9 Essential Keys to Living More Fully and Freely in the Present Moment

1. Open yourself fully to this moment

“The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Resistance is a principle I’ve talked about before on the blog. It’s been described many ways before, but I prefer resistance because it gives you what I feel is an accurate visual of what the real effort, or thing happening, is in each moment.
We’re resisting what is, to put it simply. There’s really nothing more to it. But of course, that’s hardly enough explanation to know how to actually apply this in your own life.

2.  Live harmoniously

“As a bee gathering nectar does not harm or disturb the color & fragrance of the flower; so do the wise move through the world.”
– Buddha
Mindfulness gives us unrivaled access to our own thoughts, words, and actions and the intentions which lie hidden beneath them. Because of this, with time, we can begin to see that what we think, say, and do has a real effect on not just ourselves but the word around us.
This can mean many things, but it all comes down to one central idea: to live harmoniously with the world around us. Whether that’s with other people, animals, plants, or the Earth and life itself in a general sense, to live harmoniously with these various parts of life is to water seeds of peace, freedom, and meaning within ourselves.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is restricted to what we call nature and nothing else. Try not to draw imaginary lines, or at least, notice where you have drawn them.
Nature, people, animals, thoughts, words, actions- everything is connected. To live harmoniously is to live in a way that you don’t disturb the natural order of things. Much is included within that, but if you remember that basic tenet it’s easy to keep from being led astray.
To keep this natural order is to keep the peace, both within your mind and in the world outside.

3. Stop searching for meaning outside yourself

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
– Alan Watts
There’s a deep current that runs throughout this world, but most of us have become unconnected to it. That current is love, but unfortunately, most of us have floated off into a place of fear, lack, or as I often refer to it: the feeling that “something” is missing.
We search for meaning outside ourselves in many different ways:
  • We seek to feel “complete” through intimate relationships.
  • We seek to feel fulfilled through big accomplishments.
  • We seek to feel loved through sex.
  • And we seek to feel content through harmful, unhealthy, or generally neutral repetitive activities (this takes shape in many ways).
Whatever it is, it’s all towards the same purpose of making ourselves feel “full”, to fill that sense of voidness within us and, unknowingly, get back to the current of love. Unfortunately, most of us go about it the wrong way and end up hurting ourselves more than anything else.
To make this a reality, more is necessary than just mindfulness, although mindfulness can help us to cultivate positive qualities such as compassion and understanding, the foundations of love.

4. Shift from “me” to “us”

“Only keep the question, ‘What is the best way of helping other people?'”
– Seung Sahn
This isn’t an easy effort for anyone, but some cultures have an easier time with this than others. It just so happens, if you live in the West, this is particularly more difficult.
In the West, more so than in some parts of the East, the ego is a stamp of our individuality, without which we’d wither away and become like drones. But this is a misunderstanding more than anything else.
The shift from “me” to “us” coincides with the shift from fear (or lack) to love in the last point. It’s an altogether opening up of our state of mind to a place where all things are precious and beautiful and equal.
It doesn’t mean we lose ourselves or our sense of identity, it simply means we gain a clearer understanding. A clearer understanding of our interconnectedness and interbeing nature.

5. See your interbeing nature

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Moving on from the last point, realizing the interbeing nature of all things is about the same idea of “awakening from our illusion of separateness” as Thich Nhat Hanh refers to it in the quote above.
You can practice this simply and easily within your everyday life (it’s one of my personal favorite exercises). Specifically, through Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice of looking deeply. Here’s how to practice it:
  1. Pick an object. This could be a flower, tree, a piece of food, or even a person (although that’s a bit of an advanced form of the practice). Whatever it is, pick one object and focus on that.
  2. Work backwards. Take a flower for instance. Start with where you got it- the store, flower shop, outside in your garden, at the park or wherever. Then imagine, or find out if you don’t know, how it got to the flower shop, how it was transported, how it was maintained for freshness, how it was cared for and picked, and how it grew from a seed in the ground into a flower. Lastly, think about the soil and all the things that make up the soil that would eventually provide the seed the nutrients to grow into the flower as it sits in front of you now.
  3. Realize interbeing. Lastly, think of how if you were to take away even one of those elements: the grower, the garden, the soil, the seed, or the facility that packaged and delivered it, the flower would cease to exist.
This is a simple and easy meditation which you can do on just about anything, you just may have to stop to do a little searching to find out exactly where that thing comes from. But that can be an exciting and insightful exercise in itself (and something easily done nowadays with the internet).
After practicing this a few times on a few different objects, do this on yourself and see the many different conditions which you do and have depended on to exist as you are today and see that even we don’t escape this great truth of impermanence.

6. Don’t waste this life – Realize the impermanent nature of all things

“Great is the matter of birth and death. All is impermanent, quickly passing. Wake up! Wake up, each one! Don’t waste this life.”
– Dogen Zenji
The above quote from Zen master Dogen clearly exemplifies the importance of this point. Because of the impermanent nature of all things, we, as well as everything around us has a finite amount of time available to us in this life.
It’s because of this that we shouldn’t waste a single moment of it. To be mindful, fully present for this moment is to be fully alive and making the most of each moment available to us. This is the power of mindfulness. The power to truly live fully in each moment.
With mindfulness and the practice of looking deeply (see the last point), we can see into the impermanent nature of things and cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for our lives and the little moments.
Smelling a flower, touching a tree, being with a loved one. In each of these moments, we can see clearly the impermanent nature of all things- both the moment and the things- and fully appreciate it for all its beauty. Get out there and live mindfully and more deeply and cultivate that sense of appreciation for yourself.

7. Decide what’s important to you, simplify your life, and give yourself to those things

“Since there is never a time when worldly activities come to an end, limit your activities.”
– Atisa
You can only give your time and attention to so many things. As I mentioned in the last point, we have a finite amount of time in this life and in each individual moment, so you need to:
  1. Decide what’s important to you
  2. Simplify your life (cut down on the nonessentials)
  3. And give yourself to those important things
It’s only in doing this that you’ll be able to live a full life, one where you felt that you gave it your all and attained the peace you were searching for.
Simplicity may only be a container- the practice of mindful living, looking and seeing deeply, and cultivating love being the contents- but without the container, we’d have no effective capacity to create the right environment for peace and freedom to arise in the first place.
This can be something as simple as cutting down on your physical possessions, which have the ability to crowd our life and distract us. But more importantly, it includes things such as limiting your commitments and responsibilities, both of which crowd our mental activity.

8. Be fully of this moment

“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
Shunryu Suzuki has two of my favorite quotes pertaining to this point, the second is this:
“You should not have any remains after you do something. But this does not mean to forget all about it.
In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire.
You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do.”
To be fully of this moment means to give your full being to this moment. It means you leave nothing on the table, reserve no part of yourself, hold nothing back and regret nothing. You act as one unstoppable force in that moment.
The way most of us live our lives, we’re usually doing something now in preparation for something later. In each moment, we’re more concentrated on the next moment than we are the present moment. Because of this, in a very real way we’re never fully present to our lives and almost always living in our heads half asleep.
To live mindfully, deeply, fully engaged in this moment is to let go of the future and be fully of this moment- the present moment.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you cease planning for the future, as some planning is necessary. How would a monk or nun get anything done at a monastery (and there’s a lot to get done) if he or she never planned anything? So some degree of planning is necessary, but the focus should be on living fully in the present moment.
The most important things to pay attention to are fear of the future and aversion to the present. Fear of the future makes us either focus constantly on planning for the future and avoiding the present or mindlessly distracting ourselves and doing neither. Aversion to the present makes us hate being present and rather constantly planning to improve things or daydreaming in the future.
This can take time as future moments are always trying to pull us along. But with practice, we can begin to more clearly see when we’re acting mindfully and when we’re just eating our future plans.

9.  Know that the sacred is ordinary, the ordinary is sacred

“If you live the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing in the ocean of delusion.”
– Linji Yixuan
So many search for meaning and purpose through a type of spiritual practice which is so far removed from their everyday lives that they begin to feel as though their daily lives are empty and devoid of any real meaning and that it’s only through their separate practice in which they can be “filled up”.
Unfortunately, this is just another form of confusion. To live in this way is to be utterly confused about what life, reality, and spirituality (all of the above) is and is about.
This is unfortunate because a true understanding leads to seeing clearly that everything in this world is precious and beautiful. This misunderstanding keeps you from experiencing the beauty that exists all around you at all times.
And in many cases, it keeps you from realizing the interbeing nature of all things, which despite a supposedly deep spiritual practice keeps us acting hostile and defensive towards the world around us. The opposite of what’s necessary for peace to occur.
Also unfortunate is that while I can clearly convey the importance of realizing this point, I can’t tell you anything that will help you realize it immediately. That’s because it must be experienced first-hand, through a daily practice of mindfulness and deep looking.
You need to dedicate yourself to living deeply and mindfully in each and every moment. And even if you fail at this 95% of the time, that 5% where you’re successful will radically transform your everyday experiences and cultivate a greater sense of peace, freedom, and meaning in your life for as long as you continue to practice.
So my best advice? Get out there and live mindfully. Look deeply into your everyday experiences. Into the flowers outside your window, into the food that you eat, and into the people you meet.
Make this a priority in your life and give your best effort. It may take time, but it will be enough.

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