen if we manage to keep fear out of it. Yes, fear is part of our management team, but we should just not put it in charge. We can acknowledge its presence, but we should not allow it to take control. Fear will always come knocking at the door. As the Japanese philosopher, Shinichi Suzuki advised: “When a thought comes into the mind, let it in, just don’t serve it tea”.

Yes, the present is tense, but let us become intensely present and stand guard at the doorway of our thought world. Only serve tea to thoughts that have your best interests at heart.

Your mind is a beautiful servant, but a dangerous master.

Allan Watts.