How to Stay Present Part 1

Mary H/ September 3, 2013/ Paul Brenner, MD, PhD

(Original Post from Dr. Brenner’s personal Blog, September 3, 2013)

I work at a Cancer Center as a psychosocial oncologist.  My reason for being at the Center is to empower patients to participate, along with their oncologist, in the healing process.  The key to self-empowerment is to let go of the mind’s fear and live in the present.  This understanding is the key to finding peace during difficult times.

The mind is the greatest stressor known to humankind.  The mind is a repository of memories that alters our perception of the present and anticipates the future. The mind tends to find peace in the familiar, panic in the unfamiliar and strives to make life into certainty.  Therefore most of our awareness and creations are grounded in the past and so alter our perception of the present.   In a sense we live recycled lives.  To live in the present is to have an unfiltered experience of each moment.

Sounds great!  But how can we live more successfully in the present?  The key is to learn to monitor negativity, fear or thoughts of the past or the future through self-observation.  G.I. Gurdjieff, an esoteric teacher living during the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th, taught the practice of “Self-Remembering.” Self-Remembering is the practice of observing one’s mind.  The mind has been trained to search out potentially fearful situations in the environment, since the recognition of a moment-to-moment threat to one’s survival was historically the key to survival.  As a result, the majority of our thoughts are fear based and thus negative, e.g., did I unplug the iron, did I lose my cell phone, will I be late, ad nausea.   It never stops, nor does the self-criticism that follows each question.  This survival mechanism keeps us alert but casts shadows over modern life.  The best way to turn off this mechanism is to learn how to monitor thoughts in order to live in the present.

As you begin this process, you will recognize how many of your thoughts are negative, worrisome and have been taught to you by others, rather then emanating from your own experiences.  Through self- observation you have the choice to respond to your thoughts or eliminate them.   This is best accomplished by repeating a word or a phrase over and over for a few seconds, like cancel or delete.  The mind cannot hold two thoughts simultaneously.  Through self-observation, you can stop perseveration and have choice.  Choice is freedom.

The mind, the repository of thoughts, the source of all judgments, projections, fears, stress and joy alters the clarity of our decisions.  Early in life, we are taught to see the world as others see it.  These filters create self-fulfilling prophecies, rather then a series of unfolding new experiences for our entertainment.  The mind creates a false sense of security by repeatedly creating certainty and boredom and making uncertainty fearful.  Uncertainty offers multi-potentiality, true creativity and new experiences.  In brief, the mind takes us out of life.  No thought is worth thinking about.