The mind is very often disconnected from the moment.
We spend our days thinking, working, planning, remembering the past, planning for the future, worrying, enjoying, hoping, doing, doing, doing almost without any breaks, and all this incessant movement and chattering of the mind takes us away from the experience of the moment.
But there is something very powerful and beautiful in the experience of presence, the experience of what is.
I would say that this experience of presence, when it goes deep enough, comes into contact with love, with true love.
There is love that can easily transform itself into hate. This is the love that we are most familiar with, the Hollywood love, the personalized love, the love that depends on reciprocity: ‘I love you, but you better love me back otherwise I may start to hate you…’
But when we find the moment, the simple experience of what is, we find a connection with all and everything, and this connection is love (or at least a taste of it).
Presence, when it goes deep enough, expresses itself as a sense of communion with all. By ‘all’ I mean whatever appears in front of ourselves — our own bodies, our thoughts and emotions, other people, the world. Presence is a sense of communion with life itself.
But this feeling has nothing to do with a mental idea, with morality, with something I am supposed to do in order to become a better person. When we are more connected to the moment it just happens that a sense of empathy appears, an affinity for all and everything wakes up.
With this empathy, for example, when we find a bug in our house a doubt arises whether to follow our first impulse and kill it or find ways to keep it alive. It may be that it needs to be killed, otherwise it will create problems — and so we do it —, but the doubt is there and we hope we do not have to do it.
It is a sense that there is not really a separation between me and what is not me, between me and other beings (such as that bug), between me and the world.
From the point of view practicalities, this empathy may not be the most efficient way of living. From a very pragmatic point of view, it is easier and better not to experience this empathy, to feel connected only to what we want to accomplish; this makes it easier to get the results we want. But of course, if we lack this empathy, which is the way that most people live their lives, we may, in the course of getting what we want, destroy ourselves, other people and the world precisely because we are not connected to us/them/it. Without this connection we only see the object of our desires and completely overlook the consequences that the satisfaction of that desire may entail.
And this is exactly what is happening in our modern time…
It is actually what has happened from the beginning of time, except that now, because of our great technology, our capacity for destruction is so much bigger.
If we don’t have this natural empathy, if there is no presence1, it may appear that we can act more freely, but our actions can—and probably will—be accompanied by lots of destruction.
I say it may appear that there is more freedom in action because with empathy, it is less easy to act; we may have more doubts, we contemplate the consequences of our actions. We act, but that action is accompanied by a consideration towards the wellbeing of other people, the world and ourselves, because we don’t abuse them.
Presence comes with a sense of communion with all, which means it does not allow excess, it does not allow the abuse of life.
But if we look around we see that a lot of the successful businesses, especially in our day and age, are doing precisely that.
In some of the old traditions, this is what was known as dharma.2
And in those more advance societies (humanly advanced, not technologically), dharma was at the very top of the list of things that are considered truly important in life.
First dharma. From there, we live our lives, giving our ideals, desires and passions full range of expression.
But first, and foremost, attend to dharma.3
And dharma is not an imposition we should put on ourselves or on others, but it should come naturally as a consequence of presence.
This dharma, this empathy, is there, is in us, but we need to make the effort to slow down, to pay attention and to recognize the moment.
We could say that presence—the effort to be more connected to the moment—is something we need to do; but the consequence of presence—love—is not something that needs to be practiced.
It is what we are.
1. In the way I use the word presence in this context, it refers to a certain emotional maturity of the person.
2. Dharma can be defined as a cosmic law underlying right behavior and social order. But Dharma can also have several other definitions being a very complex word. In this context we can say that empathy is an aspect of dharma, but dharma is more than just empathy.
3. An example of a Dharmic and an Adharmic (the opposite of Dharmic) society was very nicely depicted in the movie Avatar. I especially enjoyed when the female Na’vi character was upset with the main male character when out of inattentiveness on his part she was forced to kill some animals in order to save his life.