We are familiar with the term ‘presence of mind’. We often use this term to describe an intelligent action by someone especially in a moment of crisis. This implies that the person neither was carried away by the situation nor did not react emotionally, but rather came up with something unexpected and deeply powerful. If you ask them later (someone whose presence of mind saved him/her from a life threatening situation) they wouldn’t be able to tell you how they could act the way they did.

This is the most common form of presence most of us know. What really happens here? If you closely observe such a situation of presence, you will observe that for a moment there was no thinking but there was perfect alertness. This is the state of presence ;a state of intense awareness and the key to present moment. When thoughts stop, there is a higher form of intelligence that suddenly charge.Many acts of bravery happen in this state. There is a perfect flow to what you do without any planning, rehearsal or even thinking.

But what has this got to do with creativity? Most of have heard of the “Aha” moment, where people get solutions for a problem that has been bothering them for long, simply out of the blue. Those “Aha’ moments are infact the states of intense presence. It is not a coincidence that the most of the Aha moments come during activities where one concentrate intently like shaving, waiting under the shower for those first droplets to touch your skin, being with the nature, engaging in some form of dangerous sports etc. If there is a problem that is really bothering you and is not solvable how much ever you attempt, it is very very likely that during one of the next ‘present’ moments, the solution will simply occur to you, because during those moments there is a greater intelligence in command.

The other way to put this is : Suppose an event happens and you already have a mental pattern corresponding to that event in the mind. Now you do not let the pattern execute. So you just have the event, as it is. And you do this not by force, but by gentle watching. And watching the thoughts is the simple way to overcome the patterns and is the key to ‘presence’.

But those who have attempted to watch your thoughts will tell you how hard it is. The mind is so tricky and before you know, there is something already going on there. So in many ancient traditions people figured out several methods that can workaround without confronting the mind.. A most common example is paying attention to breath, since breath is something that happens in presence moment. This is the basis of the vipasana meditation in Buddhism.

In the book ‘The seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen R Covey describes an incident where he comes across a book which had a paragraph that powerfully influenced the rest of his life. “I read the paragraph over and over again. It basically contained the simple idea that there is a gap or space between stimulus and response, and the key to both our growth and happiness is how we use that space”, he writes.

What he describes here is the state of presence. It is about creating or bringing space. At an external level, it is about bringing space between an event and response, or around a situation. Deep inside it is about recognizing space between one’s thoughts. By bringing space, it means that there is a gap of no-thinking, a moment of intense alertness. It is like someone watching your thoughts.

And during this space, there is a superior form of “thinking” heppening, which is different to thinking the way we know and it does not use language. And most importantly, it does not use the logic.And this is the creative intelligence.

When you see something for the first time, there is no pattern existing that the mind can immediately associate. So there is a space; and this is where you experience wonder, beauty or curiosity. Shortly afterwards mind (mind immediately pitches in and try to understand what this new thing is all about) forms a pattern and you see it the next time, the space isn’t there. Mind quickly jumps in with the pattern and says : ‘Oh! I know what this is’

This is what kills creativity because it is in the space where creativity blossoms. Observe small children, every thing amuses them, they are curious, they can watch a cartoon film over and over a 100 times without getting bored (we can’t do it because once we know what happens next, we lose the interest). In the Zen Buddhism there is a principle – any activity you do, do it as if you are doing it for the first time. When something does not interest you, or you don’t wonder, you are not amused or you are not curious, it is a good indication that you have lost the ‘space of creativity’

While most of had this space of creativity as children, we have lost it some where on the way. This is also a space of immense joy and most of us cherish a longing for it deep within. But it is possible to create that space again, which is something worth attempting to. Because it is a journey inward and is immensely rewarding.

We will continue the discussion in the next post…


2 thoughts on “Presence

  1. Sajeev Post author

    The first thing that came to my mind was something Osho said about Zen painters. They used to paint on straw sheets using Indin Ink. And true to the tradition of Zen, these paintings were done in a state of presence, without any planning or thinking. It is said that by looking at a painting, one could say if the painter ever paused anytime; the paper would blot more there…

    I will need to read the book…


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