Monthly Message 
The Present Moment
Brian Afton
YogaBetsy Discourse #12
   Most of you have seen the original Star Wars movie in which  Master Yoda introduced Luke Skywalker to the importance of the present moment:   “Never your mind on where you are or on what you are doing!” 

    The present moment is important because we only have power in the present. Notwithstanding that, it should still be understood that we are tied energetically to both the past and the future in very complex ways.

  Despite the fact that it has come and gone, the past can consume large amounts of our energy under certain circumstances.  There are two main ways this occurs.  The first is because our thoughts affect our bodies; consequently thinking about the past affects us.

  All of you have undoubtedly heard of the device called a lie detector.  In the average case, if an individual connected to such a machine says it is Tuesday when they know it is Wednesday a physiological reaction will be produced of sufficient intensity to be measured by relatively crude instruments.

  Another example of thoughts affecting our bodies is found in the so-called placebo effect.  When a person suffering from an illness is given medicine containing no active ingredients they will often get better because they believe they will get better. 

  This is no small matter.  It is an affect that has been observed in scientific testing and which has occurred on really sick people in numbers far beyond anything that could be attributed to chance or any other factor than the obvious one: The placebo effect means the patients thoughts affect their bodies.

  That being the case, what do you suppose is going on inside of us when we are harboring really negative thoughts, or worse, a cluttered, disorganized tangle of negative thoughts or grudges held for years on end?

  The second way in which the past and future consume our energy is not so obvious and is not quickly or easily explained but the short version of it is this: A memory of the past, or a vision of the future, is kept alive within you using energy from the present. This would not be a big thing if the memory did not produce adverse physiological reactions and if the activity did not become obsessive, but that is precisely what happens all too often.

  The classic personality in literature which exemplifies this behavior best may be Miss Haversham in the Dickens Novel “Great Expectations.”  Miss Haversham was jilted at the altar.

  Because of this experience, she spent the next 50 years dressed in her wedding gown living in a great empty house surrounded by the crumbling remains of a wedding which never happened nursing this ancient grudge. 

  Now,  Miss Haversham was a fictional character.  But what was described in Dicken’s novel actually happens far too often on a lesser scale.  In fact, it is probably safe to say that there is not a single person in this room who is not nursing a grudge or emotional injury of some kind.

  That being the case, the question we should ask ourselves is: “what are we going to do about it?”

  Now, the past is, past.  It is gone  And because it is past, because it no longer exists in the external world, that memory, that hurt, that anger, that insult, can now manifest in only one place:   It exists now within you!  Moreover, it will continue to exist within you until you stop feeding it.

  As it happens, most people are positively thunderstruck to realize that they have that kind of power over their own lives and condition.  In fact, most of them are so disturbed by the revelation that they never consider the matter again.

  As there are problems associated with spending our life’s energy in the past there can also be problems with sending energy into the future.  Here we must distinguish between making practical and sensible provisions for tomorrow and squandering our energy on silly or destructive daydreaming be that building castles in the clouds or fighting imaginary battles at work or over the back fence.

    Equally debilitating is the practice of over analyzing real future possibilities.  One of the unfortunate things about the contemporary western education is that it has convinced people that they can think and scheme their way through anything and this is just not true.

  Whereas the analytical mind is very good at solving certain types of problems it must be understood that there are problems which cannot be solved, not even in principle.   Nevertheless, our analytical minds try to do so.

  The analytical mind also has the unnerving habit of trying to solve problems which do not exist and, unfortunately, no problem is so hard to solve as the one which does not exist.  Nevertheless, the analytical mind often tries to do so and it is consequently important to keep this type of activity under control.

  These unsolved and sometimes unsolvable problems create stress loops which dump chemicals into the bloodstream meant to be burned off fighting or running.  If they are not, problems will ensue.

  Of course, many of us live and work in very stressful circumstances and we are not making light of that.  We have, historically, talked a lot about stress here at the Yoga Center.  In fact, most of the people who came here initially were either seeking relief from an injury or from stress.

  Stress can originate in the now, to be sure, but in most of people we see here it is actually originating in the past or future, even though they do not realize this: that is, by memory or worry.   But as we have said many times:  It does not matter how that stress got there.  It does not matter if you were right or wrong, if it was fair or foul, your body does not care.  The effect on it is just the same.

  Again, having said all that, it must still be understood that your body and energy system needs to be subjected to pressure and stress to fulfill its purpose, and that stress is perquisite for growth and life.  You cannot eliminate stress from your life.  You would die, but, it must be applied in the correct way and in the correct measure and this is what yoga does. The yoga postures and breathing do far more than simply stretching muscles. They stress the body in a special way that target the bodies energy system.

  As your body is being stressed by the yoga exercises, as it grapples and strains with the postures,  it learns to deal with that stress and this response ultimately  becomes automatic and manifests itself in your daily living outside the class.

  Yoga burns off toxic chemicals and many of the other effects of stress during the process of the exercises,  it alters the way your body works so that it can deal more effectively with the stresses and strains of life in the first place.

   Strangely, it is not the stress or exertion which represents the greatest challenge to our students.  It is the letting go, relaxing and being in the present moment which is hardest for most of them.

  When teaching a yoga class I always tell the students not to fight the pose; to relax, to exhale and find the point of rest.  Doing this is positively contrary to all of their expectations and everything they have ever been taught.

  Here is a person stretched into an awkward position experiencing some substantial amount of discomfort;  everything within them wants the pose to be over and just then, just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse the instructor tells them to exhale, relax, to center themselves and find their point of rest.

  The really peculiar thing about that, however, is that those who persevere eventually do find the point of rest.  They also learn, among other things, that it is when they relax that they finally move that extra six inches they initially believed was not within them and moreover, they move it not in agony, but easily and with power.

  To the outsider meditation and peace are something you buy to obtain relaxation.  The dabbler in new age philosophy thinks meditation is a kind of super rest.  This is done with pillows, and incense and pleasant music but even if that was true, which is not, it wouldn’t be especially useful.

  The entire purpose of yoga is to train your body to process the stresses and strains of life on a moment by moment basis; it is to make it possible for you to find that point of rest, that center of peace and power at all times.

  Now, in conclusion we will conduct tonight’s circle meditation.  But tonight I want you to divide it into two parts.  The first part should last a minute or two and during that time, in accordance with the previous discussion of living in the present moment, you are to discard one old grudge or injury.  Do not make a big deal about it.  Just get rid of it.  Just one of them.

  In her work on energy management Carolyn Miss suggests that we imagine that our that our memories are connected energetically by cables running from us into the past.  She suggests that we envision simply unplugging the cables.

  Byron Katie, in her writings on what she calls “The Work” uses a somewhat different approach.  She asks her student’s questions.  The most telling question is this:  “Who would you be without that thought?”   Who would you be if you just didn’t think like that anymore?  Who would you be if you took that hurt or fear back to where you got it and left it there?

  In a more religious context there is an ancient Christian prayer which fits this situation very well.  It is the one about:  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

  It is probably safe to say that very few Christians realize the power of that very simple invocation but hopefully after tonight’s discussion you will realize at least part of the reason why it is so powerful and why the greatest of all the masters taught his students to do this.

  Again, don’t try to remake your entire life in a single resolution.  Just unplug one grudge.  When that is done, move on to the second part of the meditation and radiate love, peace, joy and healing into the world. 

  As always, remember that the darkness has one great weakness, it can be dispelled by the light of a single candle.

 Copyright 2005  Brian Afton 2822 Grover Rd Olean, NY 14760