By Vice Admiral Venkat Bharathan
The author, shares personal experiences and insights on how we benefit by being in the present moment
A cardinal law of life is that it exists in the present. Past, however beautiful or traumatic, is nothing but a memory; future, however bleak or promising, is just a thought. All that actually exists is the now, the present moment. And it is vital that we try to live this present moment, because if we keep thinking of what happened or what will happen, we will have no energy to deal with what is happening now!
Paradoxically, this does not mean forgetting the wisdom in the quote: “If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail”. Past can be used every now and then as a reference. We definitely need to have a vision for the future, but the larger part of our day and ultimately, life, must deal with the now, effectively and optimally.
We are solely responsible for our life and its quality. There are four “R’s” that most human life revolves around: Our role, relationships, responsibilities and routines. Of these, relationships form the core foundation of life. Human relationships alone create synchrony or conflict. They define our way of existence. One way of harmonizing relationships is to understand clearly the difference between a fact and a perception, and not believe the latter to be the absolute truth. If we can live in the present moment, are able to get into another’s shoes and understand their point of view as they stand now, great relationships are likely to be a reality. However, if one is constantly living in the past or future, a good relationship is only a myth. For instance, if a father were to relate to his 18-year-old daughter as if she were 15 or 25, he is unlikely to understand her present state of mind. Living in the now offers a freedom to live and to relate as each person and you are, now.
Being in the now also helps significantly in taking the right decision, at the right time. My own experience on board a warship during the thick of operations is perhaps a good example. There was a young sailor who was considered to be a troublemaker. Time and again, there were requests from others on ship to transfer him out, but for some inexplicable reason, I kept postponing this decision. A casual talk with the youth made me perceive his potential as a good sailor. Naturally, the rest of the crew was upset about my decision to retain him on board. One night, when we were engaged in some rescue operations involving drifting fisherfolk from a sinking boat, this sailor suddenly jumped from the warship on to the boat, sensing the imminent danger of a collision, while every one else’s attention was diverted due to a minor fire on board. He took charge of the boat and steered it clear off the big ship, calmed the frightened fishermen, and oversaw their rescue. The fishing boat subsequently sank! You could call it a just- in- time act of Providence through the hands of this truant sailor. Overnight, he became a hero and also an exemplary sailor because he was living in the now, actively taking in inputs from the environment and acting as required.
I also realized from this experience that often in life we encounter moments when we perform badly, or are subject to criticism by others. The now can act as a counselor. Being with yourself, analyzing yourself as objectively as possible, and watching yourself closely for weaknesses, can help you be in control over the situation, no matter how taxing. One realizes that even before a full-blown rage, you are given several moments to decide whether shouting and screaming is what you want to get into. Someone banging into your car in a traffic jam can again be managed effectively if you are in the now and your response to a situation is in proportion to it; talking calmly could do the job better than abusing and beating the other driver. But for reaction to become required action, you should be in the now.
It is not easy to practice or follow the ‘now’ approach – but if you gradually develop this as an exercise or discipline in your life, you will find that you actually can face the outer world with a well-prepared inner world. Indeed, in our life, there exist two worlds: an inner, private space and a public space. The sanctity and value we attach to the first will help us determine the quality of our public space, while dealing with one’s wife, mother, child or even the street dog who barks incessantly.
Exercises within the inner space help one tremendously in being in the now. For instance, the act of observing the inner world will be of great value. If you pay heed to, and are able to analyze the quality of your reaction (both positive and negative) to your job, career, friends, their opinion of you and all the situations you encounter, you would be able to develop balanced inner strategies and strengths to become positive in the outer world, even when dealing with negative inputs or stimuli. The benefits of being in the now, you see, can never be overstated.
My own experience as a naval officer has brought me closer to the now. War times require one to be so vigilant that there is no room for a slip. Every moment is important, every minute is weighed, and a single decision can cost us our life. It teaches us not just being in the moment, but also valuing each moment. This helps one appreciate moments of peace, and be grateful and celebrate all we have – our family, friends, health and, in the final analysis, our whole life.
None of what I have written is possible without introspection. Note introspection and not brooding. Here are a few questions we need to ask ourselves every day: What do I have to do today? What are my challenges? What makes me happy? What makes me sad? Whether you and I want to be victims, perpetrators or Samaritans is up to us. Whether we want to just exist, or live a life exuding exuberance and ecstasy, is our choice. And we have to choose now, as now is all that there actually is.
Vice Admiral Venkat Bharathan retired from the Indian Navy in Nov ’06. He is a keen human resources manager who believes very much in the human spirit.
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