conscious wellbeing for ourselves & our world
tips for staying in the present, by Josh Baran
"When my mind departed on a journey to the past or the future, I would catch myself and say, "This is it." This moment is my life, completely."
When I was 20, I found a community in Northern California where I became a serious student of Zen Buddhism. Beyond the seated meditation practice, Zen emphasized mindfulness in everyday life: paying full attention when walking, eating, making the bed or working in the garden. At first, staying focused was difficult—my mind still wandered—but as I continuously brought my focus back to what I was doing, the mental fog began to slowly lift.
After a few years, I was appointed the community's cook, and the job came with a spiritual manual called Instructions to the Chief Cook. Poetic and inspirational, this ancient Zen text stressed that preparing food was not just a mundane activity, but a form of active meditation. Cutting vegetables, washing rice and boiling water, when done with full attention, was seen as the activity of the Buddha. These teachings became my daily road map to staying aware.
There was also a famous Zen poem that I would return to. It said that Nirvana, or enlightenment, was right here and now—that this body was the Buddha's body and this place was the pure land. From this poem, I created my own catchphrase that would come into my head many times a day—an inner anchor to bring me back to the present moment. I would say to myself, "This is it." These three words nailed the entire view of meditation. This is it.
So, when my mind departed on a journey to the past or the future, I would catch myself and say, "This is it." This moment is my life, completely.
When I would catch myself daydreaming or operating on automatic pilot, I would say to myself, "This is it," and it would bring me right back to the present. And whenever I would get worried, depressed or want things to be different than they were, I would ease my mind by saying, "This is it."
This phrase may not sound like profound prayer, a powerful mantra or positive affirmation, but it was my touchstone, and it worked. Those three words stopped my habitual seeking mind, the mind that always wants something different, better, bigger or newer, the mind that is always yearning for special experiences, easier times or a different life, the mind that wants someone or something to rescue us. Whenever I found myself ruminating on how things should be different, I would say, "This is it," and perhaps only for a moment, came home to a more present experience of reality.
This. This very ordinary moment is it. We don't need to seek the extraordinary because when we allow ourselves to be fully at home in the ordinary, it becomes extraordinary and full of wonder.
When we think this is not it, not good enough, not the right time, not the right place, not the right person—when we think happiness is in the future, after we lose 20 pounds, after we find the right lover, after we get a better job—then we are in constant hoping, waiting, scheming and seeking, living our lives in a time warp, disconnected from here and now.
This is it reminds us that we can find the magic, the spiritual and the sublime in the ordinary, in this next breath, in this chair, in this body. This is not just another philosophy orsomething else to believe. Instead, it is something to experience, and I invite you to try it out. Make it an experiment. Try it anywhere and anytime.
This is it. This is the only life that you are living. This moment, as you read these words—your life is completely unfolding. This body is the Buddha. This land is the pure land. Nirvana is here and now.
Former Zen priest and well-known communications consultant